“A lot of people, we want a miracle, we want a huge blessing. People will forget that a miracle will only happen on the platform of a tragedy.” -DMX
As with so many of you, on April 9th, I was saddened by the passing of DMX at the age of 50. I can so vividly recall the first time I heard DMX on a CD that my broheme had purchased; the track "Get at me dog" gave me goosebumps; the affirmed masculinity, rhythmic cadence, and sick bars validated that this individual has come to add another layer to the fabric of hip hop. His sound was an avant-garde act that diverted from Bad Boy’s “shiny suit era” that was flooding airwaves and radio stations in the post-Tupac and Biggie Smalls hip-hop universe. His music felt dark, genuine, and honest (not to mention he was sexy AF).
DMX sold over 74 million records and became the first artist to release two chart-topping albums in the same year — It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot; and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood in 1998. Rising to viral triumph in the 1990s, DMX gave hip hop a plethora of hit singles including “Where The Hood At?,” “What These Bitches Want,” and “X Gon’ Give It to Ya” to name a few. Collaborating with artists like JAY-Z, Aaliyah, LL Cool J, and Faith Evans amongst others, X’s legacy and global impact are indisputable. Despite the critical successes, be it the music or movies, DMX battled addiction and trauma for most of his life; a narrative that is not foreign to our black men- just not spoken of.
What I am not going to do is speak on the black male experience/perspective; we know all too well the challenges and struggles our black men go through, day to day, moment by moment. They are under siege, a 21st-century buck breaking whether it is by the media, law enforcement, or an America entrenched in white supremacy. What I will speak on, is the fact that with all our black men endure, facing trauma and addiction takes a back seat for many of them. This is due to societal survival and this false idea that admitting the struggle to stay clean or the impact that trauma has had in their life function is seen as weak.
In an interview, DMX stated that at the age of 14 he was introduced to crack cocaine by a father figure, someone he trusted who had betrayed him. This man laced a marijuana cigarette with crack, stripping him of his consent and innocence. This was the foundation for a life-long addiction. Crack emerged as the power drug of the mid-1980s. DMX grew up in a community that was devastated by the crack epidemic. Black addicts in the ’80s and ’90s weren’t offered treatment, instead, this society responded by over-policing Black communities and by incarcerating Black men in record numbers. Crack and eventually other types of substances became a way for him to silence the pain that continued to plague him throughout his lifetime.
When he was 6 years of age, his mother physically beat him so bad with a broom, the impact knocked out his two front teeth. He’d spend the next few years in and out of juvenile detention centers. He spent much of his youth in the streets trying to get away from his mother and her boyfriends, which led to multiple incarcerations. For DMX, his art often imitated his life. By the time he was 10, he’d been expelled from school for a series of misbehaviors. Traumatic life experiences such as physical, verbal, and sexual abuse in early adolescence significantly increase the risk for a number of at-risk behaviors. In short, trauma often leads to addiction.
Often, all an addict has in their fight against addiction and trauma is their own resiliency. That test of wills has made it seem like DMX has lived at least 100 lifetimes with everything he endured. The life of DMX has been a personal journey lived on the most public of stages. He was intense, equal parts of passion, pain, and, most important, resilience. His interviews and moments of deep introspection, have never hidden the source of his life’s pain. He utilized his platform to discuss his struggles with addiction, I wonder if he were not "DMX" and just Earl Simmons, would he be forthcoming in expressing to someone what he was going through? or would he feel the need to do what most black men do in order to keep it moving- internalize, keep it bottled in until it's too late?
As a Black community, we must learn how to embrace our black men struggling through addiction, physical and sexual abuse. We must provide support (however that may look like) so that our black men cultivate healthy coping skills through adverse trauma. The more trauma you pour into someone, the more likely they are to be pushed into the margins of society and to retreat into the solace of at-risk behaviors. Lastly, we need to stop treating our black men struggling with substance abuse as if they have some kind of moral failing. This is not about morality or a character flaw; it is an illness that is in need of treatment. If we vilify our black men we are in essence keeping them from being open and honest enough to own the issue and seek help; thus enabling the already existing agenda to destroy them, in turn, destroying the black community as a whole.
"The reason I think my fans love me is that I let them know so much about me,” DMX once said. “I bare my soul. I’m not ashamed to cry. I’m not ashamed to hurt. I’m not ashamed to fall. ‘Cause I pick myself up."
X Gon’ Give It to Ya....