As hip-hop and the music industry at large mourn the tragic passing of Earl Simmons, otherwise known as DMX, it’s fairly easy to discuss everything that made him such a legendary MC. Blending his aggressive approach to rhyme with emotional vulnerability, the Yonkers native became the first rapper to drop two albums that debuted at No.1 on the BIllboard Hot 200 within the same year.
That was a huge unprecedented feat at the time. Between the 1998 release of his debut It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and sophomore follow-up Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, he also kicked off his highly respectable run in Hollywood.
Dark Man X himself made his acting debut the same year in Hype Williams’ first and only theatrical release as a director, Belly. A critical failure and moderate box office success, the crime drama eventually grew into a certified “hood classic” for a handful of reasons. From the hyper-stylized cinematography on par with the best music videos Williams directed at the time, to the phenomenal soundtrack that accompanied its release, Complex’s Deputy Editor of Pop Culture khal wrote, “Belly became the film that flipped the script for the future of hip-hop.”
X’s embodiment of the unhinged Buns has now become a pleasure to watch outside of the gorgeous visuals and on-screen chemistry opposite Nas’ (also making his acting debut) more reserved acting as Sincere. One moment, Buns is forcing character Black to strip naked in a flat-out humiliating scene. By the end, he’s embracing a Nation of Islam leader he was set to assassinate with warm humility. Then there’s the classic “fuck a book” moment. X contributed a few songs to the soundtrack as well—something that would continue doing with nearly every acting role.
A few years later, in 2000, X starred alongside Aaliyah and Jet Li in cross-cultural actionier Romeo Must Die. X played the role of Silk, a club night owner whose land ownership stood in the way of the two rival families. Even if X’s role as Silk was more of a means to an end to further the plot, he shined on screen—especially at the beginning with the short “Guns don’t kill people” monologue. The film also served as one of three urban-based martial arts film collaborations with Polish director Andrzej Bartkowiak; the two would link up for 2001’s Exit Wounds starring Steven Seagal and with Li again in 2003 with Cradle 2 the Grave.
On the small screen, X found himself making guest appearances on popular television series including Moesha, South Park, Half & Half, Third Watch, Eve (starring Ruff Ryders’ first lady), and most recently Fresh Off the Boat. In the season two episode of the series inspired by Eddie Huang’s childhood, little Eddie spends some time working for X and learns some valuable lessons about orchids. His appearance on Fresh off the Boat led to a viral meme that still pops up on social media fairly frequently.
Fans of X got an uncompromising look into the rapper attempting to put his life together following his well-documented battles with drugs and jail sentences in the BET six-part documentary series DMX: Soul of a Man. A large majority of the series featured X attempting to finish his Year of the Dog… Again album and living a peaceful life in-and-around Carefree, Arizona. The series even used the album single “Lord Give Me A Sign.”
DMX also went into reality television through appearances on Couples Therapy and Iyanla, Fix My Life. Though the now-reality television life coach has retired from the series, she considered the episode where X and his first-born son, Xavier Simmons, attempted to mend their broken relationship a failed moment for her. There was even a moment in the episode where Iyanla read a letter to him telling him that his family was concerned with a call of his death from a possible overdose. “I don’t care what people are concerned with,” was X’s reply.
Though X didn’t hit the silver screen again until a hilarious cameo appearance in Chris Rock writing, directing, and acting vehicle Top Five, he spent the remaining years of his life starring in standard direct-to-video releases. This included films like Death Toll with Lou Diamond Phillips, The Bleeding alongside Michael Madsen, Keke Palmer-led Pimp, and also teaming up again with Exit Wounds co-star Steven Seagal in Beyond the Law. He even starred in B-movie creature feature Lockjaw: Rise of the Kulev Serpent. X’s final film appearance would come in 2020’s Fast and Fierce: Death Race.
Besides portraying various characters in film, X had ambitions as a film executive. His production company Bloodline Films co-produced Never Die Alone. He also served as executive producer for other films he acted in such as Jump Out Boys co-starring Kris Kristofferson alongside Death Toll and Lockjaw: Rise of the Kulev Serpent.
X’s last full-length album was 2012’s Undisputed (we’ll forget the 2015 Redemption of the Beast happened). Though his musical output slowed significantly, he continued to act in a slew of films until his untimely death. Speaking with A.J. and Free on a 2003 episode of 106 & Park, he talked about why he made the pivot to acting, with Grand Champ supposedly being his last album.
“Y’all gotta look at it from my point of view,” said X to both hosts and audience. “I got a family, and as rap artists or any type of musicians, we pay for our recording to be done, we pay for our promotion to be done, we pay for the tours, tour bus, the people who operate the equipment—for everything—and we still don’t get an even split from the record companies.”
Acting allowed X to embody men who were as broken as himself without all of the music industry exploitation. Hollywood gave him an industry to thrive within, taking his natural gifts and life experience to bring these characters to life. Above all else, one thing is for sure: X delivered the same bravado on the silver screen that made him one of the most captivating figures in hip-hop.