This book was the greatest achievement of my hip-hop writing career. Hoping to create a piece that was as much a document of a glorious moment in hip-hop history, as it was the story of a mother and a son and the struggles of growing up in the crack-drenched '80s in NYC, the book has been appreciated by both critics and fans, teachers and readers alike. Maybe one day we will make the movie?!
To live is to suffer, but to survive, well, that’s to find the meaning in the suffering
If I don’t know where I’m coming from, where would I go?
All you see is dust, a thick cloud of reddish brown dust that follows him everywhere he goes. There is a trail out there in the brush, a path through this jagged Arizona landscape that was cut just for this purpose, but he chooses not to take it, preferring instead to use his four-wheel all-terrain vehicle to forge a more entertaining course up and over whatever rocks or giant cactus plants that may stand in his way. The bike is supposed to be capable of off-roading at over sixty miles an hour, but Earl Simmons is capable of anything.
“I’m having the time of my life right now,” he says.
The whine of his engine almost drowns out his words, but the smile says it all. Here’s a man who’s enjoying his life.
“Hi Boo Boo!” he yells down the end of a miniature black cell phone. “Boo Boo, I just wish you could see how beautiful the sky is today.”
The love of his life and wife of four years, is home in New York expecting their third child.
“But you know your man Patrick is out here looking like TJ again,” he says, playfully changing the subject to his security guard’s habit of wearing tight jeans. “And he has his boots tied all the way up…”
Earl will continue to ride well into the evening, until he’s reminded that a home-cooked dinner should be ready for him at the house that he’s rented and soon the local bars will be filling up with new people he can win money from playing pool, but whatever time he chooses to finish, odds are that his other most loyal companion will be waiting for him.
“Phoenix!” he calls out to the black and white pit bull jumping around hysterically in the back of the security truck. “What’s up, girl?
Did you miss me?” The three-month old puppy can’t contain any of her enthusiasm for her new owner.
He play-fights with the dog for a minute and then puts her into the passenger seat of his convertible 2001 Mercedes-Benz. Earl’s red Timberland boots, which were brand new before this ride, are covered in dust and sand, as are his matching sweatpants and white tank top, but he doesn’t care. He re-clasps the silver dog chain that he wears around his neck and without waiting for his bodyguards to pack up the equipment, jumps in his car, punches the accelerator and quickly pulls onto the highway.
For Earl Simmons, the artist known to the world as DMX, this is a good day.
Or is it?
Seven miles up the highway I see Earl’s car pulled off to the side of the road. The engine is still running and the door is flung open but Earl has gone somewhere else. The flashing hazard lights do little to warn anyone of the trouble on his mind. There is nothing in the direction that he’s walking, just a desert sky filled with the red and orange colors of sunset, and when I catch up to him, I realize that’s all he’s looking at.
“Do you ever have nightmares?” he asks. “I mean I have nightmares every night, dog. Every fucking night I have people rocking me to sleep in my dream whispering ‘we love you DMX!’ then they pull out burners and pop pop!”
The gunshots hang heavy in the air.
“This shit is crazy. When am I ever going to be able to just relax and be me?”
It’s a question I’ve heard him ask before. A question he has yet to find an answer to, but a thirty-one year ride can often kick up many troublesome thoughts, especially when under the questions, hiding there in the dark, there is the lingering idea that there’s a price has to be paid.
“There are just so many thoughts inside my head all the time.”
A few weeks earlier, Earl Simmons agreed to tell the story of his life. It was a bold decision based on two ideas that have framed much of his music. First, that the only way to survive a lifetime of suffering was to uncover the meaning behind that suffering, and then, simply, if you don’t know where you’re coming from, where would you go? It’s easier said than done.
Places that I have been, things that I have seen
What you call a nightmare, are what I have as dreams
“Now that I have to replay everything, it gets hard to talk because the feelings come back and it’s like I go through it again. Sometimes it makes me not want to say anything at all because I could fuck around and remember too much…”
The thought makes him pause, but then, slowly, purposefully, he keeps going.
“But I also know the more you think, the more you want to know, and I’m always going to ask questions. Who are you? What are you here for?
It means something to ask yourself those things because it forces you to look inside the deepest, darkest corners of your life. There is a lockbox there, but if you ever allow yourself to open it, you will realize so much.”
The sky has now turned purple, gray.
“So where should we start?” I ask, feeling for the recorder in my pocket.
“I don’t know, dog. You’re just going to have to catch it without catching it.”
Let me go my way, but walk with me
See what I see, watch me, then talk with me
This is the oral history of DMX.