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The Devil in DMX

Can the celebrated rapper get out of trouble long enough to top the charts again?

Many famous rappers from troubled backgrounds — including Lil' Wayne, T.I. and Too Short — have been jailed on various charges over the years. But DMX has sold more records in the U.S. than they have, and his rap sheet is also the longest.

Many claim to find God in prison, and this guy's no exception. But DMX is different because he's clearly still straddling the fence. He's made handfuls of new songs asking God for deliverance, and says he wants to change. At the same time, he admits he's "hungry and angry." And he hasn't changed. Remarkably, he doesn't seem to be faking on either side. He's a convicted man in more ways than one.

Those close to Simmons say they're doing everything they can to help him get his life together, but he frequently ignores their advice and makes bad decisions. They all say he wants to change, and he's had streaks of sobriety and clarity — but he's always backslid. They agree he has a potential hit record, but every time they get ready to release it, he gets arrested. But for some in Simmons's camp, like his manager Nakia Walker, there's more at stake than just his freedom and an amazing new album. "If we don't get Earl together," she says, "X is not gonna exist."

Jamie Peachey
Saltmine Studios owner Don Salter, who recorded the bulk of DMX’s new songs.
Jamie Peachy
Nakia Walker, DMX’s manager, relaxes in her Phoenix home.

DMX was last released from jail last July and began to build buzz around one of his new songs, "Y'all Don't Know." In the song, driven by dark synthesizer hooks and a slugging rhythm courtesy of renowned producer/artist Swizz Beatz, DMX raps: "The sky's the limit, so I'm reaching for the stars / I'm tired of being a nigga that they keep behind bars."

Riding radio interest in the single, Walker started booking spot dates for DMX to perform. His last public performance took place November 12, at the Venue of Scottsdale. He was on fire that night, pacing and bouncing around the stage like a man possessed, tearing through the tongue-twisters in his lyrics with authority and intensity. To the hundreds of screaming people in the venue that night who watched him flawlessly perform his top ten hits, like "Get at Me Dog" and "We Right Here," it was clear that DMX was back.

Six days later, Simmons was arrested at his home in Cave Creek for violating the terms of his probation (again) and sent to jail without bond. (And throwing a wrench into New Times's plans to interview him at home.) When Walker visits him the following week, he tells her, "I can't live like this anymore. This is crazy."

And "crazy" has only been the half of it.
_____________________

It's around 5 on the evening of DMX's November 12 show, and the rapper's getting ready to do a sound check inside Venue of Scottsdale. Dressed in a black shirt, long denim shorts and hiking boots, he meanders around the stage with an impatient swagger. Suddenly, he brings the microphone up to his mouth and hollers, "WHAT?!" His voice booms out of the amplifiers.

Nakia Walker, who's sitting in front of a speaker, covers her ear and winces. DMX chuckles and lowers his voice, imitating a smooth jazz radio deejay, his voice gliding through the speakers like James Earl Jones.

"Hellooo, and welcome to a mellow evening with DMX," he says. "Tonight, we'll be playing all of your favorites, like this classic tune..."

The DJ cues the track for "Slippin'," from DMX's second album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood. Near the end of the song, he changes the last line of the chorus: "Hey yo I'm slippin', I'm fallin', I can't get up / Hey yo I'm slippin', I'm fallin', I gots to get up..." The music takes a sudden pause as he screams, "I want to make records but I'm fucking it up!"

Walker's cell phone rings. It's somebody asking what DMX wants in his dressing room, aside from the list they have: fried chicken, Now N Laters, Skittles and a bottle of Hennessey.

"Hey Earl, what do you want in your dressing room?" Walker yells.

"Butt naked girls and jelly beans!" he says with a big grin.

"Make sure it's somebody Angela likes," Walker jokes, referring to the woman with Simmons, an aspiring model he'd introduced earlier as "my baby mama."

Simmons puts his arms around Angela's waist and hugs her. Earlier, he'd taken her aside and given her a necklace. "So you can look at that and think of me, and know I'll always be with you," he said.

This is the side of DMX that people rarely see, the real Earl Simmons. According to Simmons and those closest to him, he and "X" are two different people. Simmons raises money for his church, loves his kids (all nine, from five mothers), and collects toy cars and trucks because he's still a kid inside. "X," on the other hand, frankly doesn't give a shit. He's the dark and ruthless one, the character that steps up to smack people down when Simmons feels vulnerable and wants to hide.

"Earl is a person who still holds onto a lot of things he suffered in the past, as a child," Walker says. "He holds onto things, instead of talking about things and releasing. He expresses himself through his music."

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