What Most People Don't Know About DMX

The following article includes mentions of substance abuse.

DMX — a.k.a. Earl Simmons — has been a household name since the '90s when he was launched into rap superstardom with the success of his albums Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood and It's Dark and Hell Is Hot. As part of the iconic Ruff Ryders and Def Jam labels, the entertainer became "the undisputed reigning king of hardcore rap," per AllMusic. His unique sound and strong persona made him commercially successful, and he was the "first artist ever to have his first four albums enter the charts at number one." 

Unfortunately, DMX died in on April 9, 2021, after spending a week on life support. Variety reported that the rapper had a heart attack, which was initially attributed to a drug overdose, however, that has yet to be confirmed by DMX's management, as of this writing. Tributes to the late hip-hop icon commenced almost immediately upon the announcement of his death, and in memory of the "X Gon' Give it to Ya" rapper, we're running down some fo the more unique and, unfortunately, tragic things about DMX's life that helped shape him into the man beloved by millions of fans.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA's 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The name DMX has multiple meanings

DMX came from a troubled home, which resulted in him leaving his mother when he was a young boy. "He spent a great deal of time living in group homes and surviving on the streets via robbery," AllMusic wrote. As he told People's Party with Talib Kweli, it was during this time that he honed his craft, writing music and performing for his friends, who encouraged him to keep going. He eventually began DJ-ing and beatboxing, soon attracting the attention of Ready Ron, a rapper who would become his mentor. He needed a stage name, so he reportedly took DMX from the Oberheim digital drum machine of the same name that he used to keep the beats of his rap (via AllMusic).

Throughout the years, DMX has been reinterpreted by the rapper's fans to mean either Dark Man X or Dog Man X, as reported by Hip Hop Scriptures. It is unclear when exactly the reinterpretation of DMX became mainstream. The publication also details that DMX was "originally an acronym of 'Divine Master of the Unknown.'"

DMX described the start of his professional career as 'blessed with a curse'

DMX got his start as a young teenager when Ready Ron, another young rapper, recognized his talent and offered to have them switch off rapping and beatboxing for each other. As described in People's Party with Talib Kweli, X stated that he was just 14 years old when he met Ready Ron. He called that part of his life "blessed with a curse" — as were most of the things that happened to him. It was a blessing because Ready Ron opened up a lot of doors for him. The two produced a lot of music together and made names for themselves in the underground hip-hop scene.

However, this relationship with Ready Ron also led him to his lifelong struggle with addiction to crack cocaine. In his interview with Kweli, DMX shared that he had his first taste of the drug when he was just 14 years old — and it was given to him in a shady way. He said they were celebrating a friend's birthday and were passing around a joint. Although he initially refused — not smoking anything because of his asthma condition — when Ready Ron handed it to him, he took a hit. Unbeknownst to him, the joint was laced with crack and X became addicted, something that has shaped his life ever since.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA's 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

DMX thought mental health was important

As a result of his childhood, DMX developed a hard street persona, one steeped in violence and anger, which shaped his whole career. However, as he discussed with Talib Kweli on People's Party, everything is all connected within the hip-hop industry. Graffiti, the posing, the hard looks, all of that forms what hip-hop is, X explained. He also spoke about drug use and addiction in the community and how that came to be. He said the "drugs were never a problem, drugs were a symptom," and his drug use was a result of him blocking out what happened to him in his childhood.

"There's only so much you can block out before you run out of space and you never know when the things you stored away are just gonna come out and just fall all over the place," he said. "I learned that I had to deal with the things that hurt me that I didn't deal with when they hurt." DMX then told Kweli that dealing with his past helped him with his addiction and sobriety. He also addressed how talking about problems is viewed as a "weakness" in the hood, but said that it actually is "one of the bravest things you can do." He mentioned that it takes a specific type of strength to talk about problems, but that it has to be to the right person, otherwise it won't be as helpful as it should be.

DMX didn't always want to be a rapper

Although DMX created a name for himself as a talented hip-hop artist, he didn't always want to be a musician. In fact, he told Talib Kweli on People's Party that he wanted to be a firefighter when he was a little boy. As it turns out, the rapper has bronchial asthma and used to have asthma attacks as a child, causing firefighters to be called in to help "calm [him] down." He said he liked firefighters in particular because they were just there to "save your life," adding, "They're not concerned with what other crimes may or may not be happening or anything of that nature." He added that he wanted to become one but couldn't because of his asthma.

DMX also wanted to be a pastor and became a certified deacon. Per The Guardian, he first indicated his interest when he gave an interview while in prison in 2009. As he told Fox 10 News at the time, he revealed that being a pastor was his "true calling in life" and that being in prison helped him "[actualize his] true calling." When DMX was asked what he was going to do when he left prison, he said he wanted to "give [his] first sermon in a church." 

DMX has also pivoted into acting alongside his music. According to IMDb, he has been in numerous movies, including Never Die Alone and Exit Wounds, and wanted to be considered "a serious actor," per Entertainment Weekly.

DMX had a negative net worth when he died

Even though DMX was one of the most popular rappers of the last 25 years and had platinum-certified albums, he'd lost his millions due to a variety of legal obligations. At the time of his death, DMX's net worth was negative $1 million. Most of his money ended up being spent to deal with his legal troubles. He had been in and out of prison since the early 2000s and had to pay for legal fees as a result of his incarcerations. 

If that's not all, DMX fathered a lot of children and had to pay their mothers child support. Notably, when his first extramarital affair was discovered, he was ordered to pay her $1.5 million (via Celebrity Net Worth). He declared bankruptcy in 2013, claiming he had only $50,000 in assets and owed "somewhere between $1 million and $10 million worth of debt," including "$1.24 million in child support." The filing was "eventually dismissed."

In 2017, his financial troubles persisted and he was "charged with 14 counts of tax fraud for a total of approximately $1.7 million." He was arrested and served one year in prison, but was "released in January 2019." He "still owed $2.3 million to the IRS" at the time of his release and, as of this writing, "the government will garnish his income until the debt is paid."

DMX had a fun-loving side

DMX might have been known for his hardcore rap, but he had a sweet side, too. DMX told Talib Kweli during his interview for People's Party that one of his favorite songs is Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do For Love" — and he serenaded Kweli with the song when they first met. Kweli told X that he was impressed by the rapper's ability to hit all the notes but that he also made it fun, adding in his iconic ad-libs while he sang. But that's not the only fun X has had. In 2012, he appeared on New York's Power 105.1 and rapped "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Not only did DMX know all the lyrics to the traditional Christmas song, but he also started tapping his own beat as he continued.

When asked by Kweli if X wished people saw the positive, music-loving side of him more, the rapper said that those who knew the actual him saw that he was "laid back," adding, "I enjoy having a good time." DMX blamed "the media and the news" for the perception people might have that he is serious all the time and constantly hardcore. "Life is too short not to try and enjoy yourself," he concluded.

The rapper had a life-long connection with and affection for dogs

Those who are fans of DMX know that he had more than just a surface-level connection with dogs. He admitted on Revolt TV's Drink Champs that he "[loves] dogs more than people," adding that he's been around dogs since he was a kid. When asked to elaborate on why he feels such a connection with dogs, X said, "a dog doesn't know how to lie to you." He also said that dogs have "unconditional love" and will always stand up for their owner, even if they have just been reprimanded. 

He also shared a story with Talib Kweli on People's Party that talked about the first dog he got: a pitbull named Bully. He spoke about how he spent a full night with Bully to gain his trust and then stole him, using his "belt as a leash" to guide the dog over the fence and back home. He then said when he got home, his mother told him the dog had to go, so X told her if the dog has to go, he'll go, too. He told Kweli he spent the night with Bully on the roof and shared half of his food, and from that point on, Bully decided to protect him. X shared that while a human would "cross you ... [dogs are] real."

DMX wanted to give his listeners 'substance'

DMX also shared on People's Party that he sometimes thinks the emotional impact of his lyrics gets lost because of his public image. Host Talib Kweli told X that he often thinks of him as a "conscious rapper," meaning that there is a "raw emotional journey" in his lyrics. Kweli said that many think being such a rapper is "condescending and corny," but also stated he did not believe that was the case with DMX, whom he applauded for taking on the "pathologies [of] the hood," like "mass incarceration, prison-industrial complex, things like that."

DMX said that "a lot of times," the "emotional depth" of his lyrics is often overlooked. X explained that many fans don't really look at the words of a song first; they instead listen to "the beat," then focusing on the hook and getting caught up in the flow. "If they're still listening," he added, then they'll give some time to the lyrics. He told Kweli he thought that was a bit "unfair" but maintained that he always wanted to give his listeners "substance," so even if his fans don't always listen to what he says, he will keep doing what he does for those that do.

DMX was a unique rapper who was undoubtedly one of the most talented artists of the last few decades. His distinctive style and personality will be remembered for years to come.

DMX was incarcerated 'some 30 times'

It's no secret that DMX had legal troubles throughout his life, but some might not know just how many times he found himself on the wrong side of the law. According to GQ, the rapper had actually been arrested "some 30 times." With his charges running a wide variety, Medium reports that they included drug possession, robbery, animal cruelty, probation violation, and driving without a license. Unfortunately, X's troubles with the law "grew simultaneously" along with his career. The more popular he got, the more the law seemed to come after him.

Speaking with GQ, DMX shared that he was first arrested when he was 10 years old "for arson and again at 10 for assault." However, he didn't go to jail for the first time until 1986, when he was 16 years old, per Medium. "He spent two years in a juvenile correctional facility in New York" for "stealing a dog from a junkyard," the article explained, noting that "a few weeks after he began his sentence ... he escaped. When he got home, his mother forced him to turn himself in, and he listened." Two years later, the rapper was arrested again for carjacking, but was reportedly "moved ... to a higher security prison" because he "extorted another inmate." 

DMX admitted to GQ that his stints behind bars only got "harder" over the years. However, while he agreed that jailtime could "sometimes" be disruptive to one's life, he said that "you can also find solace there."

The rapper's first real breakup was truly heartbreaking

While DMX's relationships were fairly well known, many don't know about his first love. He shared the story with GQ, who asked about the "first time [he] had [his] heart broken." Explaining that at 17 years old, he'd "met this girl from Connecticut," DMX said that they "started hanging out and all that." 

However, their plans to get to know each other more were thwarted when the future rapper "got locked up for a robbery warrant" and went behind bars for four months. She "was crying" when she and her mom visited him, and X revealed he "was really feeling this chick," whom he considered his first "girlfriend girlfriend." But when he got out of prison, he discovered she and her mother had moved back to Connecticut.

After looking her up and finding out where she worked, DMX drove to the Constitution State with a friend to see her again. He ran into her and she told him she'd see him after work, but she ended up not sticking around. They later bumped into one another at a local club. "She was like, 'You ain't got no money? What type of man is you?' I just looked like, 'All right, now it's clear what it is,'" DMX recalled. "So I just left ... That s**t hurt my feelings. Because I really liked her, and I know she really liked me before I got locked up. I don't know what happened." He never saw her again.

How DMX was convinced to put retirement on hold

In 2003, ahead of the release of his fifth album, Grand Champ, DMX shared that he was going to retire from music (via MTV News). While the outlet noted he would "continue to act and oversee his Bloodline Records label, but neither will be his priority," X stated that he planned to focus on God and his family. "I'm going to go to church," he said. "... You know, read my Bible and just get more into the word."

However, DMX's retirement was not long-lived, and in 2005, he released his sixth album, Year of the Dog... Again. Many fans were understandably confused about his new music, but MTV News discovered that his return to the rap game was due to a conversation he had with fellow artist Mase: "I said, 'Dog! I'm fed up with this rap s**t. I know the Lord. I know my true calling is to preach the Word, where do I go from here?' He was like, 'As long as the Lord gives you the talent to do what you do, do it. He'll call you when he's ready.'" 

Mase's advice resonated with DMX, who decided to return to music, saying, "What gives me the right to say, 'I don't wanna do this no more' and walk away?" Noting that he "can deal with fake s**t" in the music business, DMX added, "I'm gonna do this as long as I can, and when [God] is ready for me, he'll call me. It wasn't my place to retire."