I’ll always remember the day I met DMX and he told me he was Ja Rule. It was one of those Atlanta evenings where the club offers free entry and complimentary watered-down drinks to anyone willing to show up early—a Thirsty Thursday. That night, my sister and I took the bait with our two friends. It had been a while since we all clubbed together, and we were determined to make that night a memorable one.

We arrived at the club long before it was packed and got a head start on drinking and dancing. Anybody who’s ever partied in Atlanta knows that the clubs don’t really start to turn up until long after midnight. By the time the scene actually came to life, we were already a few hours into the party and ready to go. Instead of just walking to our ride, we lingered in the streets dancing and singing. Then two cars pulled up to the sidewalk and out jumped a bald-headed stranger. 

The man hopped out of a silver sedan wearing dark denim jeans and a lightweight leather jacket draped over a black West African-style top with gold embroidery. Two thin silver chains rested on his chest, and a diamond earring sat in one of his ears. Stylish, but nothing flashy.

“I’m Ja Rule,” he told us as he approached, while laughing. Now, I knew good and damn well that he wasn’t Ja Rule, but at first I didn’t recognize that he was the iconic DMX. In the years since, I’ve tried to understand how I missed that, and I’ve come to blame it on my poor facial recognition skills and the numerous watered-down shots consumed earlier in the night. At that moment in time, I just registered him as a casual passerby who was willing to engage with our foolery. And he rose to the occasion.

I don’t remember every single thing we laughed and joked about, but the Maya Angelou saying is true: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

DMX showed us love—but not the creepy “can I get your number” kind. He lit his cigarette and engaged with us like a long-lost friend (my sister still brags about how she shared a loosey with the Dark Man). He joined in on our dancing and lighthearted banter. And before he left our group, he asked us to take a picture with him. Imagine that. Iesha (the designated driver of our squad) had been taking pictures of us with random people all night, so I didn’t find this strange. But DMX was not a random person. He was one of the biggest rappers of all time. Just four months before taking a picture with us, he had embraced Ja Rule at the 2009 VH1 Hip Hop Honors, putting to rest a long-media-hyped beef. The fact that he wanted to bless us with a photo says a lot about his character.

My friend handed me her phone and I snapped a quick shot. Then he asked me to get in a picture with him, too. “Hug me like you love me,” I remember him saying. I wrapped my arms around him and gave him the biggest bear hug that I could; then I started to lift him off the ground, before quickly reconsidering. I was slightly lit, but it was a platonic, heartfelt embrace that made him chuckle.

As someone who grew up outside of Atlanta and worked in a dance studio, it wasn’t unusual for me to encounter famous people. Typically, they don’t get out of cars to dance with strangers, or ask to take impromptu photos and voluntarily give sincere hugs. Not many people do that at all. But, as we all know, there was nothing average or typical about DMX.

When he went on his way, my sister and friends immediately started reminiscing about the unimaginable encounter and I stood there dumbfounded, finally coming to the realization that we had just kicked it with a legend. The voice. The humble drip. The carefree and humorous swag. The Ja Rule reference. I’ll always remember that night, but I’m not the only person who experienced a spontaneously sincere moment like this with the late rapper.

As tributes for DMX have poured in since his passing, his closest friends, family, fans, and neighbors have shared touching personal moments. But it’s the numerous “When I met DMX” memories sprawled across social media that have grabbed my attention. Each story paints the image of a man who made time to bring joy to others, regardless of his internal struggles. 

On my timeline, I scrolled past a friend who had a run-in with DMX at the Cub Foods Grocery store in Metro-Atlanta back in ’99. “Sleep in Power DMX… I’m glad we crossed paths in life A1 since day 1. I will never forget what you told me or lose your autograph,” Altwon Hargrove wrote on his Facebook status.

Then I came across 30-year-old Connor Sumter, who posed with DMX outside of a Pappadeaux restaurant in Austin, Texas. Sumter shared a long post about how he walked in on the superstar casually sharing the Gospel with three diners. Conner didn’t interrupt the conversation, but he caught up with DMX outside of the restaurant later.

“I was thankful to give him his flowers,” Sumter told me when I reached out to hear more about his memory. “It took me out the roof. I loved his music before, but when I saw him in person, for him to be that actual believer, it was refreshing.”

Sumter, who is a gospel DJ and started The Right Way Living gospel entertainment company long after his brush with DMX, was impressed with how the artist graciously shared his time. “I appreciate his love for God, and I know Jesus honors that.”

A mother from Fort Myers, Florida, posted a picture and caption about the time she and her kids met DMX outside of a gas station. She recalled running to meet him and praying with him for an hour, and she wrote that she kept in contact with DMX for a month before she lost her phone. “Either way, I only remember good things about him and he touched our lives,” she posted. The word “survival” was written across the tan sweater that DMX wore.

Another mom shared pictures and a few sentences about meeting DMX at an amusement park, while waiting in line for the slingshot ride with her son and husband. DMX took two separate photos—one with the father, another with the son—doing his classic pose with his fingers twisted in the shape of an X. The mom responded to a comment under the pictures, calling DMX “such a funny guy.” 

My continued scrolling brought me to an interesting photo that was zoomed in so closely it failed to capture both DMX and the fan’s entire face. In the post, the man shared how he and his boys initially mistook DMX and a bunch of bikers as “Ruff Ryders posers,” but eventually realized who DMX and his crew were. Before the night ended, DMX played some games of pool with them.

Then there are the viral stories we’ve all seen, like the video of DMX dancing at an Albanian wedding. According to the person who shared the clip, DMX “crashed the wedding” in 2013 when he was hosting a concert in Kosovo. The party took place at the same hotel DMX was staying at and the video shows him hand-in-hand with wedding guests, laughing and dancing around a circle as traditional music blares in the background. Over 74,000 people liked the clip. 

Even more people responded to a 2015 story from an iHop in Buffalo, New York. DMX went into the kitchen after enjoying his meal and started cooking an omelette on the skillet. The person who posted the story called it “the most exciting thing that happened in our city all year.” 

Apparently that wasn’t the only time DMX worked alongside his fans for fun. Shiré Burgess, a singer and personal friend of DMX, has posted many tributes to him on her Instagram. One of those tributes recalls a day when DMX walked behind the counter of a KFC in Catonsville, Maryland, and began taking orders. 

“When I got to KFC, he was behind the counter taking orders with a badge they made him,” Burgess wrote. “You can only imagine how happy the customers were when they seen DMX getting their food. He always gave so much of himself and I will continue to be a giver like him.”

Naturally, there are a lot of airport stories, too. In one tweet, a woman who worked at an airport shares how DMX caught her taking pictures of him. When he looked her way, she asked to continue taking photos of him and he said, “No, but you can take a picture with me.” In that same thread, someone replied with his own airport picture with DMX, “Oh wow. I have a similar memory. He was traveling with some female and requested her to take my pic with him.”

A separate thread shows a guy with his arms around DMX’s shoulder. “All these stories [are] really funny as shit cause they’re really random,” the guy tweeted. “I met X cause somebody lost their cell phone at the airport all you hear is him ‘Anybody lose a phone’ I was like no way he sound just like DMX & cause I ain’t s/o him out he came and chopped It up for a cool 25 min.” 

The stories go on and on. Dark Man X shined a lot of light in the world—not just with his music, but with his presence. His chance meetings in airports, at restaurants, in grocery stores, outside of gas stations, and on random streets brought many people joy.

All of these experiences speak to the pure essence of DMX. On one side, there was turmoil and pain. He shared that with the world in his music and poetry. On the other side, there was joy and love that he gave freely to those around him. DMX was an approachable superstar. He didn’t have to put on a facade when people met him because he bared his soul to everyone, and that made him one of the realest to ever live.