On Thursday, Ringer Films will launch the latest installment of its HBO Music Box series, DMX: don’t try to figure it out. Over the next few days, we chronicle of the rise of the rapper and place in the history of hip-hop. Today on the 52nd episode 60 songs that explain the 90s, Rob breaks down the pain, passion and unbridled charisma of DMX with help from No jumps’ Serrano Shea.
Let us pray.
Each appropriate DMX album ends with a DMX prayer. Usually a capella. Near the end. Another lead or two, after prayer, in most cases. DMX is the best prayer in rap history. It is not a competition, for the obvious, spiritual reason, prayer-is-not-a-competitive-sport, but also because it has no competition.
The prayer usually comes after about an hour of uplifting DMX songs, the majority of which involve stealing and / or shooting someone. Or several people. Let’s not turn that into an analysis, but it steals and / or shoots a bewildering number of action movie-type people. A disreputable action movie. A “We better call a Senate hearing” action movie. sometimes he gets shot. Sometimes he dies. sometimes Everybody gets shot. And whatever happens, it’s exhilarating. It’s as exhilarating as criminal rap never was or ever will be.
So this prayer is at the end of her first album, It’s dark and hell is hot, from 1998. May 1998. Many of 1998 are gone. And three tracks before the prayer on It’s dark and hell is hot is the song “ATF”, which is gasping and frenzied and ultraviolet and lasts less than two minutes, and finds our hero, DMX, sued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and it wraps a short film by Raymond Carver story worthy of detail and pathetic and horrific bloodshed in one minute and 56 seconds, if Raymond Carver had written his short stories watching his first wife Maryanne play Grand Theft Auto 5. Spoiler alert, but here’s how “ATF” ends:
Death is in the air
And I don’t know if it’s mine
But I know if it is
This will be what it is
And all I can think of is
What about my children?
His death is in the air this time. You can tell by his voice that he already knew that. The last thing he hears is boom boom boom open the ATF door. Can we talk about the joint? The joint he pulls from his boot, in the middle of the shooting? The joint it swells on as it gets caught in the shoulder, neck and ear? Prodigious. The hottest guy who ever lived, at the time of his death. So this is the guy who prays three leads later. Humble, penitent, suppliant, devout. And the first miracle of DMX is how visceral and genuine the sound of gunfire and prayer, coming from his mouth, is delivered in a voice so bossy, so terribly vulnerable but also triumphantly invulnerable. He knows his death is still in the air. He knows that God will protect him as long as he needs protection. He knows he’s immortal for as long as he needs to be:
And I’m afraid what I’m saying won’t be heard until I’m gone
But it’s alright, cause I really didn’t expect to live long
There is no contradiction. He prays as he shoots and he shoots as he prays. His prayers can seem just as passionate, as thunderous, as furious as his insane shooting threads or his elaborate threats. This is how her first recorded prayer ends:
So if I have to suffer for my brother to see the light
Give me pain until I die
But please Lord treat him well
It’s dark and hell is hot went multi-platinum, which means millions of records sold, in the plural: his first three albums did. This too debuted at no. 1 on the display panel Album Chart — his first five albums did. First artist in history whose first five records debuted at no. 1. He suffered until his death. This is a difficult question. That will be difficult. Let’s hear him pray again, okay? As requested — as required– God gave him strength so that he could give us strength.
We switched to prayer towards the end of his second album, Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, released in December 1998. DMX’s rap career began in earnest with two successful albums in the same year. Seven months apart. Ridiculous. 1998. Let’s see here. The Broncos won the Super Bowl in January. The Yankees won the World Series, the Bulls won the NBA championship, of course, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, France won the World Cup, Mark O’Meara won the Masters, Michigan won the Rose Bowl. Kentucky won the March Madness, Israel won Eurovision, Titanic won a bunch of Oscars, and I got pretty good at Golden eye for the Nintendo 64. Not championship level, mind you, but Grace Jones with grenade launchers in the setup could do some damage. I was just thinking of mentioning it. Forget it all. DMX won 1998. He won all year. They took all the trophies they won in 1998 and melted them all into a giant golden baseball bat and gave it to DMX because only he could swing it. I would also pray for his enemies, quite frankly, although DMX prayed for them for a different reason.
Prayer at the end of Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood is the intro to the last song on the album, titled “Ready to Meet Him”, in which God and DMX have… a disagreement. A misunderstanding. A broadcast of grievances. The DMX grievances, of course.
Lord, you left me stranded
And I do not know why
Told me to live my life
Now i’m ready to die
Ready to fly
I cry, but I don’t shed tears
You told me that you would die of these fears
it’s been years
DMX also expresses God on this song, and God responds, and God puts the spirit of DMX at ease. It had happened before too, come to think of it. The prayer on his debut album led to a track called “The Convo” – DMX asks God why, when he struggled the most, there was only one set of footprints in the sand, and God was like, This is when I carried you, have you never heard of that “Footprints” poem, this is a super popular poem, literally go to anyone and literally watch anyone what wall in this house, and “Footprints” is probably hanging on the wall. Have you never been to the dentist in the Midwest? And DMX is like, No. And God is like, Okay, but still, how don’t you know this poem? And DMX is like, OK, Okay. So now on album no. 2, “Ready to Meet Him” continues this conversation, this confrontation; my favorite part is when DMX and God start walking through the 10 commandments:
(You won’t fly)
But what if he steals from me?
(You won’t kill)
But what if he tries to kill me?
(You won’t take my name in vain)
(No matter how hard it rains, resist the pain)
They stop there, which is a drag, because I would have loved to hear one of the most prolific armed robbers in rap history try to get out of Galaxy Brain. you will not steal.
DMX has also earned the right to rhyme pain with rain, a lot. It’s super hard, man. Can I continue, with the prayers? May I? It’s a very pleasant rhythm for me. I love the DMX prayers. And if we want to talk in detail about DMX, I will need DMX prayers. Is it correct? It is 60 songs that explain the 90s, and this week it’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”, from It’s dark and hell is hot. Great song, right? We’ll get there. OKAY. Let us pray.
To listen to the full episode Click here, and make sure you follow on Spotify and come back every Wednesday for new episodes. To catch DMX: don’t try to figure it out, check out HBO Max starting Thursday. This excerpt has been edited slightly for clarity and length.