American rapper and actor Earl Simmons, known by the stage name Dark Man X (DMX), died on Friday, his record label has announced. He was 50.
His death came after the artist suffered a heart attack during what media reports said was a drug overdose.
The chart-topping artist’s songs included “Party Up (Up in Here)” and “X Gon’ Give It To Ya”. His career had been marked by legal troubles and prison time.
Music label Def Jam Recordings said, in a statement, that it was saddened by “the loss of our brother Earl ‘DMX’ Simmons”.
“DMX was a brilliant artist and an inspiration to millions around the world,” the statement said, “His message of triumph over struggle, his search for the light out of darkness, his pursuit of truth and grace brought us closer to our own humanity.”
DMX collapsed at home late on 2 April. Celebrity publications TMZ and Billboard said he had overdosed on drugs triggering a heart attack.
On Friday, White Plains Hospital in New York said DMX had died peacefully with family by his side after suffering a “catastrophic cardiac arrest”.
“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” family members said in a statement, adding that his music “inspired countless fans across the world and his iconic legacy will live on forever”.
Growing up in Yonkers, New York, DMX took his moniker from the name of a drum machine used in rap songs. When he was 14, an older rapper who had been a mentor tricked him into smoking crack, DMX said in a documentary series broadcast on BET.
“He created a monster,” he said, “Cocaine almost took my life on a few occasions.”
His debut album in 1998, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot”, was the first of five in a row to top the Billboard 200 chart in the US. He was the only rap artist with such a streak, according to a 2019 profile in GQ magazine.
Despite the presence of drugs in his life, there were other more positive influences behind the scenes. In an interview with GQ, he said that he studied the Bible and prayed before and after every show.
“Performing in front of people is beyond a high,” he said of his performances, “It’s beyond a high that any drug could duplicate.”
The rapper’s intense songs told stories of a complex character’s “sins of the streets”, according to a biography on allmusic.com, which described DMX as the “hip-hop Johnny Cash”.
His album “…And Then There Was X” was his biggest seller, certified five-time multiplatinum. DMX released eight albums and was nominated for three Grammys.
DMX earned more than 40 film and television credits, including Belly, Romeo Must Die, and action films Cradle 2 the Grave and Exit Wounds, also contributing music to their soundtracks.
Before he died, his ex-wife Tashera Simmons, with whom he had four children, attended a vigil outside his hospital, where hundreds of fans danced to DMX songs. “The love is real,” she posted on Instagram.
In 2017, DMX pleaded guilty in federal court to avoiding paying $1.7m in taxes from 2000 to 2005, by shifting money among accounts belonging to managers and associates. He was sentenced to one year in prison.
The rap star’s prior arrest record included charges of animal cruelty, reckless driving, drug possession, weapons charges and probation violations. He served prison time in Arizona and New York.
In the 1998 song “Slippin”, DMX rapped, “To live is to suffer, But to survive, well, that’s to find meaning in the suffering.”