This article originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of SPIN. In light of DMX’s death, we’re republishing it here.
It’s nearly midnight, and Manhattan’s Hit Factory recording studio is teeming with nervous life as DMX races to complete …And Then There Was X, which his label wants in just three weeks. The environment is not exactly conducive to getting anything done: DMX’s wife, sister-in-law, various producers, and manager/uncle stalk about the studio’s windowless maze of rooms, while ruffnecks in identical skullys, boots, and puffed-out jackets stand guard at every door, enshrouded in blunt smoke so thick they can barely see two feet in front of them. At the eye of this hazy hurricane is Dark Man X himself, who’s slumped motionless at the monolithic control board, his face stubbled with two day’s beard. The hardcore …And Then There Was X is his third album in two years, his second in less than a year, and he’s downright exhausted. Suddenly he looks up and demands an Alizé pick-me-up.
“We’re out, and I don’t think we can get any this time of night,” the engineer responds nervously. There’s a long, awkward pause as everyone waits for DMX’s reaction. “It’s cool,” the rapper rasps calmly, pouring himself a drink from a bottle of Hennessy so oversized it looks like it was snatched off a Times Square billboard. “Damn, I’m fucking tired. You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through the past few days. And I had to go to court today, and I have to show up tomorrow, too.” Over the past year, he’s been involved in numerous controversies (from various legal battles to unexpectedly dropping out of the Family Values tour), culminating in a feud with L.A. gangsta Kurupt, who dissed him on the single “Callin’ Out Names” for supposedly sleeping with his ex-fiancée, Foxy Brown. Soon after its release, a Kurupt recording session was interrupted with gunfire. (DMX denies involvement in the incident.) There’s little separation between art and life for this Ruff Ryder.
SPIN: Your first record documented the life of a thug, and your second one showed his struggle between good and evil. What’s this new album about?
DMX: This album is about…me.
Okay, but what are you trying to say? There’s everything from stories about liquor-store heists to pleas to God to mini-morality plays.
The truth, that’s all. I’m not going to tell people everything is peaches and cream, because it’s not; I’m not going to tell them, “Go to school and do the right thing” because that’s not for everybody. I want to give them the fundamentals of life, and they can grow from there. I give them the keys to the shit.
Now that you’re so established, was the making of this album any different?
There’s been a little more cooperation on the industry-slash-business shit. When you start out, you think all you have to do is rap. I figured as long as I’m hot, I can just make blazing joints and get away with it. Nah. There’s a lot of other shit you didn’t think you’d have to do: interviews, sign shit, be nice to people. But I will never compromise my work. What I say, I mean—I don’t give a fuck who don’t like it. But sometimes you have to speak to people who you don’t necessarily think are your audience, just because they like you.
What kind of people are you referring to?
You wouldn’t think there’s a ghetto in the Midwest, but there is. You see a lot of potato-and-corn growin’ motherfuckers, but they listen to your shit and feel the same thing you feel. You get them with tears in their eyes, expressing how much they love you, what they’ll do for you. I got to start telling them the right thing, because it’s getting a little scary now. I don’t want to have a bunch of motherfuckers come up and say, “You said kill a cop, so we did it.” You gotta be a little more specific in your rhymes.
Are you saying you think you have a responsibility to be more positive?
The shit I say can be understood on many different levels. I met this lady who was a corrections officer. She was like, “My son was a fuckin’ knucklehead, but ever since he listened to DMX, he’s into school, he’s into music. I bought the nigga a fuckin’ turntable set, and he uses it every day. I just want to say thanks.” That’s some deep shit coming from a real parent. To have him turn around and do something positive on the strength of me puts an extra weight on my shoulders. I’m not going to drop it.
Given your troubles with the law, were you surprised a corrections officer was nice to you?
No—I thought she was going to ask for an autograph. I’ve been pulled over for one before. I’ve had my wife and kids in the car, and I’ve been arrested and taken down to the police station in handcuffs so that officers could take pictures with me, then let me go. I mean, is the love that crazy?
Was it the same way in jail?
Every five minutes, someone’s at my cell asking, “Can you sign something for my li’l cousin?” I’m used to going to jail and just laying back, kickin’ my motherfuckin’ feet up and getting some rest. Not no more—now jail’s a pain in the fuckin’ ass! I’d rather be invisible there. Niggas walk around tellin’ war stories, and I don’t say nothin‘. The most you can ask me is ‘What time is it?”—and don’t ask me that too many fuckin’ times or I’ll think you’re trying to score my watch.
So what really happened between you and Kurupt?
Dog, I don’t know. I was kind of hurt by [the situation], and it kind of came as a shock. I had just talked to him and his peoples not too long ago. But I didn’t take it to heart. Those kind of feuds are just something that happens in the industry, for reasons I’m not aware of and don’t care about. My mother taught me that it doesn’t matter what people say about you. It’s not going to hurt you, it’s not going to help you, so why the fuck you gonna worry about it? I’m damn near 30 years old, and I don’t have time to be mad.
On your hit single, “What’s My Name?,” you rap “I’m not a nice person / Suck my dick.” You’ve also worked with children with AIDS. How do you reconcile such different sides of your personality?
I am a thug. But a real thug got heart. A thug will do anything to get his, but he wants to help his people. I don’t want to see any kid that reminds me of me or my family when I was younger—all hungry or needing shit. When fake thugs talk, the pretty bitch shit comes out: I get my nails done, I got jewels, look at my shoes. Fuck that.
What’s a typical day in the life of DMX now?
It’s a ride, baby. A real ride.