Earl “DMX” Simmons, a professing Christian, had one of the greatest runs in hip-hop history and solidified his place in the genre’s Mount Rushmore with his gritty realism and unique aggression fueled by years of abuse and trauma.
At first listen, most of his popular hits like “Ruff Ryders Anthem” and “Party Up” might scare off those looking for spiritually encouraging music. But if you dig deeper into X’s catalogue, you’ll find that he was a profound gospel song writer and crafted some of the finest biblically centered hip-hop the mainstream has ever heard.
While remembering the late emcee and his legacy, I’d like to dig deeper and highlight what I consider his Christian rap catalogue and how it kicked off back in 1998.
DMX’s debut, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, is considered a rap classic by many and propelled the gruff emcee into the upper echelon of the music industry.
The soul bearing writing on the project kicks off a theme that DMX continued up until his last album in 2012; that of a tortured soul caught up in a life of crime and promiscuity that calls out for God at the end for his redemption.
X described a similar format that he uses at his shows during a 2016 interview with The Breakfast Club.
“I take them on a journey. Where my n***a at? Where my b****s at? But the note you end them on that’s what they walk away with. They partied. But at the end of the [show] I hit them with a prayer,” said DMX around the 30 minute mark.
Unlike traditional Christian rappers, DMX doesn’t sugar coat anything. He raps from an authentic perspective with an unmatched aggression and realism. He emphasizes his pain and talks about the life he led before super stardom as a thief and thug unapologetically, and from a competitive hip-hop perspective. However, even in those types of songs X peppers in some spiritual gems.
Take “Ruff Ryders Anthem” for example. After X gets done recounting a robbery he committed, he declares:
Yo I’m a slave til my home is the grave.
Now I could be wrong, but I’ve always interpreted this as meaning that he was a slave to Christ or sin. What else would he be referring to? If you continue listening, he affirms this theme as the album continues.
Then we arrive at “Damien,” an unforgettable record where DMX reveals the force behind all of his evil doing, Satan himself. “Damien” plays out much like the story of Jesus in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, however, X gives into the devil on a few occasions and gets led down the wrong path.
Satan poses as X’s guardian angel and leads him back to crime time and time again with the promise of sex and fame. The chorus illustrates how believers are most vulnerable to the enemy when their minds are clouded by sin.
“The snake, the rat, the cat the dog. How you gonna see him when you living in a fog?”
The devil eventually pressures DMX into murdering his friend when a struggle ensues. The song ends on a cliffhanger and is continued on his follow up album.
Before the close of the album we are gifted with a sincere prayer lifted up by DMX where he asks for spiritual discernment and thanks the Lord for his provision and help to interpret the Bible.
“You gave me the light and let me bask in your glory. So it was only right that when you asked for this story, I put it together to do our dogs some good. Our dogs being brothers and sisters in the hood.“
X seems to be explaining that this album is a testimony meant to reach those in the roughest areas of the world who need to hear about God from someone they can relate to.
The end of the prayer is extremely hard to listen to as DMX admits to feeling that he wouldn’t live long and that if they rest of his life was filled with pain and death, it was worth it if it brings one soul to the light of God.
Then we get “The Convo,” a musical counterpart to “Damien” where DMX converses with God over a beat.
X raps from the perspective of both himself and God.
The song mostly covers DMX’s journey from street thief to rapper, and how God helped to lead him out of the life of crime which is quite factual while examining the emcee’s rap sheet.
DMX: “But when the funds are low, the guns will blow, looking for that one that owe, Make em run that dough.“
God: “No! Put the guns down and write a new rhyme. You’ll get it all in due time. You’ll do fine. Just have faith cause you mine.“
“The Convo” is one of the last tracks on the album and also leaves the audience at a cliffhanger.
Both “Damien” and the “The Convo” are continued on his follow-up album that dropped the same year, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood.
On “The Omen,” DMX’s is joined by Marilyn Manson and continues the story of Damien.
The song starts out with his mother crying over him as he dies in a hospital bed. The beat starts to kick in and X begins rapping with his Damien voice explaining how he ended up in the hospital.
The enemy continues by tempting X with some dark themed activities, and while some might find this overly vulgar, in the context of the record it makes perfect sense. X tries to fight the enemy a little harder this time.
Damien helps X seek revenge on those that murdered his family, but the rapper is weary that his alleged friend will want something in return, which turns out to be his soul.
The devil ends the song by showing off his true identity. X ends up seeking out his revenge by bombing and killing those who killed his close ones.
“When you really wanted something and you allowed me to give. You showed me your soul when you didn’t say no. Just let a n**** go. Now give me what you owe! F*** what you think. Ain’t sh*t for free. Ain’t a m*****f**k*r you know can defeat me.“
“Forgive me Father for I have sinned and with your help I know the devil won’t win.“
On the next record, DMX suspends his gritty rap character and gives his autobiography in “Slippin” which illustrates how he became the tortured soul most reflected in his lyrics.
“Slippin” works not just as X’s story, but as a touching dedication to anyone that has even been stuck in a dark place.
“To live is to suffer. But to survive. That’s to find meaning in the suffering.“
X goes on to detail being abused by his mother and his battles with drug addiction.
If you’ve struggled with either of these, or depression, or anything that has forced you into a dark place, this song will resonate and even bring you hope in the midst of darkness.
It’s arguably DMX’s greatest work and was one of his highest streamed songs after his death.
Ironically, the song’s lyrics have always been edited since its release back in 1998 so it is one of the rapper’s more family friendly tracks. This was due to a sample clearance demand put on X’s label by one of the original composers and sees that even the hard CD copy is void of any kind of swearing.
After getting a glimpse into X’s actual struggles, we are brought once again to a prayer and conversation with God in “Ready to Meet Him.”
We see that DMX is thankful this time around in his prayer.
“I thank you Lord for your guidance because it’s all that counts.“
We see him start to learn from his mistakes and repent of the sins rapped about in previous songs. He also lifts up others before having another musical conversation with God, but this time from a bolder vantage point.
The chorus, though written in 1998, is bone chillingly relevant to today’s climate with racial unrest.
“I’m ready to meet him cuz where I’m living ain’t right. Black hate white. White hate black it’s right back to the same fight. They got us suspecting a war. But the real war is to follow the law of the Lord. “
He also echoes Jesus’ statements about believers living in a world that will see constant rumors of war.
As his career went on, DMX kept this format on each and every one of his albums. 1999’s And Then There Was X featured “Prayer III” and “Angel.” The Great Depression had “Damien III” “The Prayer IV” and “A Minute for Your Son.” Grand Champ included “Prayer V” and “Thank You.” And finally in 2006, we got what I believe is DMX’s greatest gospel record, “Lord Give Me a Sign” on his Year of the Dog… Again album.
“In the name of Jesus! Devil I rebuke you for what I go through in trying to make me do what I used to. But all that stops right here. As long as the Lord’s in my life I will have no fear.“
The song is ripe with scripture quotations and calls out to Jesus specifically.
X clearly reveals an unwavering belief in the Jesus of the Bible and the scriptures as the Word of God. He’s quite specific, unlike many other mainstream rappers that discuss a more general faith in God in their lyrics that is not necessarily tied to Christ or the Bible.
These records are a living testimony of a moment in music where someone wasn’t afraid to declare Jesus’ name boldly and should be celebrated by every Christian.
I know a lot of believers might question some of DMX’s life choices and skip over most of his catalogue due to explicit lyrics about sex and violence, but buried in the street music was a beautiful testimony that he weaved throughout the years.
He pulled in listeners with his aggressive street, battle raps and always ended off his albums by giving them his testimony. As his albums progressed, his knowledge of the scriptures grew and its evident in the music. He was growing in his faith with each release.
Anytime the Dark Man touched the stage he prayed. And when he didn’t, the crowd wanted it and expected it. Even in his interviews, radio hosts like Charlemagne and DJ Envy would demand a prayer from X.
His life and testimony touched so many which is why his death was such a loss. He was on a path to staying clean and attempting to live a life more glorifying to God. But he was taken.
In his final interview with NORE on Drink Champs podcast, he described his current relationship with God and the Devil.
NORE said that he heard X isn’t using Damien anymore and suggested that he might be dead.
“Well he’s clearly not dead,” replied DMX. “I just didn’t wanna highlight him as I’ve been. I’m not f**king with him as much as I was because, we all know who Damien is and the f**king with him part is mental. So if he’s up here, if he can get to you, then it comes out like that. But, I’m not saying I don’t go through anything, I’m not saying that the devil ain’t still on my back, but God is more present.”
The interview was just a few months before his death. Let’s pray we get one more classic prayer and gospel song from X on his much hyped upcoming album that is rumored to be one of his greatest yet.