With DMX critical, his music lives on

As he fights for his life, Stevie G in his Downtown column reflects on the rapper's career
With DMX critical, his music lives on

DMX, real name Earl Simmons, transformed rap music in the late 1990s.

As I write this, legendary rapper DMX is fighting for his life. The rapper, real name Earl Simmons, was admitted to intensive care late last week, after going into cardiac arrest. His family have since said that he remains in a coma and is on a ventilator.

By the time you read this, there may have been updates, and, as for now, I can only hope that DMX can beat the odds and make a full recovery.

Unfortunately, it appears that even if he does survive, there may be significant long-term damage to the Yonkers rapper. His career has been amazing and he truly is a unique artist, who helped change hip-hop.

I’ll never forget the impact he made back in 1998, a year in which he dominated musically. DMX had actually been around, bubbling under the surface, for years before that, and, alongside Jay Z and Ja Rule, was part of a group under the guise of Irv Gotti. DMX had close ties with the Lox, too, which became more concrete as the Ruff Ryders collective developed in the following years.

In 1998, DMX released both his debut and follow-up albums, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. The impact was incredible, and the clubs were rocking to his jams. Here in Cork, tracks like ‘Ruff Ryders Anthem’ and ‘Slippin’ were huge on my dancefloors in Sir Henry’s and on local pirate radio station, Radio Friendly. Def Jam had been performing poorly commercially before this, but DMX changed everything, and is credited with saving the legendary rap label.

Rap itself was in limbo, following the murders of both Pac and Biggie, and the hip-hop world was waiting for something new. DMX was raw and tough, yet honest and tender, and he struck a chord with millions of music fans, not only in New York but all over the world.

It wasn’t the first time hip-hop had heard a unique voice. ODB was still around, and we also had Busta Rhymes, Biz Markie, and many more, but there was something really raw about DMX, which caught the imagination.

As I say, the more vulnerable side of his persona helped here, too, and he always came across as sincere. The success continued, and he made some of the biggest rap-club joints of not just the jiggy, but of any, era. ‘Party Up’, ‘X is Gonna Give It to Ya’, ‘We Right Here’, and ‘Where the Hood At’ were just some of the anthems.

Rap was becoming more commercially popular than ever, and by his fifth album, Grand Champ, DMX had become the only music artist in history to release five consecutive albums that reached number one. That was every album he had recorded at the time.

DMX eventually left Def Jam and his personal troubles got deeper and the hits started drying up. DMX came from a very tough background, where abuse was rife, and he had struggled with drug addiction. He had also been incarcerated on numerous occasions, and his struggles have been well-documented throughout his career. Despite all of his personal problems, DMX remains a hugely popular figure in hip-hop, and it was no suprise that the rap world was united last week in wishing him well.

He changed the whole rap game, at a time when it was becoming very predictable, and he provided big labels with food for thought, too, as the rap world opened up to newer voices in the late ’90s. Suddenly, there was more room for DMX’s old pals, Jay Z and Ja Rule, and in the years that followed, the likes of Eminem and 50 Cent bridged the gap from the underground to the pop charts. Rap totally flipped in those years and for a while DMX was the top dog. Unlike many of his peers, he kept his music pretty raw and didn’t rely on as many gimmicks and cheesy samples as others. The drugs and jail and financial issues eventually took their toll, but DMX remained a guy that most rap fans hold dear.

DMX is a rapper of deep faith, with many contradictions, like many of his peers, but his place in hip-hop history is assured, no matter what happens in the next couple of weeks.

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