It’s Dark and Hell is Hot—now one of the most recognizable and widely celebrated Rap albums of all time—fell into my hands 10 years after its release in the summer of 2008. The cover alone was enough to make me pop the scratched-all-to-hell CD into my cousins’ stereo, immediately causing the hollow walls in the apartment to reverberate from the low end on ‘Let Me Fly.’ As I sat on the floor listening and skimming through the album booklet, the brooding imagery inside was reminiscent of rock albums I had laying around at the time as a doe-eyed 11 year old, like Alice In Chains’ Dirt, and Korn’s See You on the Other Side. I was entranced. It didn’t take very long for me to realize who my favorite rapper was from that point forward.
It’s difficult to overstate just how influential and monumental DMX’s music, life, and spirit is to modern American pop culture. There’s obviously a strong connection to the music we consume today, and Dark Man X’s time spent writing, crafting, and performing his raw, emotionally-sincere sound we’re now accustom to. X’s style spectrum was much larger than anyone else around the time of his aforementioned debut, and throughout his career, he subtly started countless trends. I mean, he even made whipping ATV’s cool! If NWA opened the door for rap artists, then DMX ripped it off its hinges and took a flamethrower to it. And after all 5 number one albums and an impressive arsenal of television and film appearances, including his timeless performance in Belly, X made it easy for anyone to understand the real genius behind his artistic pursuits. It’s right in front of you, it’s in your face.
But Earl Simmons, just like the rest of us, was only human. A chaotic life filled with it all; pain, passion, and everything else in between. That is something we tend to forget about as humans, even on the highest stages and under the brightest lights, we’re nothing more than flesh and bone. Prone to make mistakes, and whose core purpose is to make those around us feel loved and understood in the grand scheme of things. And there’s no question that X understood his purpose. Stemming from his upbringing in New York, the hardships and struggle X and his family endured during his formative years led to the eventual cultivation of an instrument straight from the hand of God. These “instruments” only come around every once in a while with each passing generation. Take Jimi Hendrix, for instance, someone who was totally connected to that “direct link,” and in turn, became an open channel of emotion and soul, that you can feel through their mediums of expression, their voice, and their heart.
Everyone knows how important X’s legacy is to music. If you ask me, (or anyone with a similar taste in music) most of the truly great rap artists today are, in some way, shape or form influenced by X himself. Musical legacy aside, X spent a large portion of his life giving back. His philanthropy work includes an entire spectrum of charities for at-risk/disadvantaged youths, education, mental health, and family/parent support. Along with being a larger-than-life fixture in his community, often times the demons that plague such important fixtures seem about the same size. But through it all, X made his message clear from the start—find what you love and just do it—and don’t forget where you came from.