Welcome to a new series titled AllHipHop Classics, where we revisit some of the memorable articles, moments and happening in AHH history. DMX marks the first in the series and we reprint the very first time we spoke to the self-proclaimed dog. In light of Earl Simmons’ present life, this piece shows that DMX, in many ways, has not avoided what destiny called for him, despite being one of the top-selling artists in music history. The piece was written by AllHipHop co-founder Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur, who then wrote under his full name. Originally published in 1998 when his debut It’s Dark and Hell is Hot made the entire music game shift. Delve into the live and mind of DMX, circa 1998.
Manhattan, Winter 1998. Elite flocks of stiff suit yuppies and buppies mingle in the hallways of the pristine Sony Music Studios several blocks away from the busy Broadway streets in downtown Manhattan. They sweetly sip fine wines and nibble gently at catered food chit chatting about nothing in particular. Simply partying.
However strolling a bit deeper into the annals on the complex, there is foreign activity that just doesn’t fit in the neat, clean world right down the corridor. In the furthest studio, in the back of the complex, violent instrumental blares out of the Yamaha NS-10M speaker, bangs on the walls and bounces about the room. It waits intently for the DMX to splash vocals all over it.
11:06 p.m. In a well worn light blue Phat Farm jump suit, DMX is sprawled out on a small couch cuddling his pure bred pitbull, Bobbi. He’s exhausted, extremely irritable and yelps gruffly, “Imma disappear for 4 days.” Come on, X, cooperate. “That [magazine] shit don’t matter to me. What matters to me is that niggas dig my shit.”
“People keep trying to take advantage of my good heart, ” he complains. But, X they said you have to do this. “Who is ‘they’ anyway?, ” he replies, “‘They’ is gonna get it!” Managers, business associates and friends nervously scramble about, hopeful DMX will cooperate with the last minute interview. Rob, the Caucasian engineer, watches passively, looking ready to go home.
At 28, DMX aka Earl Simmons, has become a grotesque media darling with a life of more peaks and valleys than the hills in his hometown of Yonkers, New York. For the past 2 years or so, an inebriating dosage of DMX been injected into the main vein of hip hop and mainstream America. Every other mix tape. Every third song on the radio. Every other album. He’s on everyone’s tongue.
Today, he’s just returned from an unyielding day of interviews and meetings. He just finished filming Rap City with host Big Les and voice drops for various college radio. When and if there’s nothing else to do then he’s recording verses for everyone else’s new albums, like DJ Clue, Jay Z and Jermaine Dupri.
Bad Boy’s super producer Derek Angeletti rolls in the studio with a long, tight blunt he wants to share with DMX.
“[The other artist’s] flow is extremely regular, ” he says smiling fiendishly, “That means you have to be extremely irregular.”
“Extremely irregular, ” DMX repeats blandly, “Imma take it somewhere else.”
Combusting, he starts rapping fiercely in the middle of Angeletti’s next sentence, slicing it in half.
It’s still somewhat unclear as to the reasons behind DMX’s dramatic ascension. It could be that irregular flow that slows up, then speeds up, sputters and smooths out, all in one verse. Perhaps, it is DMX’s ability to relate his pain and experience directly to the audience that enjoys his tunes so much. And, it could be that this success it just his reward for waiting patiently for hip hop to cycle into a new era. See, DMX is not just a one hit phenomenon.
“This nigga would battle anybody. Anywhere, ” says Def Jam A&R rep Irv Gotti, “And through battling anyone, it turned him into a monster. He ain’t gotta scream at you. He can sit here and talk to you and rhyme. And it’ll be the illest shit you ever heard.” Irv is credited with actually pressing Russell Simmons and Def Jam President Lyor Cohen to go to a small, janky club in Yonkers to watch DMX perform in January of 1997.
Even before, Ruff Ryders Records and one of the founders, Joaquin Dean, have had the arduous task of guiding the “loose cannon” from the underground sewer to national prominence and dominance. In 1993, Ruff Ryders was able to secure a single deal with Ruff House Records. The song, “Born Loser,” fell short of the initial projections and DMX was dropped from the label. (“The fact that “Born Loser” wasn’t heard merely said that the world wasn’t ready for me, ” he will go on to say later.)
DMX falls to fatigue until Joaquin gives him a stiff poke from a Timberland boot.
12:20 a.m. Finally, DMX yanks himself up to talk and he leaves the leather seat layered with short fine canine hairs sprinkled in his place. His obsession with dogs, particularly pitbulls, is well documented in his music, where sharp barks and fierce growls saturate the songs. “I always fucked with dogs. My dog ain’t gonna have sex with my girl. Steal from me. Lie to me. Beat me in the head. You give a dog love and they’ll give it back to you tenfold, ” he says with Bobbi cradled in his lap. “Damn, these things be getting big, ” he says, grabbing the nipples on the dog’s pregnant underbelly.
DMX even has “RIP BOOMER” tattooed on his back in honor of one of his now deceased yet famous dogs. Joaquin says, “We go through a lot of changes with him and the dogs all in these places. He won’t come in if he can’t have the dog.” Earlier today, DMX plodded into the Def Jam office and fell asleep on the floor with Bobbi. His dog rides in the passenger seat of his car, no matter who else rides with him. “Go get me a soda, Bobbi, ” he orders to the dog, “And, you better not spill it..” Dogs just have a simple quality that appeals to D’s basest and neglected need: incorruptible companionship.
“I lived with my mom ’til I was about 7, then it got dark, ” DMX says, “I don’t really fuck with my moms or my pops.” His whole demeanor shifts when confronting the past; his jagged voice lowers, his head drops a bit, but he maintains solemn eye contact. Because he was oftentimes in trouble as a child, DMX says, school officials coerced his mother into placing him in a jail-like institution for juvenile delinquents. “I was one of those dirty niggas you see in the street, ” he says, “The kid that’s steadily getting kicked in the ass.”
From then on he says he was in and out of the prison system. He admits to only meeting his father 6 years ago and says numbly, “I just don’t like him.” He plays an active role in his 5 year old son Xavier’s development, not interested in rotating the same vicious cycle. He continues to stroke Bobbi on her side, looking as if he’s holding back something.
DMX’s past teeters between the dismal and the comical, and he seems to bring out both whenever discussing hometown Yonkers, stomping ground of other notables like the LOX and Mary J. Blige. “I love Yonkers, but I try to stay out, dog,” he confesses while rocking back and forth. He says he doesn’t like the new star treatment that he now receives from locals. “(Some people) start coming around to the point where they start nodding off on your couch ’cause they been there so long, he chuckles, “‘Come on, dog, we ain’t never been this tight.'”
The pretty rap twins, Tarissa and Aisha aka Duo, glide in the studio to further lighten the air in the studio, seducing DMX from his work, but into a much preferred mood.
“He’s an angel in disguise,” Tarissa says, “He just wants to help people, especially people that’s trying to do something.”
“His heart is so big. He’s the type to open the door for a lady, “Aisha agrees.
Even though most of his songs are laced with violent, abrasive imagery, DMX has a blueprint to a master plan. “I want to bring a lot of people together, ” he says, “I want to be that nigga that’s everybody’s friend. I’m gonna be everybody’s dog.”
“Gonna live forever, never gonna die. The only thing I fear is that I’m never gonna fly.”
A Jerry Springer commercial pops on the wide screen television and some poor lady gets smacked up to DMX’s delight. He releases a controlled laugh. To him the rap game is much like a Springer episode. “I hate how niggas just exploit you, dog, “he reveals, “Just take advantage.” Nowadays DMX is in tremendous demand, much to his own resistance. Joaquin verifies saying, “He’s unfazed by it. In some ways, he doesn’t even want the success.”
In his early musical development, he often stole lyrics from rap legends like Whodini, he even confesses. “I’m thinkin, ‘ yo this song sounds good.’ I’m thinkin’ it’s gonna be a record that dies. Nobody’ll ever hear it, ” he laughs aloud, “Then niggas is like, ‘Yo, we heard that shit on the radio! I had to come clean.”
It’s well after 1 a.m. and DMX has submerged himself headfirst into an all out rhyme cipher with Irv, Angeletti, and the crew surrounding him, offering constant approval. Even though earlier he said, “Imma drop my vocals and be out, ” he’s now rhyming as if he was in front of 20, 000 or more people. Unlike many of his contemporaries, DMX has a love for rap and hip hop that transcends mere money or pseudo power. For him, he rips verses for the immediate, undiluted and pure respect it brings from the public. “He’s a people person. He likes getting love from his people, ” Joaquin confirms. All of the earlier anger and reluctance is pushed to the back and much of the fury siphons directly into the lyrics he recites. Raw aggression overflows in most verses. “He’s gone through a lot of shit and it comes through in his rhyme, ” Joaquin says.
“I rap out of the love, man, ” DMX says, “If somebody don’t hear what I’m saying, then that’s his loss. If you don’t feel it, then you don’t see it.”
DMX takes all of the success with a scary sort of indifference. “The less I know about the business, the less I am concerned with the business, the more I am able to focus on what’s important with this shit. The artistic end of it, ” he says. His eyes are mere slits with a wild intensity. “I want my questions answered.” DMX is a simple sort of man, with humble beginnings and the desire for humble endings.
Where is DMX going?
Where do you want to be?
“In the same place.”
“In the same place. Hopefully in right here, holding my dog, watching a little TV and just talking.”