‘Baby, I am what I am, I’m gon’ be who I be’ – DMX
Next to Ruff Ryders and the time Earl Simmons aka DMX spent in that iconic hip-hop collective I’m not sure there are many memories that compare to the pure understanding I would feel when hearing that music, specifically DMX’s music. Mornings in our small 2 bedroom apartment in Baltimore included my mother’s small static-filled alarm clock radio that we had brought from The Bronx with us. The volume knob on the side of the radio would be turned nearly as far as it could go. “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind up in here, up in here”, my mother would jokingly yell to both my father and me as we all got ready in the morning, those are of course popular lyrics from DMX’s ‘Party Up’. At the time X as DMX is affectionately called by many fans was at the top of the charts after releasing his debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot in 1998. In my ears, X was one of the most expressive people I had ever heard. As a little black girl, you always get the idea that people are hiding things from you. DMX never hid anything from us, from me.
If I could dial the red marker for that compact AM/FM radio perfectly at 92.3 for The Big Phat Morning Show in the year 2000 here in Baltimore it almost felt like I was at MTV Spring Break or a therapy session? Definitely one of the two, or both. When I was born in 1991 DMX was just starting his rap career, my parents were separated then, and unbeknownst to me, it was because of my father’s drug addiction, cocaine. The reason my parents were not together was was one of those things I always felt people were hiding from me, I remember I would scheme with my best friends to find ways to get my parents back together as if I had any say in the matter. Miraculously my parents did find their way back to each other, IDK how…I used to stay out of grown folks’ business. Those memories of us all bobbing around the house to DMX were some of the first and last I would have of all of us, as my father did eventually succumb to his drug addiction and died of an overdose way too young in my early teen years. I still listen to X and feel the spirit of those unconventional family mornings, the spirit of my father. I listen to X and I understand what it means to be angry for losing people you thought should love you, forever. I feel held by his grisly tone and lyrics, as weird as that might be.
I scrolled through my timeline on April 3, 2021 and one of my hip-hop head friends posted a picture of X with prayer hands and I thought, ‘I know you’re lying’ and ‘I hope he didn’t die’…both thoughts rocked me to my core in a way I didn’t expect. After a quick google search, I could see that he did suffer a heart attack in conjunction with an overdose and was on life support according to a couple of sources. I was on my way home from The Farmers Market and immediately navigated my way to YouTube on my iPhone 7 plus where I found the dirty version of ‘Back In One Piece’ a song by DMX and Aaliyah. I closed my eyes at red lights saying little prayers for X hoping he’d make it back to us in one piece. When I got home I bought Belly on Amazon Prime where X plays a ruthless drug dealer named “Buns” and I proceeded to watch it saddened by the news of his overdose, he’s so talented. The scenes in that Hype Williams directed movie are iconic, tears streamed down my face thinking about how many times not only in this movie but in his music DMX actually talked about his demons, he growled and barked about them even. From him I learned, we all should…growl a little bit.
DMX’s music often chronicled his experience with drugs, abuse, and growing up rough or slippin’ as he calls it in one of his songs. In a more recent interview he spoke candidly about the moment he was first given drugs as a minor by an adult he admired and I thought to myself, so many addicts and families affected by addiction or other social determinants of health in Black communities never get the chance to voice these things. I didn’t voice the pain I felt around my father’s overdose for a long time, it still comes out in spurts. DMX just like in that song Back In One Piece just is who he is and he’s going to be what he’s going to be, DMX doesn’t mince words or hold back for anyone. None of us should.
In moments where I’m stressed, confused, or just overwhelmed I find my earphones or sit in my car and drown our life’s noises by listening to DMX at the loudest volumes I can crank it to, whether it’s ‘Who we be’ or ‘Ruff Ryders Anthem’ it just grounds me and reminds me to simply be myself, or say what I have to say.
In a way, DMX was my angry voice before I could find my own. A collective and outwardly expressive and collective voice for a lot of Black people…alot of Black folks’ first therapist. He dropped gems constantly in his lyrics, movies, and interviews that just make you think about what you might’ve been through. He found a way to transmute his and many of our black experiences…eloquently over Swizz Beatz produced tracks. Even if you aren’t into what X is into or what his music videos portrayed him as being surrounded by expensive cars, bikes, women, platinum chains, or dogs, DMX just makes sense. His anger makes sense, it’s relatable and because I’m of an appropriate age now, he made sense and made it look sexy too.