DMX was born Earl Simmons in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 18, 1970. He moved with part of his family to the New York City suburb of Yonkers while still a young child. A troubled and abusive childhood turned him violent, and he spent a great deal of time living in group homes and surviving on the streets via robbery, which led to several run-ins with the law. He found his saving grace in Hip Hop, starting out as a DJ and human beatbox, and later moved into rapping for a greater share of the spotlight, taking his name from the DMX digital drum machine (though it's also been reinterpreted to mean "Dark Man X"). He made a name for himself on the freestyle battle scene and was written up in The Source magazine's Unsigned Hype column in 1991.
Columbia subsidiary Ruffhouse signed him to a deal the following year and released his debut single, 'Born Loser'. However, a surplus of talent on the Ruffhouse roster left DMX underpromoted, and the label agreed to release him from his contract. He issued one further single in 1994, 'Make a Move', but was convicted of drug possession that same year, the biggest offense of several on his record.
DMX began to rebuild his career with an appearance on one of DJ Clue's underground mixtapes. In 1997, he earned a second major-label shot with Def Jam, and made a galvanizing guest appearance on LL Cool J's '4, 3, 2, 1.' Further guest spots on Mase's '24 Hours to Live' and fellow Yonkers MCs the LOX's 'Money, Power & Respect' created an even stronger buzz, and in early 1998, he released his debut Def Jam single, 'Get at Me Dog'. The song was a gold-selling smash on the rap and dance charts and paved the way for DMX's full-length debut, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, to debut at number one on the pop charts.
Produced mostly by Swizz Beatz, who rode the album's success to a lucrative career of his own, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot earned DMX numerous comparisons to 2Pac for his booming, aggressive presence on the mike, and went on to sell over four million copies. Not long after the album's release in May 1998, DMX was accused of raping a stripper in the Bronx but was later cleared by DNA evidence. He went on to make his feature film debut co-starring in Hype Williams' ambitious but unsuccessful Belly.
Before the end of 1998, DMX completed his second album, and a pending buyout of Def Jam pushed the record into stores that December. Featuring a controversial cover photo of the rapper covered in blood, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood entered the charts at number one and eventually went triple platinum. The following year, DMX hit the road with Jay-Z and the Method Man / Redman team on the blockbuster Hard Knock Life tour.
During a tour stop in Denver, a warrant for his arrest was issued in connection with a stabbing, of which he was later cleared; another incident occurred in May, when he was accused of assaulting a Yonkers man who'd allegedly harassed his wife (the charges were once again dropped). More serious charges were brought that summer, when DMX's uncle/manager was accidentally shot in the foot at a New Jersey hotel. Police later raided DMX's home and filed animal cruelty, weapons, and drug possession charges against the rapper and his wife; he eventually plea-bargained down to fines, probation, and community service.
In the midst of those difficulties, the Ruff Ryders posse - of which DMX was a core, founding member - released a showcase compilation, Ryde or Die, Vol. 1. With contributions from DMX, as well as Eve, the LOX, and multiple guests, Ryde or Die, Vol. 1 debuted at number one in the spring of 1999, further cementing DMX's Midas touch.
Toward the end of 1999, DMX released his third album, ...And Then There Was X, which became his third straight album to debut at number one. It also produced his biggest hit single since 'Get at Me Dog', 'Party Up (Up in Here)', which became his first Top Ten hit on the R&B charts. The follow-ups 'What You Want' and 'What's My Name?' were also quite popular, and their success helped make ...And Then There Was X the rapper's best-selling album to date, moving over five million copies. During its run, DMX returned to the big screen with a major supporting role in the Jet Li action flick Romeo Must Die.
In the meantime, he was indicted by a Westchester County, New York, grand jury on weapons and drug charges in June of 2000. He also entangled himself in a lengthy legal battle with police in Cheektowaga, New York (near Buffalo), when he was arrested in March for driving without a license and possession of marijuana. He missed one court date, and when he turned himself in that May, police discovered more marijuana in a pack of cigarettes the rapper had brought with him. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 days in jail, and his appeal to have the sentence reduced was finally denied in early 2001. After stalling for several weeks, he turned himself in and was charged with contempt of court. He was further charged with assault when, upon learning he would not be let out early for good behavior, he allegedly threw a food tray at a group of prison officers. He later bargained the charges down to reckless assault and paid a fine, and accused guards of roughing him up and causing a minor leg injury.
Not long after DMX's release from jail, his latest movie, the Steven Seagal action film Exit Wounds, opened at number one in the box office. DMX also contributed the hit single 'No Sunshine' to the soundtrack and signed a multi-picture deal with Warner Bros. in the wake of Exit Wounds' success. With his legal problems finally resolved, he returned to the studio and completed his fourth album, the more introspective The Great Depression. It was released in the fall of 2001 and became his fourth straight album to debut at number one. Although it went platinum quickly, it didn't have the same shelf life as his previous releases. In late 2002, DMX published his memoirs as E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography of DMX and also recorded several tracks with Audioslave (i.e., the former Rage Against the Machine).
One of their collaborations, 'Here I Come', was featured on the soundtrack of DMX's next film, a reunion with Jet Li called Cradle 2 the Grave. The film opened at number one upon its release in March 2003, and its DMX-heavy soundtrack debuted in the Top Ten. Grand Champ was released six months later, followed by 2006's Year of the Dog... Again. Just prior to that album's release, his revealing BET reality program made its debut. A compilation titled Definition of X: The Pick of the Litter was issued in June 2007. The artist was burdened by legal issues in the following years, serving 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to charges of animal cruelty, drug possession, and theft in late 2008, and 2010 saw a 90-day sentence for reckless driving turn into a full year after alcohol consumption triggered a parole violation. DMX returned to recording with 2012's Undisputed, an effort released by the Seven Arts label with production from Swizz Beatz and J.R. Rotem.
Words: Steve Huey
Just as rap music was reaching its toughest, darkest, grimmest period yet, following the assassinations of 2Pac and Biggie in the late '90s, along came DMX and his fellow Ruff Ryders, who embodied the essence of inner-city machismo to a tee, as showcased throughout the tellingly titled It's Dark and Hell Is Hot. Unlike so many other hardcore rappers who are more rhetorical than physical, DMX commands an aggressive aura without even speaking a word. He showcases his chiseled physique on the arresting album cover and trumpets his animalistic nature with frequent barking, growling, and snarling throughout the album. He also collaborates with muscular producers Swizz Beatz and Dame Grease, who specialize in slamming synth-driven beats rather than sample-driven ones. Further unlike so many other hardcore rappers from the time, DMX is meaningful as well as symbolic. He professes an ideology that stresses the inner world -- characterized by such qualities as survival, wisdom, strength, respect, and faith -- rather than the material one that infatuates most rappers of his time. It helpes that his album includes a few mammoth highlights ("Ruff Ryders' Anthem," "Get at Me Dog," "Let Me Fly," and "I Can Feel It") as well as a light, mid-album diversion ("How's It Goin' Down"). The long running length of It's Dark and Hell Is Hot does wear you down after a while, since nearly every song here sans "How's It Goin' Down" hits hard and maintains the album's deadly serious attitude. Even so, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot is a tremendous debut, laying out DMX's complex persona with candor, from his faith in God to his fixation with canine motifs, and doing so with dramatic flair.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
Though it's DMX's third album in two years, ...And Then There Was X doesn't show much sign of burnout. True, it's similar to his last, which balanced new-school gangsta tracks ("The Professional," "Make a Move") with a couple that question the inevitable trappings that come with success ("Fame," "One More Road to Cross"). And the productions by Swizz Beats, P. Killer Trackz, and Shok -- all part of Ruff Ryder Productions, Inc. -- are heavily synthesized and occasionally melodramatic, just like both of his previous albums. Even when Swizz Beats' usually reliable productions fall through, DMX brings it all back with his tough rhymes and inventive wordplay. He's still torn between the thug life and spiritual concerns (even including a long prayer in the liner notes), but the most exciting tracks on ...And Then There Was X are good-time joints like "Party Up" and "What's My Name?"
Words: John Bush
On the heels of his multi-platinum debut, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX unleashed his dogs again on an album overflowing with raw energy and spiritual catharsis. The irascible Yonkers MC, 27 at the time of this recording, continues the Ruff Ryder legacy on this follow-up release. DMX's canine split personality flow is like none other, not only rhyming over tracks, but barking expression over explosive beats. Production here -- by Swizz Beatz, PK, DJ Shok, Dame Grease -- is mostly stripped-down, pure high-tech drum machine and synthesizer combinations that are sure to inspire emotional and adrenal responses in listeners. Although DMX is no new jack, he is a part of a no-frills new breed of MCs that hold nothing back on the microphone; emphasis is on emotion rather than on word-bending. Standout cuts include "Blackout," with guest appearances from fellow hip-hop heavyweights the LOX and Jay-Z; "Coming From," a duet with the queen of hip-hop/R&B, Mary J. Blige, which stuns the ears with a haunting piano loop; "The Omen," a bout with the devil featuring the demonic Marilyn Manson on the hook; and the opening cut on side two, "Slippin'," an introspective look inside DMX's struggle to stay on top of his art while dealing with the perils of his reality. This is a very spiritual album, a testimony to one artist's struggle with the manifestations of good and evil. The final cut, "Ready to Meet Him," a conversation between DMX and his god, punctuates this realness.
Words: M.F. DiBella
The rapper-turned-actor has always been dramatic, perhaps never more so than on his impressive debut, where he embodied late-'90s inner-city machismo to a tee. He's just as dramatic here, though much less effective, exploring a number of sympathetic themes such as his grandmother's sad passing away ("I Miss You"), his thinning fan base ("When I'm Nothing"), his perennial adversaries ("I'ma Bang"), his conflicted relationship with God ("A Minute for Your Son"), and, as always, his partly imaginary legion of critics, rivals, and haters (pretty much every other song). Not much of this is new territory for DMX, who tends to repeat himself on every album, as if he'd said everything he's possible of saying on his explosive debut. While this repetition gets tiresome for those who've heard a few of his albums, it's not so unfavorable when it comes to trademark anthems like "Who We Be" and "We Right Here." Very much modeled after previous DMX rallying cries like "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" and "What's My Name?," this pair of hard-hitting Black Key productions features DMX at his spirited best.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
It's often said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and that maxim certainly holds true for the self-professed Grand Champ of canines, DMX, on his album of the same name. For his fifth album in six years, the veteran rapper reprises many of the same themes and motifs that had made his previous efforts so popular among hardcore rap fans and influential among his East Coast peers. As usual, he barks at his unnamed adversaries over hard-hitting Ruff Ryder beats, flexes his rhetorical muscle with his ever-confrontational rhyme style, advocates valor and faith while disdaining materialism, and frames his world within a polarized context, drawing a bold line between "dogs" and "cats." By this point, the scenario should be familiar to those who've followed DMX this far into his career; in many ways, his albums are mirror images of each other, in terms of drama, production, ideology, sequencing, and thankfully, to an extent, quality. However, the initial impact that DMX made with his tremendous and industry-changing debut, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998), lessened with each successive follow-up, and Grand Champ is no exception. It's a well-crafted and thought-out album but feels like a sequel, and as such, it serves its purpose: to satisfy fans and move units. The anthemic lead single, "Where the Hood At," is precisely modeled after previous DMX rallying calls like "Ruff Rider Anthem," "What's My Name?," and "Who We Be." Likewise, "Get It on the Floor" is a trademark Swizz Beatz club-banger -- and a remarkable one at that, perhaps one-upping even "Party Up (Up in Here)." Grand Champ closes sentimentally: "Don't Gotta Go Home" is a fractured-relationship duet with Monica that's prime urban crossover material; "A'Yo Kato" is a heartfelt ode to a lost dog with a shuffling, almost Latin beat by Swizz Beatz; and "Thank You" is a rousing gospel-rap tune featuring Patti LaBelle that's surprisingly effective and closes the album with magnificent flair (if not for the obligatory bonus track).
Words: Jason Birchmeier
DMX's first five albums, from 1998's It's Dark and Hell Is Hot through 2003's Grand Champ, debuted at the top of the Billboard album chart. Though none of the releases is an undeniable classic, the accomplishment is lost in all the drama of DMX's life. It's also remarkable that, during these years, the MC racked up enough charting singles that a thorough compilation of them would bleed over to a second disc. This is, after all, one of the most unique artists in music -- rap or otherwise -- and much of the uniqueness comes down to an intensity level (with incisive, highly mechanized productions to match) that did not make many concessions to the mainstream. His first compilation, The Definition of X: Pick of the Litter, contains all but five of the charting singles predating Year of the Dog...Again, sticking to necessary material for the casual fan: the rallying calls ("Ruff Ryders' Anthem," "Get at Me Dog," "What's My Name"), the venomous rants ("What These B*tches Want," "We Right Here"), and even a couple choice album cuts that stood no chance on radio (like "Blackout," with Jay-Z and the LOX). The title of this disc is wholly appropriate. Those hungry for more can get more than they could possibly need with any one of the first three albums.
Words: Andy Kellman
In the three years since the slightly superior DMX collection The Definition of X: The Pick of the Litter was released, the high-intensity rapper concentrated more on acting than music. Even if his output had been scant since the last set, his jumping ship and signing to Columbia in 2009 gives former Def Jam label good reason to release a new collection. In the liner notes, 2010’s The Best of DMX wears every chart position with pride, as if deep cuts don’t matter, just the big numbers. This means the set does offer something pleasingly different than its predecessor, pulling the great big single “Grand Finale” off the Belly soundtrack, but save a couple different picks and an historical liner essay, there’s little reason for Definition owners to update. On the other hand, anyone without any DMX in their catalog will find the set a thrilling overview with massive hits like "What's My Name," "We Right Here," "Where the Hood At," and “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” sitting next to fan favorites like “Damien” and “X Gon’ Give It to Ya.” Even if Definition has the edge, this is still a great introduction, a fantastic portable hits collection, plus a significant step up from the faceless 2009 set Playlist Your Way.
Words: David Jeffries