As I write this, social media is reeling with rumors that hip-hop legend DMX has died after suffering a drug overdose-induced heart attack days ago. Rumors are false and insiders like his manager STEVE RIFKIND say he is still on life support. I've been thinking about DMX. Artist and man.
When I was building my first company MISCHIEF NEW MEDIA, I always listened to music in the background (and THE SOPRANOS off my DVR). I likely heard him first on HOT 97. "RUFF RYDERS' ANTHEM," and "PARTY UP (UP IN HERE)." That voice. That rasp. Unmistakably DMX. When I joined MTV in 2000, the hits kept coming. "WHO WE BE" and "X GON' GIVE IT TO YA" and on and on. We had booked DMX twice for MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS. The day before each time, he canceled. I can't recall the reasoning. His reputation was what it was. He was wild. Unpredictable. Brilliant. And that was DMX. We filled the spots with big artists last minute and we went on.
As I sit back and hope for the recovery of an artist I love, his origins come more into focus. The man. EARL SIMMONS. The one beyond the hype, the theatrics, the gossip. He suffered child abuse at a very early age. A mentor introduced him to cocaine-laced marijuana as a young teen. A moment that would follow him the rest of his life. Watch this interview with TALIB KWELI, it is heartbreaking and brave. These contributed to the anger and rage that would see him in and out of juvenile facilities and jail. But seemingly all the while, not treated for the trauma.
Clearly, he dealt with some of his feelings in his rhymes. You can hear it in songs like "PAIN" and "WHO WE BE." But often in situations like the one he grew up in - talking about what you went through can be considered a sign of weakness. Of not being hard. But the truth is anything but...
Anyone that knows victims of this kind of trauma understands how extraordinarily tough some are to even live through the events. To persevere and go on. Or to succeed in work or other areas. Clearly, DMX had done much of this. Whether through work. Starting a family. Faith in god. This was not a man that did not try. But sometimes a childhood trauma is something too hard to escape. Or too hard to escape when your mentor, the person you idolized got you hooked on drugs.
We are a society that has celebrated outlaws. We love the hard living. The tales. And sadly, the end in a blaze of glory. In celebrity culture and even more so in hip-hop it's been way too acceptable and celebrated. He once said “One thing that people don't really understand is that as a celebrity you rarely get fair treatment. You either get love or hate. It's never really fair.” I imagine that’s true often, and the public scoffs because of the money, the adoration. The fame is worth it some thought. But after reading up on his life it’s the child that didn’t get fair treatment. And somewhere along the line as an adult, one would hope we fixed that. I’ve always believed that you can’t save somebody. They have to help themselves. But you can help them. And one gets to thinking how raw a deal Earl Simmons got early on, and even with all the artistry, fame, money, and adulation – those first hurts were too deep. Take him off the stage. Off the screen. A human that suffered. Again, watch the interview. He did it all, but that early hurt, it's still there. Fans and loved ones pray for him. One of those fans is MASTER P. He thinks that DMX's overdose was preventable and he's thinking about how we can stop the next one.
Some learnings to bring it home for you. A great long Q&A - "DMX: The Ressurection" (GQ). Fantastic piece on a crucial moment in his career - "DMX, Woodstock '99: a landmark for rap and American realism" (The Guardian). A recent podcast discussion on his life and art (The Ringer). "DMX On Getting Tricked Into Smoking Crack At 14 By His Rap Mentor" (UPROXX). "Can DMX Ever Stay Out of Trouble Long Enough to Top the Charts Again?" (Phoenix New Times)
Praying for Earl and his family...
Happy Birthday to...
PETER LEVINSOHN, SEAN BRECKER, ETHAN KAPLAN, KEITH MEISTER, and LISA GREGORIAN. And a belated to... ANDY FLORIN SMITH, BOB ROBACK, JENNEY SCHOFIELD PORTEUS, DAN PETRUZZI, KRIS BAGWELL, LAUREN GOODE, NICOLE WAGNER LEVINSON, DAVE ULMER, NOAH GARDEN, EMILIO MASCI, ANGELA COURTIN, and TED MICO.
Oh and P.S. - STFU. Get your shot. Your math class, GOOGLE spreadsheet, and your TWITTER feed don’t make you a vaccine expert.