On April 9, after a heart attack triggered by a drug overdose, Yonkers-bred rapper DMX passed away while staying at White Plains Hospital, NY. He was 50 years old.
While his tragic death came way too soon, it is somewhat reassuring to know the early 2000's icon left behind an incredible musical legacy. Born Earl Simmons in Mount Vernon, New York, DMX grew up in the Yonkers suburbs. After a tough life surviving on the streets, music became his saving grace.
His rise in hardcore rap followed the deaths of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., making him the leader of the genre once the late 90s hit. He had the rare commodity of attaining commercial success and artistic praise, while also having the street credibility to be taken seriously by the hip hop community.
Many love the barking delivery within his tracks, which fits perfectly with his lyrical fascination with dogs. Whenever a DMX song plays, people are bound to go wild on the dance floor.
In honor of Earl Simmons's life and legacy, here's Live365's Top 10 picks of DMX's greatest hits.
From DMX's second album It's Dark and Hell is Hot, "Damien" is a modern hip hop version of the German legend Faust. With characters all voiced by DMX, the track is about the relationship between the rapper and a fictional man named Damien. DMX makes a deal with Damien: he'll commit acts of violence - which include shooting his friend Sean - in return for fame and fortune. Of course, Damien is actually the devil in disguise.
"Damien" is the beginning of a musical trilogy. DMX also released "The Omen" from Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood and "Damien III" from The Great Depression, which complete the tale. The Damien trilogy itself is actually an homage to the 1976 horror flick The Omen.
9. "Stop Being Greedy"
Also from It's Dark and Hell is Hot, "Stop Being Greedy" reflects on the ideas DMX reveals within "Damien." He portrays two sides of himself: one an honest man trying to make a good life, the other an ego-driven monster puppeteered by the devil.
This song is notable for DMX's use of tone in his lyrical delivery. His good side is done in a softer, lighter voice while his bad side is gruff, raspy, growling, and barking. These two egos are also distinguishable thanks to the interesting use of organ which appears whenever DMX's lyrics go darker.
8. "What These B*****s Want" (feat. Sisqó)
A song that has DMX listing off names of all the women he's been involved with, "What These B*****s Want" talks about the rapper's trouble with commitment. The song was released as the third single from …And Then There Was X, and features a collaboration with R&B singer Sisqó.
At the time of its release, "What These B*****s Want" was a pretty big deal. DMX was coming off two number one albums (It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood), while Sisqó released "Thong Song" - a track that went on to become one of the biggest hits in 2000. Their legendary team up was the reason why the single art for DMX's new track featured the line “The Biggest in Rap meets The Biggest in R&B.”
Since its release, artists like Tory Lanez, Drake, and Shindy have used this song as a sample. You can't deny it...this song is pretty "Cocoa Puff-sweet."
7. "Get It On The Floor" (feat. Swizz Beatz)
An underrated track from 2003's Grand Champ, "Get It On The Floor" is the perfect song to use in a dance battle. It features DMX's signature energy with an addictive beat and a cameo from DMX's longtime producer Swizz Beatz.
Regarding the song, Swizz Beatz told Complex:
"I just wanted to get X back in the clubs with another mainstream record that people could relate to. I was like, ‘We should go back to the basics and get back in the club. We haven’t had nothing in the club for a while.’ I thought ‘Get It On The Floor’ was the perfect song for that time. It wasn’t ‘Party Up’ or ‘Ruff Ryders' Anthem,’ but it still held a lot of weight. It was the best song for him and for us."
6. "What's My Name?"
From …And Then There Was X, "What's My Name" is a pumped-up tune that sees DMX discussing loyalty. He chants "ride or die," the mantra used within the Ruff Ryders crew/label, and even quotes Scarface with the lyrics, "Runnin' around here like some brand new p**** / That's about to get f*****."
In an interview with GQ, DMX explained how the track was made. While he and his crew were in Miami recording the album, Irv Gotti brought him the signature beat from the track. The song was written and recorded pretty quickly, and DMX revealed it's not a song that's supposed to make listeners feel happy. It's a song to make them feel angry.
"Sometimes people want to feel worse, they don't always want to feel better," he told GQ. "Like however the f*** you want to feel, there should be a song that helps you feel that way."
5. "Party Up (Up In Here)"
A quintessential party song, "Party Up" is one of DMX's biggest commercial successes. You can't play this song at a club without dozens of people bouncing around and shouting out the chorus. It's energetic and easy to groove to, but it's actually a diss track against unnamed rappers who were trying to drive DMX out of his tree.
DMX said in his GQ interview, "I didn't make it for the club: the beat is for the club. I just spit some real s*** to it." Swizz Beatz elaborated more in his Complex interview:
"That’s our biggest record, globally. ‘Party Up’ was at a time when things were moving fast. X was probably frustrated coming to the studio that day like, ‘Y’all gone make me lose my mind!’ A lot of the stuff we were doing was in the moment. When he says, ‘Y’all gone make me lose my mind!’ it’s probably what he was really feeling. So we said, ‘You’re not the only person who feels like that. Everybody feels like that.’ We took that frustration and excitement and put it into a hit song. (…) I just went in there bugging out. I didn’t think they would keep the ‘One, two, meet me outside.’"
4. "Ruff Ryders' Anthem"
Written in 15 minutes, "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" is an important track for DMX. It was the first collaboration between him and Swizz Beatz, and their first major hit together. It was also the first song Swizz Beatz ever produced. Released as a B-side to “Slippin'”, "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" was the fourth and final single from It's Dark and Hell is Hot.
At first, DMX didn't want to record the song because he thought the beat was simple and repetitive. But it turns out deceptively simple beats were just what rowdy club-goers were looking for. "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and VH1 ranked it #79 on their list of greatest hip hop songs.
The Ruff Ryder in "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" is an homage to DMX's record label, Ruff Ryders Entertainment. It was founded by brothers Darrin “Dee” Dean and Joaquin “Waah” Dean, uncles of Swizz Beatz. It operated as a subsidiary of Universal Music Group and was known for managing well-known hip hop artists such as DMX himself, Ruff Ryders (the hip hop group led by DMX), Swizz Beatz, The LOX, Jadakiss, Styles P, and Jin.
While the label was disbanded in 2010, it still lives on today through a new label called Ruff Ryders Indy. Still, the label's glory days are long gone. At least they will always be remembered through this iconic DMX song.
"Slippin'" sees DMX revealing a deeper, more vulnerable side compared to his typically tough and energetic persona. The hurt is palpable in this track, which came from his first album Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood.
"Slippin'" is ultimately about self-motivation. DMX promises to better himself despite having hit rock bottom in his life. It reminds listeners where he came from while stating it's possible to uplift yourself from any difficult situation.
The "Group homes and institutions" lyric from the first verse was taken from DMX's real life. He was sent to a children's home by his mother at the age of 11, and was moved between many institutions for several years. The lyrics of "Slippin'" also talk about DMX's estranged father and his experience with vandalism. On the lighter side, the song mentions DMX writing his first song at the age of 14 and the hope that he will someday be able to meet his kids. (He would go on to have 6.)
2. "Where The Hood At?"
"Where The Hood At" was the penultimate song DMX finished for Grand Champ. The beat is an updated version of the 1989 song “Young, Gifted and Black” by Big Daddy Kane, and was inspired by the neighborhoods in Chicago.
In his GQ interview, DMX revealed "Where The Hood At?" was his friend Kato's favorite song. Rudy "Kato" Rangel was a leader of the Latin Kings and was fatally shot at a barbershop in 2003. Although DMX's grief in the interview is notable, he mentions "Where The Hood At?" wasn't tough to perform for crowds despite Kato's passing. He even shares a memory of him and Kato dancing to the song in Los Angeles.
The music video is particularly memorable, with motorcycles, a fancy car DMX drives, and even a horse.
1. "X Gon Give It To Ya"
DMX's most recognizable song, "X Gon Give It To Ya" is easily #1 on our list. While the song is part of DMX's album The X Files, it's also the debut single from the Cradle 2 the Grave soundtrack: a 2003 action movie starring DMX and Jet Li.
DMX explained to GQ he introduced "X Gon Give It To Ya" to Joel Silver, the director of the movie. He wanted it for the film, but DMX intended to save the track for his fifth album. They struck a deal: "X Gon Give It To Ya" was used for Cradle 2 the Grave while Silver gave DMX permission to do the soundtrack for the movie.
Although the song was released in 2007, it has received renewed popularity in recent years thanks to its use in Deadpool and Rick and Morty. "X Gon Give It To Ya" is basically DMX's anthem to himself. He asserts his power and warns haters not to pick a fight with him, or else he'll "give it to ya." There's no doubt - it's one of the greatest power-up songs of all time.
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