And Then There Was X

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An urban preacher, one whose life mirrors the lyrics of “Amazing Grace,” DMX ended the night, fittingly, with a prayer. More specifically, the packed crowd at SOBs was made privy to a conversation between Dark Man X and his God. Filled with passion, his voice highlighted by purpose and streaked with strong undertones of pain, X pleaded with his Lord for protection, discernment, and guidance. Instead of asking the crowd to hold hands and lift them, unified, to the sky, as most preachers end their service, DMX instructed his congregation to form an X with their forearms high over their heads. Same effect, unity. The service, The show had come to a conclusion.

I first remember hearing the DMX’s gruff sound, peppered by random vocal inflections, on LL Cool J’s 1997 single “4,3,2,1.” DMX was the least known rapper at the time, but his verse is the one that I can recite in its entirety. The lines,” Let me get what’s between your sock, cause it’s better to give/than receive,/Believe what I say when I tell ya/Don’t make me put ya somewhere where nobody’ll smell ya” are filled with horror and violence. In order to survive, DMX urges his soon-to-be-robbed victim to give him what he wants, the victim’s possessions. At the same time, he spits a religiously held truism, “It’s better to give than receive” masked within his lyrical wordplay robbery.

And from that moment, he gained a fan.

He continued to crush his appearances, claiming the clean up spot (traditionally, the hottest verse of a rap collaboration comes at the end) on Mase’s “24 Hours to Live” and The Lox’s “Money, Power, Respect.” With each successful track, he built his buzz and his fan base. Then in 1998, he released his first single, “Get At Me Dog.” It was the audio version of pure mayhem. It incited riot like behavior. Every time that song came on, my high school freshman version of me wanted needed to bump someone or something. The kinetic energy evoked had to be released and transferred or else in would result in instantaneous combustion.

Then he dropped his classic album, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot.” From the “Intro” to the end of the album, he mixes uber-violent stories with heart wrenching clarity while providing introspective rhymes of hope, love, and death. This album touched me. As a fourteen year old pubescent young man, feeling apathy, angst, desire, amongst other seemingly contradictory feelings, X spoke to me. He disclosed his tortured soul for millions to witness. In doing so, he connected meaningful with a fan base, who regardless of their position in life understood struggle and longed for good. He connected to me.

In 1998, DMX was a bigger, more influential rapper than Jay-Z. Don’t debate me on this one; it’s a fact. He had two four time platinum albums in the same year. And then his third album, released the following year, went six times platinum. Unreal.

He introspectively spiked his rhymes with moments of self-loathing and self-acceptance long before Joe Budden.
He exposed his emotionally honest caution of women and fame long before Drake.
He harmonized his rhymes with a melodic flow long before TI.
He reminded many of Tupac’s passion and relentless work ethic.
He told stories with a similar deftness and charm as Notorious BIG.
It will be a challenge to find a rapper after 1997 that X has not influenced.

More importantly, his influence during the developmental apex of my transition into adulthood is the reason I stayed in SOBs cramped and musty showroom, listening to awful opening acts. I needed to see the Dog perform live. Like the hundreds of rabid DMX fans in attendance, I wanted to give back the support and love that he unknowingly gave to me during my youth. Nostalgia on tilt.

When he hit the stage, the crowd erupted. We were all fans; no one played the cool industry type that is unimpressed with whoever is performing. Nope, not that night, and definitely not for him. He performed for an hour and a half, hit after hit, expect for his newest songs whose beats and delivery were trapped in the late 90s. Even at the lowest moments of the show, namely when he rapped his new material, the energy in the crowd was high. While I was not a huge fan of his later albums, the three produced after the calendar turned to 2000, I bounced off my friends in attendance. And they bounced off of me. We had to do so.

We, like DMX, all ended the night as a sweatier version of our neatly dressed “us” (sidenote: I wore a white tee, black hoodie, and timberlands) that entered those SOBs doors a few hours earlier. At the end of the performance, we all ended with our forearms, forming a X, over our heads.

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