“When the album came out, he had a legendary show at the Apollo. He tore that shit down, ended with “Prayer” and started crying. And when he closed with the lines “so if it takes for me to suffer for my brother to see the light, give me pain till I die, but please, Lord, treat him right” and he threw up the X with his arms there were hood niggas and hood chicks in there crying. Every motherfucker in the Apollo had the X up with him and they were crying. He was like “I love y’all niggas”, “I love my niggas”. He was telling everyone in the audience “I love y’all”…. that’s DMX man. Artists don’t have a connection like that. He’s in your heart. He’s in your fucking heart”.
– Irv Gotti
When The Dog barked, the people listened
Ask the black community what they loved most about DMX and it won’t be his famous adlibs or even his biggest radio hit but it’ll be how “real” his lyrics were- how you could just “feel” him. You could just feel those raw lyrics delivered in that distinctive growl that would captivate on every record he was on.
At a time when most hip hop artists only found radio success when preaching about glitz, glam, luxury and riches, what separated DMX from the flock was his commitment to putting a spotlight on the experiences of the people. This is why the people feel him. We can’t relate to “in the Ferrari or Jaguar, switching 4 lanes// with the top down, screaming out “money ain’t a thang”. We can’t relate to dancing in a shiny suit in the middle of Times Square talking about “mo money, mo problems”. (When has more money ever brought YOU more problems?) However, we can relate to “damn, was it my fault? Something I did? //To make a father leave his first kid, at 7 doing my first bid”. While many other artists made music that promoted capitalist pursuits of wealth and fame (as that is generally the only kind of music that will bring an artist resources under capitalism), DMX would lay out his pain, bare and transparently, on every track.
But the thing about DMX was that his story wasn’t unique to him. His story was that of the masses of African people- worldwide, from the ghettos to the shanty towns. We feel DMX because we see ourselves in his music. From his upbringing in the impoverished New York projects to the physical and emotional abuse he experienced from his mother to the absence of his father, his struggles with drug abuse and being in and out of jail, to the sheer mental/ emotional weight of living under such brutal conditions, he was a mouthpiece for the oppressed black community and our shared experiences under colonial domination. DMX vocalized the stories of millions of us, the agony of millions of us. We feel him because we are him.
DMX’s PROBLEM WASNT DRUGS
“It wasn’t long before I hit rock bottom//
Niggas looking at me like “damn look how that rock got him”
– DMX, Slippin
One very publicized aspect of DMX’s career had been his ongoing struggle with drugs, particularly “crack” cocaine. DMX stated that he was first exposed to the drug when it given to him, unbeknownst to him, by an older African in his community who’d laced his weed with it, beginning his lifelong battle with the drug.
Some have characterized his addiction as “his demons”- HIS demons- as if DMX’s struggle with drugs was something unique to him. The reality of it is that DMX’s struggle with crack, just like any African’s struggle with crack was something planned, coordinated and executed before DMX was even born.
DMX didn’t just stumble upon crack. The African dealer who gave him his first hit didn’t even just stumble upon crack. Crack was strategically placed in the dealers hands as part of a larger scheme by the government to destroy the black revolution of the 60s and undermine any future possibility of a revolution brewing in the black community through a process called “counterinsurgency”.
Whenever the masses of the people are rising up against oppression (a process which has been called insurgency) and a revolution is on the horizon, the oppressor will use any tactic possible to prevent that revolution from happening. We see this in the regular police violence put on the black community, revolutionaries being murdered or thrown in jail and their replacement with fake “leaders” who are actually leading us deeper into oppression (see Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Deray Mckessa, Tamika Mallory or Barack Obama).
This is what counter-insurgency is: all efforts made by the oppressor to sabotage the revolution and prevent it from happening.
One of the most insidious methods of this counterinsurgency was the pouring of drugs into the black community, most notably heroin and “crack” cocaine. This was en effort to keep our people in a drug induced haze and uninterested in or unable to get organized and fight for our liberation.
Africans desperate for resources (which is the norm in a community deprived of resources and “legal” means of income) were enticed by the money that could be made in the new, illegal drug economy placed in the black community and were enlisted by the government, whether conscious of it or not, to spread crack cocaine throughout our communities for a quick buck.
Little do they know, they were making a quick buck at the expense of their family, their community, and, ultimately, themselves.
Chairman Omali Yeshitela, leader and founder of the Uhuru Movement, has coined this process “Licking the blade”. This practice continues in our community today. DMX was a victim of an African licking the blade as part of the counterinsurgency.
However, before DMX even took his first hit of crack cocaine, we were all victims of colonialism.
DMX’s PROBLEM WAS COLONIALISM
Colonialism is the control of one group of people by another for the purpose of political domination and economic exploitation. This is the reality of African people- “black” people-, we are colonized.
Ever since the first European set foot on Africa, enslaved the first African (beginning the system of capitalism), and began the process of stealing the land, labor and resources of African people for the benefit of Europe over 600 years ago, we have been living under colonial domination in the form of white power (dominated and exploited by white people). As the colonized, we experience the most wretched existences. Our lives are marked by hunger, poverty, violence, fear, and regular suffering. We are subjected to back- breaking labor for BS pay, forced to live in the worst housing and given the worst food with horrible healthcare- if any at all. In addition, imagine what destructive impact these conditions have on someone’s mental health and emotional well-being.
DMX, along with the millions of Africans suffering under colonial domination, experienced a mental anguish that would make a retreat to drugs, alcohol and other substances an almost inevitable means of coping. To characterize these conditions as “his demons” is incorrect. DMX’s problem wasn’t drugs, his problem is that he was colonized and the only “demons” in question are the forces of a system that would impose such inhumane, death-bringing conditions on a people.
FREE THE AFRICAN ARTIST
DMX is one of many immensely talented children of Africa who’s had his life cut short by circumstances out of his control. Whether through violence, substance abuse, the nearly poisonous food and poor healthcare afforded to our people or the mental illness brought on by these factors, one feature of colonialism or another has hindered the growth and development of many of our great minds. This says nothing of the millions upon millions of our artists who were killed by this system before ever getting the chance to create at all.
Our artists need to be free. We don’t know what powerful potential lies in a free African artist because
We don’t know what a free, uncolonized African even looks like. We’ve never seen one. By freeing all african and colonized people, we will also free our artists
A frequent theme in DMX’s music was brotherhood. He rapped regularly about friendship and loyalty to his “dogs”. Even when carrying out an “illegal” act, he understood the significance of coming together as a people to get something done. He understood how you could only complete the task if you do it alongside your brothers. This belief was expressed in much of his music. We have to unite. We have to come together as brothers and sisters. This is the only way we’ll be able to complete the task of destroying the system that has been destroying us. Once this task is completed and we are a free people, we will flourish and prosper in ways beyond our wildest imagination.
There will be a million DMXs- brilliant, visionary African artists who’ll have the freedom to create entire worlds with their genius. But we have to get free first. Only then will we be able to unleash the full potential of our people. Our greatest artists will be the free ones.
Let’s get organized! Join InPDUM!
Free African people!
Free African artists!
(When asked why the hood appreciates his music)
“…. I speak for them, dog
I will be the voice of the street til I die
because I know if I keep my heart real,
I’m gonna fly”
– DMX, interview 1997