DMX crashed the platinum-coated party that was late-‘ 90 s hip-hop and reminded fans that grit has always defined this genre and cultural activities more than gloss. He represented realness inasmuch as any starring with major label marketing behind him can represent the “real,” and he was a greet counter to the Sting samples, multimillion-dollar videos and No Limit tanks “thats been” defining the times. DMX’s debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot , even 20 years later, is a grueling but obligating classic. And the pain and pathos behind the person who is created it looks even more traumatic now than it did when he was the hottest new emcee in video games.
Everybody knows the basics: 1997 was the year of shiny-suit dominance via sparkly videos from Puffy and Ma$ e; the rapper born Earl Simmons growled his style through the dancey-flossin’ anthems to reassert hardcore hip-hop in the mainstream.
Despite X’s legacy and how unique he seemed in 1998, hip-hop was just one couple of years removed from its darkest interval. Mainstream rap of the 1990 s was heavy on nihilism and fatalism–there was no shortfall of” Ready to Die” or” Murder Was the Case” -style grimness.
An asthmatic, sickly childhood specified young Earl back, as did the poverty his mother Arnett grappled with as she lived with her son in The Rover, a low-income apartment complex in Yonkers, New York. Earl and his mother’s relationship is the subject matter of so much dialogue surrounding X; she had him institutionalized as a kid, and there has always been stres between them. During an appearance on Iyanla Vanzant’s Fix My Life therapy indicate back in 2013, X “was talkin about a” that pained history.
” I mean, everybody wants their mother to crave them ,” he explained.” In one breath, I’d be mama’s little boy, a boy of the house. In the next breath …’ You ain’t gonna be shit .’ Who am I? Who am I, Mom ?”
Who he was may not have been apparent to young Earl, but he would eventually find himself as a tough duel rapper around Yonkers. But that took time. He would be a child of the organizations of the system, fueled by the rage he’d felt at his mother and at authority at the New York’s Children’s Village group home where he would spend so much of his youth. Ruff Ryders founder Joaquin ” Waah ” Dean detected X in the late 1980 s; he was featured in The Source ‘ s” Unsigned Hype” column in 1991. But throughout all of that, X was living on the edge.
In his teens, X became a notorious stick-up child and reveled in that disrepute. The I-don’t-give-a-fuck spirit throughout It’s Dark is forged in DMX’s bleak outlook as a young man. If he craved it, he took it. The Dame Grease-produced “Stop Being Greedy,” a sweeping epic of an anthem that details X’s hunger for the come-up, sounds bear of his periods being devious on the block:
” When the sun is up, the artillery is up on the shelf/ And all the athletes up are thankin’ me for their health/ Hopin’ that they not around when it gets dark outside/ When the sun’s goin’ down, you hear the bark outside …” em>
” I robbed niggas ,” DMX recalled to Rolling Stone in 2000.” I’m not ashamed of that. That’s my shit. Robbery. I’m not a hustler. I’ve tried it. That’s not me. I’d rather do the stick-up shit. But what got me over was, I had a rep in Yonkers. Niggas knew DMX would get ya. And I’d be straight-up robbin’ niggas no mask or nothin’. Half of my weapon was my face. I’d only stroll up to niggas and be like,’ Yo, lemme get that .’ I wasn’t the biggest nigga in the world. I couldn’t beat everybody, but dawg, my rep supplanted me .”
That’s not unlike how DMX’s music career took off. After stints in and out of prison, X reconnected with age-old friend Irv Gotti, then an A& R for Def Jam Records, who pushed the rapper to label psyche Lyor Cohen. X was signed after a legendary impromptu performance for Cohen that featured X rapping with his jaw wired shut. As the legend moves, X’s jaw had been broken in a brawl but he wound up rhyming so intensely in this performance, he popped the wires. Def Jam scooped him up and it determined DMX on the fast track to major stardom. Even before It’s Dark reached shelves in May 1998, X had become the most notorious scene-stealer in video games. He’d appeared on LL Cool J’s ” 4,3, 2,1 ,” Bad Boy superstar Ma$ e’s” 24 Hrs to Live” and” Money, Power, Respect” by the LOX. It all ramped up anticipation for the gruff rapper with the puppy fixation to drop his debut.
Sheek Louch of the LOX appeared on another smash from Dame Grease: X’s pumping” Get At Me Dog .” Released as a single in early 1998, it announced X as a standout star. The production voiced like Public Enemy-meets-mosh pit and the video featured grainy black-and-white footage of X in a cavernous warehouse performing for a mob. No frills , no fluff–this was a new various kinds of mainstream sun. And he wasn’t shiny. Follow-up singles like “Stop Being Greedy” and “Ruff Ryders Anthem” cemented X in the upper echelon and built him the most difficult rapper of 1998. It was ultimately sell 4 million photocopies, and while it didn’t precisely delete glossy rap from the airwaves, it may be sure that grimier voices would have a place there, as well. There hadn’t been a popular hip-hop album this unflinchingly bleak since the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die four years earlier.
The narrative presented under It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot is still harrowing and intense, 20 year later. X delved into the darkest corners of his psyche–echoing predecessors from Scarface to Biggie–and his emotional conflict became the defining characteristic of his music. Even with the chest-thumping machismo of hits like” Get At Me Dog” and the latter chart-topper” Party Up ,” X was always at his most potent when he was at his most reveal. And he’s undeniably revelatory throughout his classic debut album.
The pain in DMX’s art likewise exposes a brutality. His fury and wounded feeling too often point at the most vulnerable in the fictional world he creates. A hateful tale of avenge, the story-rap” X Is Going” infamously features the rapper cast as murderous deviant–hell-bent on destroying an enemy’s feeling, to the degree of raping his teenage daughter. It’s macabre and unsettling, and another example of how vengeful men–even in fiction–run to the brutalization of the status of women to insist power and dominance. Made X’s complex and troubled history, it’s not strange to assume his contempt for his mother was manifest in some of the album’s most misogynistic moments. Men can use their mothers or their first love or any number of stand-ins on which to project their disdain for womanhood, it doesn’t explain away the type of consistent disdain that informs even this kind of engrossing art.
We’ve seen how DMX’s story has moved. It makes all of his greatest music seem more hopeless and bitternes than it seemed back then. It was always perturbing, but there seemed to be a sense that X believed he could bulldoze through his hurt with sheer army and frenzy. His childhood injury (” My first sexual encounter was with a relative from down South. Not actually a relative, but a relative &# x27; s spouse. I was twelve ,” he told Rolling Stone in 2000) was palpable in the music, but now it lives as a ravenous beast that he’s never bested.
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