I Know You Ain't Perfect, But I Like You To Try
DMX in video for “Slippin'”, Ruff Ryders, Def Jam, 1998
by Elias Tezapsidis
How’s It Goin’ Down
The rapper DMX is famous for his infamy. Fame came to him through his trademark rapping style and emotionally staggering songwriting, letting him become the powerhouse that has had five consecutive No. 1 albums. Infamy came to him through his continuous trouble in abiding several legal frameworks and law-enforcing authorities. The intersections of DMX’s fame and infamy, once responsible for his rise to mainstream prominence by inspiring soulful lyrics, is now following a pattern in which the infamy overshadows the artist’s creative credibility.
DMX’s lyrics have always been excessively violent, even within the standards of the genre. As a performer, DMX gave his all to his audience, sharing his darkest thoughts, psychological troubles and drug abuse struggles. Beyond his darkness, the singer also shared with his listeners his desperate quest for God, by featuring a prayer – usually delivered a cappella – on every one of his albums.
The intimacy the rapper offered his listeners was inequivalent to that of any other performer. Every album he created serves as a record chronicling his descent to insanity, his persistent demand for relief from God and his quest to attain some clarity of mind. His first three records –It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998), Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood (1998) and …And Then There Was X …And Then There Was X – include songs in which he also confronts the devil, in an attempt to artistically present a fair world, where he honestly considers all options.
I am always curious about the songs fans of entertainers love but which never become singles; songs that are more deeply loved by those who deem them worthy. In the case of the It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot album, my personal favorite is his confrontation with the Devil, entitled “Damien.” In the song, a hyperconscious and introspective DMX wonders why he keeps making errors, turning to the sky and asking for a guardian angel, when a second entity (Damien or “TP”) responds to his call. Over time, it becomes clear that the force that appeared was actually satanic rather than angelic: “The snake, the rat, the cat, the dog. How you gonna see them if you living in the fog?” the hook powerfully repeats, underlining the lack of DMX’s accountability in what transpires.
The meaning behind “Damien” can be found in the grand sacrifices DMX is willing to make, as per Damien’s request, in exchange for recognition and success. In the song, the rapper keeps on accepting the ethically ambivalent requests Damien, who symbolises the rapper’s own darkness and the Devil himself, poses.
I deeply respect DMX. Thus, I was flabbergasted when I first learned that the legendary rapper would give a thorough interview to Dr. Phil, a public person towards whom I feel nothing but scorn and disdain. The only way in which I can excuse his decision is by assuming he was there following Damien’s lead; that he had decided to make that sacrifice in exchange of attaining some positive fame back.
DMX asserted that his willingness to appear on the show stemmed from his wish to clear his image to the public. He wanted to let us know he is not the mess the media portrays him to be; he still has it together.
“I need people to look at me and see who I am,” he lies.
Later on, the true reasons for his appearance become a question, when Dr. Phil asks him why he is no longer making US $13 million a year, like he used to, since his talent is as intact today as it was when that was his annual salary.
“I dunno,’ he responds, honestly this time.
“Well, if you did know, what would it be?”
“That’s kind of a weird question… Doesn’t make sense! I still do not know! Smooth move there…” he swiftly responds before bursting into laughter that invites the audience to join him in laughing in face of Dr. Phil’s perfectly idiotic hypothetical inquiry.
The thing about DMX is that he remains painfully charismatic. Being in a seemingly good mood during the time of the interview, he conquers his surroundings – an audience already comprised of his admirers – with the suave charm and daft spontaneity few performers portray in public appearances. With his strong sense of humor, he even makes a cajoling case for impersonating a cop and running across a hotel corridor naked, on what he claimed to be a dare. While he is undoubtedly performing in this interview, being acutely aware of how the audience will respond to his every word, he is earnest when he is short of an answer for why he no longer makes 13 million annually.
That answer lies elsewhere.
Music Today: What These Bitches Want
Paris Hilton has a new single out. I am not sure it counts as a musical comeback; did she ever really make an entry to the music industry? Stars are blind, somewhat. What is particularly surprising is that for her first single chronicling her Cash Money Records Debut, she – or rather, her team – managed to convince Lil Wayne to participate, even if his sung participation begins with the lyrics: “I don’t give a fuck.” That we have culturally arrived to the moment where Weezy “raps” in a Paris Hilton song does not particularly bother me. The “raps” here in quotation marks because he does not even give a Weezy rap, but rather talks while Paris’ electro-enhanced voice surrounds the only human aspects of “Good Time.” The song is awful, objectively. I cannot like it even in a lovehating capacity.
Lil Wayne’s most recent album I Am Not a Human Being II, was not the best. The issue with him is that he can still rap and verbally flow well. Yet, his heart is not in it, he is kind of regurgitating the same bravado and attitude he introduced a long while ago, but the delivery has debatably been affected by all the codeine the songs reference, the writing has certainly been deteriorated. Even the sex-puns are not on the witty level they used to be, a level which A$AP Rocky has now taken over.
Music Yesterday: Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
The circumstances that construct the contemporary music industry have been highly scrutinized in global media, with exegeses in many publications and websites. Taking the form of open letters between celebrities, Op-Eds, think-pieces and blog posts, the analytical deconstruction we have encountered often shocks us with the brusque reality of today’s performers as vehicles for work that is not representative of their own experiences. Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, respectively, illustrate the difference between performers who create and performers who primarily perform. In an insightful comparison between the two back in 2010, Nitsuh Abebe wrote about how Minaj’s Pink Friday was more representative of its singer’s individual tone than the more production-heavy Loud.
An admirable aspect of DMX’s dedication to his craft is evident in that he writes all the music he sings: ‘I write all my lyrics. All my songs. I wouldn’t be able to call myself an artist if I didn’t,’ he clarifies to Dr. Phil. The rapper’s past, his physical and emotional abuse during childhood by his mother first led him to music. Music became his escape from a dire reality.
Instant Gratification: Slippin’
Beyond creativity, drugs also became his escape. First smoking weed at 8, then crack aged 14, DMX acknowledges his addictive nature without hesitation. His exposure to substances from an early age led to his association of drugs with the notion of a good time. Currently, he claims he only drinks and smokes weed, quickly adding that one day he hopes that God and his faith will help demolish even these last, remaining demons. Temptation is always there, though, especially when performing in live venues where people approach him and offer drugs.
The quest for immediate gratification did not stop, as it often does not, at drug abuse. DMX seemed, and continues to this day, to yearn sexual gratification in volumes over engaging in a single romance/partnership. Stating that he enjoys performing, but doesn’t like being on tour, he makes a callous joke about having to sleep with a different girl every night. “Nobody thinks about my feelings,” he jokes. But it isn’t funny because he does it. Appearing in a VH1 reality show (Couples Therapy), he verbally specified that this is who he is, with this colorful quote to his ex-wife: ‘I’m gonna fuck as many fucking bitches as I want… Until my dick falls off!’
DMX’s perseverance in the field leads to one of the most controversial aspects of his public persona. He has already fathered 11 children with 6 different women, and another one is on the way. When the interviewer asks him why he is having so many children, he responds pathetically.
‘I am not having them!’ he says seriocomically, and the audience laughs. ‘I am giving them the children!’
Suddenly, Dr. Phil is the one making more sense on the screen, guilting DMX into understanding parenthood is a responsibility for those not giving birth, too.
“I love all my children, I do see them and speak to them… WHEN I CAN.”
It gets “time-consuming” and “expensive,” predictably. When questioned about why he is having so many children, he responds in a ‘because I can’ manner. He explains, defensively, that he can provide for them, so why not have them? His interviewer reminds him he is above a million behind in child support. He explains that he is “behind in payments,” but reassures us they are taken care of, even if Daddy-DMX needs to be divided by 12.
“Daddy belongs to the world,” the rapper declares, hinting it may be impossible for a public figure of his celebrity stature also be a doting parent.
Affirmation: Coming From
Out of his extensive collection of legal troubles, the accusation of animal cruelty is one that seems to resonate highly with guilt. The omnipresence of the dog in his oeuvre makes clear his true stance of affection for the animal. DMX claims that the animal cruelty charges filed against him were the result of ‘not putting the right people at the right place.’ It was someone else who was responsible for feeding the dogs in his house while he was absent who had disregarded their needs. Maybe he is correct in claiming that: ‘being famous, it is never fair the way you get treated. [In court/ legally] It’s either love or hate.’ This dyadic divide may seem extreme to most, but the rapper often views the world in a binary code where the plausibility of compromise or balance is never an option.
A recurring inquiry the interviewer brings up is, again, a “make-belief” hypothesis: ‘If you could alter anything today, what would you change about your life?’
“Absolutely nothing. I am in a good place. WITH God. I am happy with where I am and I would not change a single aspect of my life, because it led me here,” he eloquently responds, to Dr. Phil’s dissatisfaction and as he mouths such response as ‘nonsensical.’
“It doesn’t have to make sense to you-it makes sense to me, and it is my path and that’s why these people love me.” This time DMX gets his point across, with the help of the audience’s encouragement he actively invited.
In explaining his celebrity status, the rapper states that: “it looks fun, but [there is] lots of self-sacrifice, dedication, time away from your children, traveling… If I am having a bad day, I have to stay to the house, because once I walk outside, I belong to the world.”
The idea of belonging to the public is one that borders artistic martyrdom, but he does not genuinely believe that. He cannot possibly be so selfless, when his art is so carefully constructed on the premise of the complexity of his own psyche and personal narrative. To a stranger who tweeted the show asking for a more detailed description of his mistakes and advising him to address his past, he ostensibly refused to respond. “I don’t even know who that is. One thing I learned is not to accept anyone’s beliefs about yourself. Because if u believe them when they tell u you re on top of the world, then you re gonna believe them when they you are a piece of shit.”
“I need people to look at me and see who I am,” he lies.
Where The Hood At?
As a child, DMX recalls being described by teachers and other adults as ‘extremely bright, but also incredibly mischievous.’
Near the end of the interview, the old, white-haired interviewer emulates the tone of a sage to ask the stupidest question of all, one that links to the artist’s past and upbringing:
“Do you get the odds of someone with your background signing a major record deal?”
“No. Not with my talent. With my talent I shoulda been discovered!”
DMX is right. Even if he never really stopped being a child, his success is well-deserved. The mischief, perhaps, we can blame on Damien, or TP.
About the Author:
Elias grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece, prior to attending Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was there that he discovered he was too neurotic and OCD for the Midwest and had a low-tolerance for the MN-nice. The move to NYC post-graduation seemed like the logical next step, and since then downtown New York has been home.