It is with a heavy heart to announce that the man born Earl Simmons, better known as international rap superstar DMX, has died. He was 50 years old.

The rapper was hospitalized on April 2 after suffering an apparent drug overdose and subsequent heart attack at his home in White Plains, New York. A press representative for the Simmons family issued the following statement:

We are deeply saddened to announce today that our loved one, DMX, birth name of Earl Simmons, passed away at 50-years-old at White Plains Hospital with his family by his side after being placed on life support for the past few days. Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end. He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him. Earl’s music inspired countless fans across the world and his iconic legacy will live on forever. We appreciate all of the love and support during this incredibly difficult time. Please respect our privacy as we grieve the loss of our brother, father, uncle and the man the world knew as DMX. We will share information about his memorial service once details are finalized.

Simmons has spent his life exploring the tricky balance between the streets and the saved. Born in Baltimore, Maryland and raised in Yonkers, New York, Simmons’ childhood was marred by abuse and neglect. His turbulent childhood found him spending time in boys’ homes, juvenile institutions, and on the streets where he infamously became known for robbing drug dealers and befriending stray canines. It was during his time at one of those boys’ homes that he started writing music, eventually linking up with a producer named Ready Ron.

From there, Simmons’ love of hip-hop—from production to emceeing—built his name as an underground force in New York City. Coupled with his signature raspy growl—partially caused by a lifelong struggle with bronchial asthma—made his songs stand out amongst the “Jiggy Era” rap that was being defined by Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records. The Source caught wind of his talents and featured him in its “Unsigned Hype” column. From there, he signed on with Def Jam Records and, as part of the “Survival of the Illest” tour, launched into the stratosphere with two breakout projects: It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, both of which obtained history-making, multi-platinum success in 1998.

He would later top said feat by becoming the only musical artist in history to release five consecutive albums that debuted at number one.

In addition to being a chart-topping star, Simmons quickly became a film star, appearing in Romeo Must Die (alongside Aaliyah), Exit Wounds, Cradle 2 the Grave, and more. While his last few projects—2012’s Undisputed and “Bain Iz Back,” a single released at the beginning of 2017—did enough to satisfy the Cerberus from Yonkers’ return, it was the streets who wanted Simmons to stay in the limelight, even while facing some huge battles in his life. Simmons was never shy about his struggles with addiction, as well as the time he spent incarcerated. 

In 2018, he was sentenced to a year in prison for tax evasion. Following its release in 2019, Simmons resigned with label home Def Jam and began working with his long-time friend and collaborator Swizz Beatz on an album that boasted big-name features. A big-name “Battle of the Dogs” between Simmons and Snoop Dogg took place on Verzuz and added another wrinkle to the personality he presented to the public—one that still resonated atomic energy and adrenaline-laced personality.

Shortly after that landmark appearance, Simmons opened up about his continued battles with addiction on rapper Talib Kweli’s People’s Party podcast. “Drugs were a symptom of a bigger problem,” he told the Brooklyn MC. “There were things that I went through in my childhood where I just blocked it out—but there’s only so much you can block out before you run out of space,” he shared. “I really didn’t have anybody to talk to about it. So often talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness, when it is actually one of the bravest things you can do.”

Earl Simmons radiated greatness through the agony and pain. His prayers for our sins and his own, endeared him to multiple generations of music and hip-hop fans. Maybe the most uninhibited MC of all-time, Simmons was a lawless genius who toed the lie between the saintly and sinful, and inspired a legion of others such as Kendrick Lamar. He is survived by his fifteen children, his ex-wife Tashera Simmons, his girlfriend Desiree Lindstrom, and the ESSENCE and hip-hop community who will forever continue to champion his life, music, and legacy.

Kevin L. Clark is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and curates ESSENCE’s The Playlist. Follow him @KevitoClark.

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