Rapper DMX dead at 50 after several days on life support

DMX, the raspy-voiced hip-hop artist behind the songs Ruff Ryders’ Anthem and Party Up (Up in Here), who had one of rap’s most distinctive voices — literally and metaphorically — has died, according to a statement from his family released on Friday. He was 50.

The Grammy-nominated performer, whose real name was Earl Simmons, died after suffering “catastrophic cardiac arrest,” according to the hospital in White Plains, N.Y., where he was rushed from his home on April 2.

“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end. He loved his family with all of his heart, and we cherish the times we spent with him,” the family said, adding that his music “inspired countless fans across the world, and his iconic legacy will live on forever.”

Memorial plans had not yet been set.

DMX, who rapped with a trademark delivery that was often paired with growls, barks and “What!” as an ad-lib, built a multi-platinum career as one of rap’s biggest stars in the 1990s and early 2000s, but he also struggled with drug addiction and legal problems that repeatedly put him behind bars.

DMX performs at The Source Hip-Hop Music Awards at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach, Fla., in 2001. DMX had five consecutive studio albums top the Billboard 200 chart in the United States — the only rapper ever to do so. (Scott Gries/ImageDirect/Getty Images)

He made a splash in 1998 with his first studio album, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. His next four studio albums also topped that chart, making him the only rap artist to accomplish such a feat, according to a 2019 profile in GQ magazine.

He told GQ that he studied the Bible and prayed before and after every show.

“Performing in front of people is beyond a high. It’s beyond a high that any drug could duplicate,” he said.

Cross-media success

He released seven albums, earned three Grammy nominations and was named favourite rap/hip-hop artist at the 2000 American Music Awards. His record label, Def Jam Recordings, called him “a brilliant artist and an inspiration to millions around the world.”

“His message of triumph over struggle, his search for the light out of darkness, his pursuit of truth and grace brought us closer to our own humanity,” the label said in a statement describing him as “nothing less than a giant.”

He also earned more than 40 film and television credits, including BellyRomeo Must Die and action films Cradle 2 the Grave and Exit Wounds, also contributing music to their soundtracks.

Soon after his death, fans and celebrities took to Twitter to offer condolences and praise — including fellow rap star Chance The Rapper, basketball legend LeBron James and actor Halle Berry.

DMX, right, appears alongside Jet Li in the 2003 movie Cradle 2 The Grave. Alongside his music career, DMX accrued over 40 television and movie credits. ( Everett Collection/Warner Brothers)

And hip-hop artists who debuted and performed in the same era as Simmons remembered him likewise: American rapper Eve praised him as “one of the most special people I have ever met,” while Nas labelled him “Gods poet” in an Instagram post.

Chingy recalled touring with DMX — remarking he was inspired by Simmons’ style and struck by how “he always showed me love.”

“He was a true legend to the hip-hop community,” Chingy said in a statement. 

But while DMX made his mark as one of hip-hop’s most recognizable names for his rap artistry and as an actor, the rapper was personally stifled by his legal battles. He was repeatedly arrested and jailed within a decade and faced drug addiction, which he had said first began at age 14 when he smoked a marijuana cigarette that was laced with cocaine.

DMX pleaded guilty in 2004 after he posed as an undercover federal agent and crashed his SUV through a security gate at New York’s Kennedy Airport. He was arrested in 2008 on drug and animal cruelty charges following an overnight raid on his house in Phoenix. He tried to barricade himself in his bedroom but emerged when a SWAT team entered his home. 

In 2010, he was sentenced to a year in prison for violating the terms of his probation. After he was admitted to rehab numerous times over the next year, he said he had finally beat his drug addiction.

First responders helped revive DMX after he was found in a hotel parking lot in New York in 2016. The rapper said he suffered from asthma.

Several years later, DMX was sentenced to a year in prison for tax fraud. Prosecutors said he concocted a multiyear scheme to hide millions of dollars in income from the IRS and get around nearly $2 million US in tax liabilities.

After his release, DMX planned a 32-date tour to mark the 20th anniversary of It’s Dark and Hell is Hot. But the rapper cancelled a series of shows to check himself into a rehab facility in 2019. In an Instagram post, his team said he apologized for the cancelled shows and thanked his fans for the continued support.

DMX was also known for helping those less fortunate. He gave a group of Philadelphia men advice during a surprise appearance at a homeless support group meeting in 2017, and later helped a Maine family with its back-to-school purchases. 

In July last year, DMX faced off against Snoop Dogg in a Verzuz battle, which drew more than 500,000 viewers. The webcast series pits hip hop and R&B artists against each other in a live streamed performance.

He is survived by his 15 children and his mother.

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