Can DMX Pull off the Biggest Comeback in Hip-Hop History?
In the past three years, A Tribe Called Quest, Lil Wayne, and Little Brother have released long-awaited albums after various absences from the game. Can DMX — who has dealt with years of legal troubles and other demons — pull off his own comeback?
DMX recently told GQ magazine that he doesn’t set goals. He feels that his purpose is preordained by god.
That mindset has helped him earn achievements at the top of many aspiring artist’s goal lists. He’s sold over 17 million records and starred in several major Hollywood films. During Def Jam Records’ late ‘90s renaissance, it was him — not JAY-Z — who was the label’s flagship artist. He’s done a world of good in his 48 years.
He’s achieved all those things despite the kind of upbringing that would destroy a kid’s life before it started. He grew up with an abusive mother and spent his youth in and out of group homes (and later prison). The confluence of trauma that he experienced spurred a lifelong addiction to cocaine that derailed his career from the heights of stardom.
DMX has been arrested over 30 times for charges ranging from gun and drug possession to animal cruelty and reckless driving, Since his rap career took off in 1998, his longest jail stint was the 10 months he just served for tax evasion. Prosecutors sought a five-year sentence for his deliberate tax circumvention from 2000-2005. But his lawyer Murray Richman played his redemptive “Slippin” record in court, and presiding Judge Jed Rakoff noted that “he couldn’t not be affected by the circumstances” X reflected on in the song. It was a testament to his artistry: his music is so poignant and heartrending that it tipped the unforgiving scales of justice in his favor.
“Slippin’s” hook affirms, “I gots to get up. Get me back on my feet so I can tear shit up.” And that’s exactly what DMX is trying to do in 2019. Since being released from jail in January, he’s re-signed to Def Jam Records and is working on new music that he says is “great.” The GQ photoshoot shows him looking healthier than he has in years. He’s been seen on social media dancing to Lisa Lisa and praying at Kanye’s Sunday Service. In the past three years, A Tribe Called Quest, Lil Wayne, and Little Brother have released long-awaited albums after various absences from the game.
Can DMX do the same?
A new DMX album — with the power of Def Jam’s machine behind him — would represent the biggest comeback ever. Lil Wayne had legal gripes with Birdman and Cash Money Records that delayed his Tha Carter V album, but he at least released the Free Weezy Album and ColleGrove with 2 Chainz in the meantime. DMX’s last major-label release was 2006’s Year Of The Dog…Again on Columbia Records. In that time, he’s been through numerous brushes with the law, and several public moments that made people question his peace of mind and overall health.
From 2008 to 2011, he was arrested seven times, including charges of drug possession and violating drug probation. In 2009, he was charged with theft, drug-possession and animal-cruelty charges after a 2007 raid on his Arizona home and sentenced to 90 days in jail. In July 2010, he was arrested on a probation violation and sentenced to another 90 days in jail. Many of his subsequent brushes with the law have stemmed from drug possession and driving without a license, including multiple instances of driving under the influence.
In 2013, he made an infamous appearance on Iyanla Vanzant’s Fix My Life show in which he was combative with Vanzant and struggled to make a connection with his son Xavier, even grimly telling him “you’ll see me at my funeral.” At another jarring juncture, he broke down into tears while crying “mommy.” It appeared that he needed therapeutic help to mend the trauma that caused him to self-medicate. In a post-show open letter to DMX, Vanzant claimed that, “what I’m hearing is that they are just waiting for the call,” referring to his ex-wife Tashera and children’s fears that his drug use would eventually claim his life. At the time, DMX told TMZ that “Iyanla set the whole thing up to make me look bad for ratings,” and claimed, “that lady is toxic … My last words to her were that she can suck my dick and she still can.”
The iconic MC has since had a change of heart. Vanzant claimed in January that DMX wrote to her, presumably from jail, seeking a chance for another episode. She admitted that, “I failed him by not following the Holy Spirit to do what I’m supposed to do … I did what [the show’s] production [team] wanted.” While Iyanla has repeatedly been accused of exploiting Black trauma in the name of good TV, it also appears that DMX wasn’t ready to broach the issues of substance abuse and psychological trauma at the time. But he reportedly is now. His recent GQ interview exhibited clarity and reprioritization of his life.
“Sometimes” jail is a place to find “solace,” he told Mark Anthony Green. Many 13th viewers were probably thrown for a loop when, in the interview, he surmised, “jail used to be fun,” but he also lamented that his most recent experience was the “hardest” of his numerous jail stints because he realized “there was so much more to life” than being confined.
In August, he re-proposed to his fiancee Desiree Lindstrom. DMX, who is a father of 15, told GQ that his youngest child, Exodus, is what makes him the happiest in life — along with music. “Performing in front of people is beyond a high…that any drug could duplicate,” he said. Those comments should be music to the ears of DMX fans who have been seeking a new original project since 2012’s Undisputed.
Swizz Beats has been promising new DMX music since 2013. Unfortunately, there have been numerous obstacles in the way of a new album release. But it appears that now, more than any time this decade, X is dedicated to releasing new music. Last week, the video for his “Just In Case” collaboration with Swizz and Rick Ross was released. He sounded rejuvenated on the single from the Godfather of Harlem soundtrack, deeming himself “the plague” during a characteristically fiery rebuke of those who are ”either snitching or lying about the shit you done.”
DMX’s debut It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot album, specifically “Get At Me Dog,” was credited with smashing the mid-90’s shiny suit menagerie and reintroducing the rap mainstream to the grittier side of life. While it’s unlikely that X’s next work would have a similar scope of impact, he’s still a respected, much-needed voice to call out butt shit in the rap game. A new project would fill a void for fans seeking not just raw, New York-branded street rap, but the gripping, confessional explorations of spirituality that set him apart from most street-oriented rappers.
No matter what the album sells, or how critics feel about it, the release is what matters most. A new album represents the release of whatever demons that led DMX astray from his life’s work of artistry for most of this decade. He might not know what his life’s purpose is, but there are millions of fans who, like him, are on a lifelong search to find meaning in their suffering. Seeing him overcome his trauma and sit atop the steeple one more time would be an affirmation that they can make similar strides in their life. That’s why a new X album would be more impactful than anything hip-hop’s ever experienced.
Andre Gee is a New York-based freelance writer with work at Uproxx Music, Impose Magazine, and Cypher League. Feel free to follow his obvious Twitter musings that seemed brilliant at the moment @andrejgee.