As many of you may know, the prolific Rapper DMX, real name Earl Simmons, died at 50 years old on April 9th, 2021. His family released a statement saying that Simmons “passed away…at White Plains Hospital with his family by his side after being placed on life support for the past few days.” In the statement, his family described him as a warrior “who fought until the end.” The artist was hospitalized on April 2nd following a heart attack at his home in White Plains, NY. Days later, representatives said he was on life support and in a “vegetative state.”
Many will remember DMX for the complexity of his voice, which was often described as a growl or rasp. His voice had a dissonance and musicality to it that was able to project strength underneath his weaknesses. Part of the reason his voice sounded this way could be attributed to him having bronchial asthma. Last year, Simmons recalled his childhood with transparent vulnerability on Talib Kweli’s and Jasmin Leigh’s podcast the People’s Party. He said how as a child he struggled to breathe, often gripping the corners of his bed and gasping for air, “That’s scary, as a child.” This vulnerable image might seem a contradiction to his public persona, which was saturated in toughness, insensitivity, and abrasiveness.
In the late 90’s Simmons delivered hit after hit, rising on the Billboard 200, and made a name for himself. Listeners were captivated by his aggressive style. His first five albums all reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Listeners who might have explored beyond his popular hits would’ve discovered a different side to DMX filled with introspection, survival, and even conversations with God and the devil. Simmons had a difficult childhood growing up filled with physical abuse from his mother and her boyfriends. It was in his early teens, around age 14, when a friend who had introduced him and encouraged him to rap, also introduced him to crack cocaine. Simmons was offered a blunt that he didn’t realize was laced with crack cocaine. This was the first step to his drug addiction. He opened up about this story on Kweli’s podcast and began to cry, asking “Why would you do that to a child?” Unfortunately, he would struggle with drug addiction leading up to his death, as well as becoming known for multiple felonies and arrests.
I personally never knew too much about DMX, nor did I really listen to his music. I honestly didn’t think too much about his death. However, a conversation I had with a friend shocked me and made me reflect on the nature of this death. My friend was venting to me about how he was annoyed that someone he knew was offended because he didn’t care about DMX dying. He said “I don’t feel bad about DMX’s death because he’s an addict who used and died. It’s the same shit different day, and the only difference is he had a platform.” This cynicism and apathy surprised me, considering this friend of mine is recovering from drug addiction and has had close friends die of overdose. On one hand, I can see a point in this opinion: Many people suffer and die from addiction, why is it only when someone famous dies do people begin talking about it? However, this shouldn’t make us turn to apathy. DMX was a man with struggles and vulnerabilities who also suffered in a society that often overlooks addiction. We need to stop seeing people struggling with addiction as “addicts” and instead see them as human beings. I won’t try to justify or condone anything DMX had done in his life, but on Kweli’s podcast he delivered a very really sentiment when he said “So often talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness, when it’s actually one of the bravest things you can do.” If we let our hearts grow cold and apathetic, then nothing will truly change. Despite Earl Simmons’ shortcomings, he wasn’t just some “addict” or “thug.” He was a man who battled, and regrettably, lost against addiction.