After suffering a heart attack triggered by a drug overdose last weekend, on Friday (April 9), Yonkers-bred MC DMX passed away at White Plains Hospital, NY. He was 50.
X’s reign as Ruff Ryders’ commander and East Coast icon began in the late ’90s when he unleashed his debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot. The magnum opus lifted X into superstar territory, courtesy of his hit singles “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” and “How It’s Goin’ Down.”
Debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, X’s rookie effort placed him at the rap summit alongside Brooklyn’s Jay-Z and Queens’ Nas for New York’s top MC. His torrid run continued into the 2000s, when he churned out instant club classics, including “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” and his Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs top 10 “Party Up (Up In Here).”
For an entire generation of hip-hop fans, nothing will be as instantly transportive to the summer of 1998 than the fat bass and smooth electric keys hitting on the intro to “How’s It Goin’ Down.” The song isn’t exactly as sentimental as its groove would perhaps imply, but the tumultuous relationship at its core still can’t help sound sweetly romantic over that production, and DMX’s gruffly crooned chorus (“What type of games is bein’ played/ How’s it goin’ down?/ It’s on ’til it’s gone, then I gots to know now”) was still the stuff of countless young dramas. X’s gritty street singles were what made him a sensation, but his ability to connect on this more tender level was what made him a superstar. – A.U.
“Stop Being Greedy” (It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, 1998)
With the barking dog snippets and that haunted house organ running throughout, DMX managed to sneak a hardcore hip-hop Jekyll-and-Hyde tale onto the Hot 100 with “Stop Being Greedy.” DMX oscillates between delivering lines like “I don’t like drama, so I stay to myself” in a measured tone and growling threats like “I’ma bash his head wide open / Beggin’ me to stop, but at least he died hopin'” in that trademark rasp. With this It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot classic, it’s not about light or dark winning: It’s about exploring the duel. – Joe Lynch
“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” (It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, 1998)
DMX wasn’t initially sold on the steady, fat Swizz Beatz rhythm and black-key lines of what would become “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” But the simplicity of the beat cleared the way for the gravel-throated rapper to get his Ruff Ryder troops in line with a “Stop! Drop!” X matched the steady tone in his verses, keeping the rhymes (“All I know is pain, all I feel is rain”) as straightforward as the sentiments (“F–k it, dawg, I’m hungry”). But it was what he did in the background, unleashing growls and his now-legendary “what!” ad-libs, that made the mid-tempo track immortal. – Christine Werthman
“Slippin'” (Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, 1998)
So much of DMX’s career was about channeling pain, his voice used an instrument to mine sorrow and analyze hurt rather than celebrate his rise to rap’s A-list. Nowhere is that more clear than “Slippin’”: the lead single to Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood — DMX’s second album of 1998, and the second to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart — is haunted by his imperfections, each verse coloring in the details of his unhappy upbringing and the chorus serving as a self-motivation to reach a higher plane. The wounds of “Slippin’” are raw, but DMX was not about half-measures: he wanted to confront listeners with his devastated psyche and achieve stardom on his own terms. — Jason Lipshutz
“What’s My Name” (…And Then There Was X, 1999)
Before “Party Up” became the breakthrough hit from DMX’s blockbuster 1999 album …And Then There Was X, it was preceded by lead single “What’s My Name,” an absolutely ferocious chest-thump that followed a dominant run to mainstream hip-hop’s mountaintop in the late ‘90s. “What’s My Name” wasn’t designed as a pop crossover like the smash that followed, but captured X’s bone-crushing charisma at a pivotal moment: each verse is constructed around short verbal jabs followed by sumptuous bars, the rapper’s bark-then-bite approach delivered to the masses and setting him up for even greater stardom. – J. Lipshutz