I first encountered DMX, or the X-Man as many called him, through his 1998 masterpiece, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot.” The veritable album of the year, at least the hottest joint in hip-hop, put New York rap back on the map. As a 25-year-old New York native, writing a PhD dissertation on the Black Power movement back then, I instantly related to DMX’s lyrical flow, menacing swagger, wicked sense of humor and aching vulnerability. I recognized, like many of his millions of fans, aspects of myself in the lower frequencies of Black life that he recounted with brilliance and bravado.
DMX’s growl, his hoarse voice and raw lyrics didn’t so much move crowds as stun them into aural submission, winning them over with the mellifluous power of the beat and the confessional nature of lyrics that interrogated Black masculinity with new depth and breadth.
On this score, DMX paved the way for future hip-hop entrepreneurs, such as 50 Cent, who would leverage their personal biographies as street hustlers to become brand influencers and business moguls on a level unimagined during rap’s early days.