DMX: Will the Ruff Ryder rise again?

Hear exclusive new songs from the troubled rapper

Simmons decided he wanted to be an MC while in a juvenile institution. He was beat boxing and calling himself Beat Box Enforcer, but when he noticed the rappers getting more attention, he began writing rhymes. He called himself DMX the Great, taking his moniker from the Oberheim DMX drum machine, which he used to make his beats. He also linked the initials with the name "Darkman X"—also known as just "X"—for his shadowy side.

He battled other MCs on the streets, performed at community centers, and continued to steal and sell drugs. In 1991, he was featured in a column called "Unsigned Hype" in hip-hop magazine The Source, and in 1992, he was signed to Ruffhouse Records, a subsidiary of Columbia Records. But DMX's first single, "Born Loser," didn't take off, and he was released from his contract.

Around this time, Simmons was reintroduced to a woman named Tashera. Tashera and Simmons both attended Yonkers High School, but she remembers first meeting him when he was 11. "I was coming down the block, and he was taking an old lady's purse," she recalls with a chuckle.

Salt Mine Studios owner Don Salter, who recorded the bulk of DMX's new songs
Jamie Peachey
Salt Mine Studios owner Don Salter, who recorded the bulk of DMX's new songs
A Ruff Ryders banner hung in the venue of Scottsdale during DMX's last performance
Esther C. Groves
A Ruff Ryders banner hung in the venue of Scottsdale during DMX's last performance

The two were married in 1999, and had four children. Tashera says Simmons's drug use "was always a big fight," and worsened with fame and fortune. She says she noticed Simmons's "different mood swings" early in their relationship. "I started to think he had multiple personalities," she says. "There was Earl, that really, really loved me and was the person I fell in love with, and then there was this dark one, 'X,' who didn't care for me and didn't want to follow the rules."

The first time Simmons heard one of his songs on the radio, he was in jail in Valhalla, New York, on assault and battery charges. His track "Spellbound" was getting airplay on local station WBLS. After he was released, Simmons hooked up with Joaquin "Waah" Dean and his brother, Darrin Dean. Together, they formed a company called Ruff Ryders.

Ruff Ryders arranged a record deal for DMX with Def Jam Recordings. His first album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, was released in May 1998. It debuted at number one on the Billboard chart, thanks largely to hit singles like the "Ruff Ryders Anthem."

Simmons's career flourished over the next eight years. His second album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, was released in December 1998, and also debuted at number one. He was the second rapper to have two albums debut in the top spot that year; the other was Tupac Shakur.

DMX released three more albums over the next five years: ...And Then There Was X (1999), The Great Depression (2001), and Grand Champ (2003). All debuted at number one. His last studio album, Year of the Dog...Again, was released by Columbia Records in 2006. It fell short of debuting at the number-one spot by about a hundred copies.

In between albums, Simmons starred in several movies, including Last Hour, Exit Wounds, and Romeo Must Die.

But despite his commercial success, Simmons's personal problems continued. His rap sheet, like his music, would become epic.

   

IN JUNE 2004, DMX made headlines when he was arrested at JFK International airport in New York. He'd reportedly tried to steal a car by the telling the driver he was an FBI agent, then crashed his SUV—containing a billy club and a bag of crack—through an airport parking-lot gate. Simmons was charged with impersonating a federal agent, possession of cocaine, possession of a weapon, criminal mischief, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and attempted carjacking. He pleaded guilty, paid several fines, and served a seven-day sentence.

He started racking up arrests in Arizona three years ago. His November arrest marked his sixth in Maricopa County. He stayed in Arizona between arrests, despite his previous vows to never return. "At one point, I think I said I'd rather fly around the state than over it," Simmons says outside Venue of Scottsdale, between puffs on a Newport cigarette. "To tell you the truth, I haven't left yet. I think I'm gonna stay. I've been in jail out here, so I guess it's home now."

Simmons had recorded his third album in Phoenix in 1999. He says he fell in love with the desert and "all the openness," and bought a house in Cave Creek. "I like to go out in the desert and ride quads. It's just me and God out there," he says.

In 2005, he permanently relocated to the outskirts of metropolitan Phoenix. Arizona was supposed to be a new beginning. He had a half-million-dollar, adobe-style home near 11 miles of open trails for riding his ATVs. He had his family, several dogs, and a brief reality show on BET called DMX: Soul of a Man. He was clean for a while, by all accounts, but at some point everything went astray again.

In August 2007, Maricopa County sheriff's deputies raided Simmons's Cave Creek home. According to court documents, they found several firearms (which Simmons was prohibited from possessing), a bag containing baggies "with a yellow rock substance," as well as three dead pit bull dogs and a dozen others in bad condition. Simmons wasn't home, and wasn't charged with anything until almost nine months later, when he was slammed with seven misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and four felony counts of drug possession.

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