"All I Feel Is Rain" Remembering DMX

"All I Feel Is Rain" Remembering DMX

The crucial rap artist passed away over the weekend...

DMX, once told photographer Matthew Salacuse that "in order to speak to the people, you must walk with the people."

The legendary Yonkers MC, who died on April 9th aged just 50, ambushed a shiny-suited, Cristal-drenched rap game left hollow by the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. Like a hungry junkyard dog, his fierce approach tore chunks out of the ostentatious, big money flexing typical of many of his contemporaries.

After a near-decade of false starts and unsigned hype, a pair of guttural, incendiary verses on posse cuts ‘4,3,2,1’ and ‘24 Hours to Live’ introduced listeners to Def Jam’s explosive new talent, shaking down the scene in the process. Flanked by a pair of barrel-chested Pitbulls, X was coming for all your shit, and there wasn’t a damn thing you could do about it. “Took it then we split it / you fuckin' right we did it” he deadpans on the riotous Ruff Ryder’s anthem.

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His revolutionary debut album ‘It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot’ and blood-soaked follow-up ‘Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood’ both topped US album charts in 1998. Both provide unflinching dispatches from the battlefield of a war between a man of faith and his inner demons. Of the latter he said, “I want ‘Flesh Of My Flesh’ to be like my connection to the community. I want to say what’s on their minds, soak up all their pain.”

X’s darkest imagery could’ve been crafted in hell itself, while the fearlessly honest, reflective ‘Slippin’ is one of the most profound rap songs ever written. Oscillating between viciousness and vulnerability, DMX’s raw energy spoke for and directly to America’s marginalised, maligned inner-city Black communities. “Ribs is touchin', so don't make me wait / Fuck around and I'm gon' bite you and snatch the plate” he warns on ‘Stop Being Greedy’.

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His untethered rage resonated in suburbia too, with rap’s biggest consumers: angsty, unselfaware white kids. At Woodstock ‘99 he stood tall above a crowd of 200,000 of them in a pair of muddy Timberland boots, breathing fire from his pulpit before leading them in prayer.

In December of that year he conquered the Billboard 200 again with ‘And Then There Was X’, entering the new millennium as one of music’s biggest stars. Subsequent albums ‘The Great Depression’ (2001) and ‘Grand Champ’ (2003) also reached number one, making him the first rapper to have his first five albums top US album charts.

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Born Earl Simmons, DMX grew up in abject poverty and endured physical abuse at the hands of his mother and her partners. He took to the streets as a teenager to escape the violence in his home, sometimes sleeping in clothing bins for warmth and befriending the stray dogs that’d become regular symbols in his work. Are there any sounds more iconic in rap than X’s growl and barked ad-lib?

Crime became a means of survival, but music was meant to be Earl’s salvation. In a cruel paradox, Ready Ron, his first mentor in hip hop, also introduced him to crack cocaine after passing a blunt laced with the drug. He was fourteen. Addiction became yet another devil on his back during a stolen childhood. He worked as a DJ and human beatbox, before tapping into the reserves of fury, hurt and isolation within to express himself on the mic.

Originally naming himself after the Oberheim DMX drum machine he enjoyed using, it came to represent ‘Dark Man X’, a moniker that captured his turbulent presence on the mic. On the haunting ‘Look Thru My Eyes’ he raps “Feel the pain, feel the joy / of a man who was never a boy.”

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DMX’s pain seemed to swallow his joy as the Noughties progressed into the 2010s, overshadowing his later releases. The countless run-ins with the law and stints in jail that had blighted his life since he was condemned to two years juvenile detention as a 16 year old child, became more frequent. His struggles with addiction and mental health intensified. In late 2017 he was sentenced to a federal count of tax fraud, and spent all of 2018 incarcerated.

He re-emerged in 2020, looking healthy as he led sincere bible study sessions on Instagram. In July he connected with Snoop Dogg for a ‘Versuz’ battle that was a truly wholesome highlight from a horrible year; a pair of aging, unselfconscious rap heavyweights joking and dancing like two raucous uncles at a summer barbecue. DMX, perhaps rap’s most tormented soul, appeared to be happy. Which is why his passing, less than a year later is especially hard to take.

The life and death of DMX, Dark Man, Earl Simmons is a parable on both the legacy of childhood trauma, and the callous futility of criminalising poverty, mental illness and addiction. He was born into brutal, man-made circumstances shaped to keep him and anyone like him down. He boldly shaped the scars inflicted by those circumstances into music and attempted to transcend them. In many ways he did. His survival was defiance. "No matter how hard it rains, withstand the pain" he urges on ‘Ready to Meet Him.’

But the storm took its toll, and eventually his body succumbed. Soon after, tributes on social media shone light on his graciousness and humility; X danced at an Albanian wedding, mopped the floors for the workers of a Waffle House, cooked omelettes in a Buffalo IHOP and flew remote-controlled helicopters with a young fan in a central London park. He was one of one, an imperfect, undisputed great who walked with the people. He is survived by his mother, fiancé and children.

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Words: Robert Kazandjian

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