Sunday Service on a Saturday: Inside DMX’s Memorial Ceremony

DMX's life was celebrated by everyone from Kanye West to Nas to Swizz Beatz to Eve on Saturday at his celebration of life memorial service. Here's what we saw.


Image via Getty/Stephanie Keith


In the iconic opening scene of Belly, the film introduces DMX and Nas in the coolest way possible. Under the direction of Hype Williams, who was making his cinematic debut at the time, the two stroll through a nightclub, completely bathed in a neon blue light that makes their pupils turn green. DMX (as Tommy “Buns” Bundy) and Nas (as Sincere) pull off a robbery in technicolor, cementing themselves in hip-hop lore for their 1998 performance.

Nas, speaking at DMX’s memorial service inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday, reminisced on working with his “longtime friend” and “brother” while making the film.

“We did a great movie together and in that movie he was just rising up as a star. His first album didn’t even come out yet but he knew his journey was starting,” Nas said. “We stood outside the Tunnel nightclub about to shoot a scene and he looked at me with tears in his eyes because he knew of the journey he was about to embark on, becoming a hip-hop icon.”

Nas pays his respects to DMX 🙏

— Complex (@Complex) April 24, 2021

On April 9, DMX passed away at the age of 50 at White Plains Hospital in White Plains, New York. He suffered from a heart attack and remained on life support and in a coma. Initial reports said his hospitalization was caused by an overdose, but neither his family members nor his manager has confirmed.

DMX’s life was celebrated from inside an invite-only event at the Barclays. Outside, crowds grew larger throughout the day as fans gathered in front of Barclays and the adjacent sidewalks to honor the legendary MC. They were there to remember a man who wasn’t afraid to express his pain with the world. DMX’s relatable stories about his struggles helped many navigate through their own troubles, and his hurt was his success, which was a tough realization to let sink in now that he’s gone.

Here are the most memorable things we saw while we were in attendance. Long live DMX.

Kanye’s Sunday Service choir returned on a Saturday

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Originally set to begin at 4:30 p.m., the service was ultimately pushed to 6:30 p.m. While I waited in a suite reserved for journalists, I watched the stage being constructed, and there was some commotion outside our suite as a group of big, bulky security guards blocked a door.

Suddenly, someone poked their head in from around the glass to tell me something.  

“Hey, man. Nice shirt,” he said, referring to the Sunday Service T-shirt I was wearing, and gave me a fist bump.

It was Kanye, and he had arrived in Brooklyn with his Sunday Service choir to honor DMX.

In his suite, Kanye was with Swizz Beatz and Nas. I asked if I could take a photo of him, and he paused for a second. I don’t think he wanted me to take a picture of him posing without his mask on, so I took a few of him watching the stage. “Yeah, like that!” he said, co-signing my poor attempt to capture him making a cameo.

Kanye West at DMX's memorial service

As it got closer to 6:30 p.m., Kanye left his suite and the lights began to dim to a reddish hue. After playing a clip of DMX riding the Slingshot ride with his daughter, the screen expanded to reveal the Sunday Service choir surrounding a piano with DMX’s casket at the forefront. Another clip showed a prayer from Dark Man X, easing into the Sunday Service performance as the ensemble performed songs like “Excellent,” “Sunshine,” and “Ultralight Beam.” 

“I’m home, I’m free, I’m at peace,” said choir director Jason White. “Eternal rest is my home. The word amen means it is so. It means I agree. So our brother X says he is free, he says I’m at peace. And he says, now I’m home. My home is with my father. I’m home.”

This was the first major performance for Kanye’s Sunday Service since Paris Fashion Week in March 2020, just a couple weeks before everything shut down because of the pandemic. But this was all for X, who once led a prayer during Kanye’s Coachella Sunday Service in 2019. This same prayer was played during the live performance, and it felt like X was here with us one last time.

Bobby getting game from Busta after the DMX memorial

— LordTreeSa🅿️ (@LordTreeSap) April 25, 2021

Attendance at the Barclays Center is currently restricted to ten percent capacity because of COVID-19 protocols. But even with a limited audience of friends and family, it was clear DMX touched a lot of his peers. Where I was at, I caught Jay-Z walking to his suite. When I checked to see if it was actually him, he was sitting next to his wife Beyoncé. 

I saw Busta Rhymes roaming around the club floor, as well as Lil Mama. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, who had the Yeezy x Balenciaga DMX tribute shirt that was released prior to the memorial service wrapped around his neck, was also seated in our suite, alongside Bobby Shmurda and others.

DMX's daughter wrote a song for her dad 🖤🕊

— Complex (@Complex) April 24, 2021

DMX’s children had a chance to share a few words about their father. DMX’s son, Xavier Simmons, spoke with passion about the legacy his father left behind. “I am so honored to have a father that we have,” he said. “This man deepened my ability to love.” His younger son, Manny, wrote a rap about him. “We have lost an icon, and the best father anybody could ask for,” he concluded as his siblings put their Xs up. 

His daughter, Sonovah Junior, redid DMX’s classic song “Slippin,’” which had her rapping about what her father had taught her: “Yo, I’m growing, I’m learning to hold my head up/ My daddy’s still holding my hand, so I gotta get up/I learned so much from my father… He taught me to be strong, but it’s OK to be afraid/ ’Cause sometimes it’ll show you how to be brave/I know how to get up whenever I fall/ I never give up, I give it all/ ’Cause I know I’m big, even though I look small/Lookin’ at my daddy’s picture on the wall/ I know he want me to be the best that I can be/ Nobody else, I gotta be me/My brothers and sisters, we all stand together/Throw up the X, daddy forever.” 

The Ruff Ryders reunited

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Ruff Ryders co-founders Joaquin “Waah” Dean and Darin “Dee” Dean were the last to speak during the service. Waah emphasized that the “original Ruff Ryders family” were on stage with him: First Lady, Eve, The Lox, Drag-on, and Tip, the man who discovered DMX. 

“All the Simmons, all the kids, we want y’all to know from the Ruff Ryder family that we love you and we’re here for you no matter what,” Waah said. “We never walked away from Earl, we never will. Ride or die. That’s what we do. This family is ride or die.” Dee said some quick words, confirming that a new DMX album is coming soon: “DMX, the great!”

Drag-on, who was DMX’s right-hand man during Ruff Ryders’ peak years, fought back tears as he spoke about his former mentor. “Straight bottom line, I don’t exist without this man,” he said. “I’m trying my best not to cry right now but I’m not shit without this dude. He taught me everything I know… DMX vouched for me.”

The Lox talked about losing an important piece of the Ruff Ryders crew.

“Y-O, y’all know. This is a big hit for us,” Jadakiss said. “The world know the dog, but we know a different dog. When he comes to the town, he’s much different than what they see on TV. It hurts anytime you lose a soldier, but this one hurts different because he was the main piece on the board.” 

“He invented giving people 60, 80, 100 bars at a time,” Styles P added. “Back to back, no problem. No matter where it was. He invented our way of life.”

Swizz Beatz said what needed to be said. 💎 #DMXMemorial

— Complex (@Complex) April 25, 2021

Swizz took the stage for some final words about why DMX deserved more love when he was alive. “I just wish all these people showed up for him when he was here,” he explained. “You got thousands of people claiming who they are and tickets and things like that. This man needed everybody. He didn’t need everybody when he’s not here, he needed everybody when he was here. We have to learn to celebrate each other while we’re here.”

Swizz then used the moment to educate everyone on taking care of their family and making a will. “The things that I’m witnessing from my brother’s passing, it was a big educational thing for me to learn,” he told those in attendance. “I’m glad I got to see it at this age. A lot of people ain’t your friends, a lot of people ain’t your family.”

“You have to do your will,” he added. “You do not want strangers, bloodsuckers, handling your business when you’re not here. You want the ones that you love, handling your business. This is not a fashion show. This is not a performance. This is real life, day to day. I love everybody that really had love for my brother because when you see me, you see him.”

DMX takes his last ride through the city. 🤍🕊️ #LONGLIVEDMX [via @2Cool2BIog]

— Complex (@Complex) April 24, 2021

New York City feels like it’s returning to its former self as more people are going outside. At around noon on Saturday, DMX’s funeral procession, flanked by motorcyclists, traveled from Yonkers to Brooklyn. If you spotted it along the route, you would’ve seen a Ford monster truck, emblazoned with the words “Long Live DMX” and “Ruff Ryders,” carrying his bright red casket with Ruff Ryder logos through the city. Whether on an ATV, a motorcycle, a Slingshot, or a bicycle, X loyalists showed the world what living that bike life was all about. 

When his procession eventually reached the Barclays Center, there were crowds already waiting for them. Members of the Ruff Ryders motorcycle club representing chapters from across the country wore RR vests, a special edition “Celebration of Lyfe” T-shirt, and camouflage pants, showing their allegiance to an attitude that has transcended eras. Earl Simmons’ signature “X” emblem was beautifully made into a white floral arrangement, placed in the front of the main entrance for people to leave candles and pay their respects. Some never stopped playing his music, continuing to blast his songs to keep the energy up. The Nation of Islam handed out a special edition of their The Final Call newspaper to guests: “May Allah (God) Be Pleased With Him.”

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