God Be With You, Earl Simmons.

DMX 1970–2021

The reason I have a short fuse about writers and rappers lying about “the trap” was that my father was in a lot of them. A ghetto celebrity in Tacoma and a successful businessman before he became a basehead, he used the connections he developed, to scam money, get a come back job at UPS, smoke that up, and then spend a few years playing a victim of the system. In that time she got away with a lot of shit and around trap house, the most egregious things being roughing up runners, people were always 11–15-year-old kids looking for a father figure. Because I wasn’t there all the time, because I was Bob Lashley’s boy, and because Bob Lashley had a sad story, I wasn’t “Rick James’d”( aka forced to smoke crack at a young age). I knew enough kids that were, however, and my survivor’s guilt is so hellish at times did I have to blaze myself to sleep.

That’s the reason why I’m crying for DMX right now. Crack is such a devastating drug, but in the brain of a 14-year-old, it is a walking death sentence. At the margins of his malevolent danceable MTV Juggernot musical persona, was a street kids’ yearning toward stability that hit me straight in my prime artery. Under it, he was always looking for that certain kind of light, the best aspects of himself, along with the refuge of the only safe home he knew, his grandmother’s house. And just as he was about to transition to a sort of second act where he could create iterations of that refuge, the radio-dependent systems refused to buy into him as anything other than the party monster that moved mass sales.

I always thought that DMX belonged in that tragic group of artists who were “institutional race men”. Those who assumed the mantle ( or had it foisted on them) had many intersections: they tell a coming of age story, they tell it eloquently, they process violence in counterproductive and contradictory ways, and they rise to fame as the “voice of their generation”. They also had another thing in common: they were only allowed to tell their story once. And when they strayed from it, their audience was done with them.

One thinks of Richard Wright, late in his career, being neglected by both black and white media for discovering feminism and demanding black women have a seat at the table in African and African American politics. Later on, it was Claude Brown, suddenly unhip with the black arts movement because of his disdain for dadaist violent poetics and uncouth with former white liberals because the truths he saw in his block continued to be too uncomfortable to ignore. In the early 70’s it was, Etheridge Knight, the “natural man/prison hero” the middle-class black men of the Black arts movement, giving up his kingship when he wanted to feel, cry, and process life, women, and addiction in “canonical” poetic forms

This is what I think of when I think of DMX. Brutal, tragic, tear-jerking, and haunting, he should have shaken America’s preconceived notions about hood life the same way Steinbeck once shook people’s notions about poverty in America. Instead, it made him the beta-type for a brand. The interchangeable genocidal frat kids who murder and party in their radio formatted Trap kingdoms are a slow and formulaic dilution of DMX’s pained, heartbreaking, and brilliantly written lyrics that were impossible to ignore for a brief time.

Like a lot of artists, he became submerged by the avatar he created, one that had a lot of heedless self-destruction in it. It was something that he could do did until he stopped being photogenic, and started being the kind of addict that was a public punching bag for a generation of respectability politicians. What was hauntingly sadistic about the Reality shows he was in was were formulas they followed: X would lay his demons bare, a wife or child would cry, and then a host would run roughshod over all parties involved without any chance of closure or healing, only the come back the next time X had failed in his sobriety.

I don’t begrudge the people who had had to deal with his demons concerning his sobriety. All I am saying is that their blues weren’t mine. DMX tried to shine a light that was never shined on him and so many 14-year-old kids or given similar death sentences by hustlers and monsters. There will be time to talk about the cultural dynamics of what his life meant, but dear God, today I honor it. Dear God, I hope Earl Simmons is at rest now.



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