The following article includes mentions of substance abuse.

Rapper and hip-hop icon DMX (born Earl Simmons) died on April 9, 2021, one week to the day since he was found unresponsive in his home and rushed to the hospital, reported Rolling Stone. He was 50 years old. Reps for the music superstar stated he was in a “vegetative state” because his “brain was reportedly deprived of oxygen for 30 minutes following the medical emergency.” The publication continued, writing, “Following a battery of brain function tests, the rapper was taken off life support.” It was a tragic ending to a life that DMX himself described as “blessed with a curse,” via People’s Party with Talib Kweli

Although DMX was a fantastic rapper with emotionally resonant lyrics, his struggles often overshadowed his successes. He had his first five albums debut at number one on the Billboard charts “and his sixth … missed the Number One spot by a few hundred copies,” per Rolling Stone. His wealth was soon squandered, however, and he reportedly had a negative net worth of $1 million at the time of his death. The last few years of his life mimicked that of his entire career: highs and lows peppered with stints in prison and legal troubles.

DMX had significant financial problems

DMX was often in prison for a myriad of reasons, from drug possession to animal cruelty to more egregious crimes of theft and extortion, reported Medium. What would turn out to be his final time in prison was the result of an entirely different crime, however. DMX spent one year behind bars due to “tax-fraud charges,” according to Rolling Stone, reportedly owing the IRS $1.7 million. As reported in Celebrity Net Worth, when he was released from prison in January 2019, he allegedly owed the IRS $2.3 million, which was to be garnished from “his income until the debt is paid.” 

DMX’s financial problems didn’t just stem from his difficulties in prison, however. According to Rolling Stone, when Jay-Z took over Def Jam Records, DMX “suggested in 2012 that Jay-Z, with whom he’d long had a rivalry … had intentionally withheld [DMX’s] material from the public.” In an interview with New York’s Power 105.1, he said that Jay-Z wanted to “eliminate the competition” so he didn’t promote his material. He wondered how the label could “listen to [his] whole [sixth] album, pick a single, shoot a video, then don’t know” if they wanted to release it or not. He claimed Jay-Z’s retirement was just an excuse to get X off the label so then he could come back without any “competition.”

DMX was reportedly clean

DMX’s struggles with drugs and addiction are no secret. He has publicly said he first became addicted to crack cocaine when he was just 14 years old, when he smoked a tainted joint passed to him by his mentor, Ready Ron. Although he has spent the majority of his life fighting his addiction, in his final years, he had maintained his sobriety. As he told Talib Kweli on People’s Party, “I learned that I had to deal with things that hurt me that I didn’t deal with when they hurt.” He also mentioned that learning to talk about his problems helped him keep his sobriety.

He seemed serious about keeping himself in check, as well. According to Rolling Stone, when he left prison for the last time in 2019, he immediately “embarked on a tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.” Soon afterward, however, he had to cancel a series of performances, deciding to enter back into rehab. “In his ongoing commitment to putting family and sobriety first, DMX has checked himself into a rehab facility,” one of his reps said. He soon would return for his last-ever performance.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse and mental health, please contact SAMHSA’s 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

DMX's last performance was a battle

DMX got his start in the underground rap game, as detailed in Rolling Stone. It took him a while to get signed and even made a list of the top unsigned artists in 1991, so it is sort of nicely coincidental that DMX’s last performance would be a battle. When he returned from rehab, he battled Snoop Dogg on the Swizz Beatz and Timbaland platform Verzuz in July 2020, per Billboard. The battle was live-streamed on Instagram and saw the East Coast and West Coast rappers break bread with Kool-Aid and chicken strips before starting. 500,000 people tuned into the Live to watch, reported Billboard, and the two iconic rappers went 20 rounds head to head, relying on their most beloved songs to get them through the competition. They even had an overtime round, as the prolific musicians realized they had some well-known songs that hadn’t been used yet.

Overall, it was a great performance from both DMX and Snoop Dogg. Billboard wrote that “two OGs were celebrated and gave us a night full of entertainment and laughs while reminding us they were two of the best to pick up a mic.” Numbers-wise, Billboard gave the win to DMX and wrote he is “hilarious without trying.” It’s no surprise, as DMX was nothing if not genuine throughout his life, living his truth unapologetically and giving his fans great music to remember for years to come.

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