While many artists are multifaceted, DMX truly lived up to that descriptor for his adroit abilities across music and film. He found fame doing both. From his start in the game in the early 1990s, X was lauded for his gruff delivery, which was incomparable at the time. The rapper's signature "grrrs" and growls became synonymous with his music—he truly was the big dog in every sense of those words.
Songs like "Born Loser" and "Make a Move" were early indicators that Dark Man X from Yonkers, N.Y. was the rapper on the rise to watch. Before he dropped his official debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, in 1998, the MC was a featured artist on tracks like LL Cool J's "4, 3, 2, 1" in 1997, boosting his appeal and making his star shine brighter ahead of his own project.
No. 1 albums were commonplace for DMX, who had plenty of them during his nearly 30-year-career in hip-hop. It's Dark and Hell Is Hot marked his first LP to top the Billboard 200 chart in 1998. The Sheek Louch-assisted "Get at Me Dog," "How's It Goin' Down" featuring Faith Evans and "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" were just a few of the songs that catapulted the effort to No. 1. He successfully accomplished this feat four more times in his musical legacy, an accolade that many rappers both before and after him did not achieve.
Aside from his mastery in music, X was an exceptional actor. He proved that rappers could expand their horizons and become limitless when it came to their potential. One of his most recognizable roles is playing the character Tommy in Belly alongside Nas in 1998, a pivotal year in DMX's career.
These are just a few of the momentous occasions in DMX's life as an artist. As the hip-hop community and beyond mourns the death of this extraordinary talent following the announcement today (April 9) of his passing at 50 years old, XXL highlights DMX's greatest career moments. R.I.P. DMX.
Kills His Verse on LL Cool J's "4, 3, 2, 1"
DMX proved he could hang with the best of them when he appeared on LL Cool J's 1997 posse cut "4, 3, 2, 1," also featuring Method Man, Redman, Canibus and Master P. "Where we at? Do you value your life as much as your possessions?/Don't be a stupid nigga, learn a lesson," he raps on his verse. "I'm gon' get you either way, and it's better to live/Let me get what's between your sock, ’cause it's better to give/Than receive, believe what I say when I tell you/Don't make me put you somewhere where nobody'll smell you." X was playing no games on this record.
Shows Up on The LOX's "Money, Power & Respect"
Fellow Yonkers, N.Y. natives The LOX welcomed DMX and Lil' Kim to join them on their 1998 classic track "Money, Power & Respect." The banger features the Queen Bee on the hook and a grisly verse from Earl Simmons. "This ain't no fuckin' game, what, you think I'm playin'?/’Til you layin' somewhere in the junkyard decayin'/Moms at home prayin' that you comin' home, but you not/’Cause you sittin' up in the trunk, startin' to rot/And hell is hot, I know because I'm here now, baby," X raps.
Shows & Proves With First Major Label Single "Get at Me Dog"
First impressions are everything and DMX rose to the occasion when he dropped his first major label single as a Def Jam Recordings artist. "Get at Me Dog" featuring Sheek Louch, the lead single from his It's Dark and Hell Is Hot album in 1998, went on to score a No. 39 position on the Billboard Hot 100 that year. The song, produced by Dame Grease and P.K., is full of the rhymer's signature growls and boastful bars. "And when it's on, we transform like Optimus Prime/I'll form the head, roll out, let's make it happen," he raps, letting the opps know it's on.
Inspires Those Struggling on "Slippin'"
One of DMX's most personal odes is his Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood hit "Slippin'." Released in 1998, the track is X at his most candid, rapping about hitting rock bottom with no filter. "Group homes and institutions, prepare my ass for jail/They put me in a situation, forcin' me to be a man/When I was just learnin' to stand without a helpin' hand." The gold-certified song is a testament to persevering through the struggle and getting back on your feet to "tear shit up."
It's Dark and Hell Is Hot Goes No. 1
An album hitting No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart is a dream for most artists in the game. DMX accomplished that goal on his first time out with his debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, in May of 1998. "Ruff Ryders' Anthem," the storytelling ode "How's It Goin' Down" featuring Faith Evans, the Sheek Louch-assisted "Get at Me Dog" and the exploratory "Stop Being Greedy" were the singles that pushed X to the top of the charts. "Damien" showcased the art of duality in both his voice and inner demons. This classic album has been certified four-times platinum.
Brings Ruff Ryders Movement to the Masses
Founded by Joaquin "Waah" Dean and his brother and sister, Darin "Dee" Dean and Chivon Dean, respectively, the Ruff Ryders Entertainment label was home to rappers DMX, Eve, The LOX, Swizz Beatz, Drag-On and more over the years. The label first began as a management company, handling the careers of X and The LOX before expanding to a full-fledged company signing talent. As DMX's stock soared, so did the the Ruff Ryders movement, which was heavily branded in music videos, the streets via the biker clubs that were formed and on clothing.
Most notably, X named a song after the collective, his 1998 track "Ruff Ryders' Anthem." A premier party record, the anthemic chant of "Stop, drop, shut ’em down, open up shop/Oh, no, that's how Ruff Ryders roll," makes anyone rapping along feel like an honorary member. X's "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" made it to No. 93 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998, cementing its place in the mainstream hip-hop spotlight.
1998 was a major year for DMX. On top of dropping two albums, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, he also starred in the hip-hop cult classic Belly alongside Nas. X's role as Tommy was positioned as a lifelong friend of Sincere, played by Nas. The street life was their forte, but Tommy dove deeper into the mix, resulting in the film's wild ending.
Acting proved to be one of the skills the rapper truly excelled at. Along with Belly, X landed roles in 2000's Romeo Must Die, which also starred Aaliyah, the 2001 action film Exit Wounds and more than 15 other movies.
Links With Jay-Z for "Money, Cash, Hoes"
Despite whatever differences Hov and X had back in the day, one thing they did very well together was make stellar music. The two reportedly had a face-off in a Bronx pool hall in 1994 that allegedly led DMX to have some ill feelings toward the Brooklyn native. “X hated Jay because it was the one battle that he said it wasn’t absolutely sure in everyone’s mind that he won,” Irv Gotti said in an MTV News interview in 2011.
But a collab still emerged four years after that moment in 1994. Their lyrical chemistry is most certainly executed well on their 1998 linkup "Money, Cash, Hoes," which appears on Jay-Z's third studio album, Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life. The Swizz Beatz-produced track finds X serving up a verse with plenty of canine references and bold bars.
"Fucking with a mad man in a bad mood/Is like fucking with a mad dog that wasn't fed food/And the only thing that's stopping him is you (What!)/So the only thing that he'll be dropping is you (What!)/Chopping in two (Come on!)/Then he drop it to Clue, and the response from the street: This is one dog that loves raw meat (Woo!)," X delivers.
Debuts Two No. 1 Albums in One Calendar Year
Scoring a No.1 album these days is way easier in comparison to 1998. Streaming runs up the numbers in 2021, but back then, physical copies were the way to land at the top of the charts, which DMX did not once, but twice 23 years ago. When the Yonkers-bred rapper debuted with It's Dark and Hell Is Hot in May of 1998, the effort landed at No. 1. Then he did it again with Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood when the last Billboard 200 chart was released in December of that year. The victory was a landmark moment for an artist at that time, and solidified his reign as one of rap's greatest MCs.
Forms Murder Inc. With Jay-Z and Ja Rule
DMX, Jay-Z and Ja Rule formed the rap group Murder Inc. at the behest of Irv Gotti in the late 1990s, giving rap fans something to look forward to when it came to elite lyricism and grimy bars. The trio dropped two singles during their time together: "Murdergram" and "It's Murda." Though short-lived due to alleged tensions between X and Hov, the rap group's formation even if only for a little while showcased what could have been if these New York rappers chose to see it all the way through.
Joins Hard Knock Life Tour
During his peak, DMX linked with Jay-Z for the Hard Knock Life Tour in 1999. The performance trek reportedly brought in gross profits that totaled $18 million for all involved, which included Method Man, Redman, Ja Rule, Beanie Sigel and Amil alongside Hov and X. While footage of that time is hard to come by, the 2000 documentary Backstage provides an inside look to what was going on both onstage and behind the scenes of one of the greatest tours in hip-hop history.
Performs at Woodstock 1999
When Woodstock had its inaugural festival in 1969, hip-hop being part of the festivities wasn't even a thought since the genre was born four years later in 1973. Thirty years after that first event, Woodstock ’99, which took place July 22–25 that year, welcomed a diverse array of artists to the stage including DMX.
When X hit the stage to perform for a crowd of reportedly more than 200,000 people, he was decked out in a short-sleeve red button-down shirt, grey tank top, red overalls with the Ruff Ryders logo and red Timberland boots. By the time he started rapping songs like "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" and "Stop Being Greedy," the MC ditched the shirt and had the fans in the palm of his hand. Some artists have a tough time commanding an audience of a massive size such as this, but this seasoned vet had everyone rapping along with him word for word.
Wins Best Rap/Hip-Hop Artist at 2000 American Music Awards
X scored a few Grammy Award nominations during his time in hip-hop. ...And Then There Was X landed a Best Rap Album nom in 2001, and "Party Up (Up in Here)" earned a Best Rap Solo Performance that same year. Then in 2002, he got another Best Rap Solo Performance nom for "Who We Be." Though he never won a Grammy Award in his career, he did come home a winner at the 2000 American Music Awards when he won Best Rap/Hip-Hop Artist, besting Jay-Z and Juvenile. He received the top honor a second time in 2001.
Earns Five Consecutive No. 1 Albums
After coming in the game with his debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, in 1998, and earning a No. 1 position on the Billboard 200 chart in June of that year, X scored another chart-topping LP with his sophomore effort, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, when the last Billboard 200 chart was released in 1998. Two projects landing at the top spot in one year makes DMX in an elite class of MCs. He went on to earn three more consecutive No. 1 albums throughout his career with 1999's ... And Then There Was X, 2001's The Great Depression and 2003's Grand Champ. In total, the esteemed MC has five No. 1 albums to his name.
Creates Plenty of Hits With R&B Stars
DMX had a knack for showcasing vulnerability in his lyrics that resonated with the masses. The music was his diary, and he had no qualms about sharing both the good and bad in his life with his listener. While he had plenty of anthem-quality rap bangers in his catalog, the tracks he made with some of R&B's most revered artists at the time were special.
"How's It Goin' Down" featuring Faith Evans climbed to No. 79 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1998. The mid-tempo groove has less bark and bite from X as he tells the story of a shorty who's creepin' on her man with the rapper while Faith's seraphic vocals complete the track.
Then there's his 2000 collaboration with Aaliyah on her track "Come Back in One Piece," one of the singles from the Romeo Must Die soundtrack for the film they both starred in. On the song, X admits he's a "dog for life," but keeps it true, and Aaliyah's warm vocals feature her looking out for X and giving him the OK to hang with his dogs as long as he makes a promise to "make it back in one piece."
That same year, the MC connected with Sisqó for "What These Bitches Want," one of several songs that earned X a top 50 position on the Billboard Hot 100. This track came in at No. 49. The famed effort is most notable for all the women X names on the track: "There was Brenda, Latisha (Uh), Linda, Felicia (OK)/Dawn, LeShaun, Inez and Alicia (Ooh)/Teresa, Monica, Sharon, Nicki (Uh-huh)/Lisa, Veronica, Karen, Vicky (Damn)/Cookie, well, I met her in a ice cream parlor (Right)/Tonya, Diane, Lori and Carla (OK)/Marina (Uh), Selena (Uh), Katrina (Uh), Sabrina (Uh)/About three Kims (What?), LaToya and Tina (Woo)/Shelley, Bridget, Cathy, Rasheeda (Uh-huh)/Kelly, Nicole, Angel, Juanita (Damn)/Stacy, Tracy, Ronna and Ronda (What?)/Donna, Yolanda (What?), Tawana and Wanda (What?)," the rapper lists out on the Nokio the N-Tity-produced song as Sisqó belts out lines like "Tell me what you want from me."
"Party Up (Up in Here)" Becomes the Ultimate Party Anthem
Twenty-one years ago, DMX crafted the ultimate party anthem with "Party Up (Up in Here)" in 2000. One of the 18 tracks on the MC's third album, ... And Then There Was X, the song climbed to No. 27 on Billboard Hot 100 in 2000, becoming the highest-charting track of his career. "Y'all gon' make me lose my mind/Up in here, up in here/Y'all gon' make me go all out/Up in here, up in here," DMX barks on the hook of this Swizz Beatz-produced master class in how to make a party rockin' record.
Makes Prayer in Music More Mainstream
Religion and faith are controversial topics on any given day, so when adding those into the music, it can be a firestorm for the critics. However, DMX seamlessly weaved his love for God into his lyrics and the result was warmly embraced. He brought listeners to church with him with every bar he uttered. "I'm God's child," he said during an Instagram Live session last year. "We all are."
On his 2006 song "Lord Give Me a Sign," the closer on his Year of the Dog...Again album, he opens with words from the Bible. "In the name of Jesus (Spread the word)/'No weapon formed against me shall prosper (Preach)/And every turn that rise against my judgment, thou shalt condemn' (Preach, preach)/Lord, give me a sign/For this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord (Preach)/'And their righteousness is of me,' said the Lord (Preach)/Amen," he says.
Prayer was ever-present in all of DMX's albums and even at his concerts. Grown men shed a few tears in those seats as X led them through prayer. He made the religious act in music more mainstream as he became a hip-hop icon ruling the charts.
Covers Countless Magazines
In his prime, there wasn't a magazine cover that didn't feature DMX. The New York rapper was the go-to artist for the poignant music he made and barriers he broke (along with quite a few rules, too). When it comes to XXL, the rapper was on the cover six times, proving just how important his artistry and legacy was to hip-hop.