If you’re from an Indian reservation and were born between the 1970s and 90s, there’s a good chance DMX’s music played
a big part in your life.
Earl Simmons — also known as DMX — was one of the most prevalent storytellers of my generation.
Tragically, he passed away on April 9 at age 50.
Most of my 35 years on the planet have been influenced by rap music. The stories shared in the mainstream genre have a certain relatability to the American Indian struggle. The role of storyteller has been prevalent in our cultures since time immemorial, so I think it’s natural many of us in that demographic cling to rap as their favorite type of music.
When DMX emerged with the 1998 album, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot,” it took off on the rez. The artist’s raw lyrics, angry tone and catchy hooks attracted many of us in those days. “Get at me dog” and “Ruff Ryders’ anthem” were a large part of that first album’s success. The storytelling throughout the CD was nothing shy of captivating for me in my teenage years, where CD players, MTV and monstrous boom box systems were part of daily life.
What an era. The memories make me smile.
I bought DMX’s first album 20 years ago in Seattle at age 15, wondering if I’d be asked for my identification due to the black
and white explicit lyrics label warning. The small record shop in a less than friendly neighborhood — which also sold me a shiny
Ruff Ryders (DMX’ label) chain necklace and pendant with fake diamonds — didn’t say no to my money.
The album and style piece went well with my overall hip hop swagger, which included baggy clothing flashy shoes, and
— eventually — corn rows in my hair.
Those memories make me smile.
In 1999, when DMX released, “And Then There Was X,” he took his career and fans to another level. For me, it was the most intriguing album I’d heard to date.
It was DMX’s most successful album. The Source called it, “a mind-gripping opus that fully encompasses the appeal of one of rap’s newest sensations.”
Coupled with the playing a leading role in the movie, “Belly,” DMX was on top of the rap world. In a microcosm of his universal success, he may have been on top of the reservation rap world, as well.
For the first time, a rapper’s song caught my parents’ attention. My dad, a country and classic rock musician and enthusiast,
would hear, “Party Up (Up in here)” in our rooms or on the radio and start poking fun at it. Though he died in September of 2011, I can still hear him replacing the words, singing, “Tacos make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here.”
The memories make me smile.
When the football movie, “Any Given Sunday” was released in 1999 — with DMX’s music a major part of the soundtrack — my life got even more heavily influenced.
My cousin and I created a virtual Miami Sharks team (the fictional franchise from the movie) on Xbox. We successfully won a Super Bowl in a virtual NFL (on easy difficulty) while playing the soundtrack on repeat.
The memory makes me smile.
In the decade following, DMX’s musical career began to descend. Comedian Katt Williams, in 2006, poked fun at DMX in a
comedy special my college roommate and I watched over and over again.
For the first time in my life, I found myself laughing at an idol from my adolescence. Williams poked fun at DMX’s height and
angry demeanor in classic lines my friend and I repeated for weeks and weeks.
My buddy died from a drug overdose in October of 2018, but — even today — I can still hear his voice copying the comedy skit,
and the memory makes me smile.
Looking back on my life, it would not have been the same without DMX.
His voice and songs are embedded in my memory, as well as in many others throughout Indian country.
Rest in peace, Earl.