By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
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Asked how his new material reflects his life over the past few years, Simmons says, "Indirectly. But that's pretty much been my life up to this point anyway. Not much has changed — jails, streets, speak for the people."
Earl Simmons was born, with no middle names, on December 18, 1970, in Mount Vernon, New York, the only child of Arnett Simmons and Joe Barker. His mother already had a two-year-old daughter by another man when she became pregnant with Earl. She was 19.
According to Simmons, his father, an artist, only came around when he was trying to sell paintings in New York City. In his 2002 autobiography, E.A.R.L., Simmons writes that his father "never called me on my birthday or helped raise me at all."
As a child, Simmons lived with his mother and sister in a one-bedroom apartment in Yonkers, New York. They were on welfare. He had no father figures, save for his mother's boyfriends, who rarely paid him attention.
New Times couldn't reach either of Simmons's parents. He says he hasn't spoken to his father in years, and he's still estranged from his mother. "My mother beat me for every man that did her wrong, for every man that fucked her and left her," Simmons wrote in E.A.R.L.
Simmons discovered his talent for words in the third grade. One day, he ran home to his mother and proudly proclaimed, "I can spell 'Empire State Building'!" But he says his mother just glanced up and told him to run along.
So Simmons started doing other things to get attention, like fighting and throwing chairs at teachers. He was first incarcerated at ten, when the courts sent him to a children's home for 18 months.
When Simmons returned home to his mother, he ran away often. Many nights, he slept inside the clothing bins outside the Salvation Army in Getty Square. By his teens, he'd started doing drugs, stealing, and mugging people on the streets of Yonkers. Growing up poor, he never had new shoes or nice leather jackets, so when he saw a kid wearing them on the streets, he decided he wanted those things and he took them.
And he started taking in stray dogs. He'd look all over the neighborhood for strays, the mangier the better, sometimes following them for hours, trying to coax them to his side. The dogs became his only companions, and since dogs weren't allowed inside his apartment building, he slept with them on the roof. He says he remembers lying on the roof, looking up at the stars and thinking how he trusted dogs more than people because dogs loved him back, no matter what he did, and would never betray him.
One day, a neighbor kid called Peanut called animal control about Simmons's dog, Blacky, and they ended up shooting Blacky right in front of him. A week later, a pissed-off Simmons went to school with a sawed-off shotgun taped to his leg. A few days later, he was in a juvenile detention facility, the first of many where he would have an extended stay.
Simmons decided he wanted to be an MC during one of his stays in a juvenile institution. He was beat-boxing and calling himself Beat Box Enforcer, but when he noticed the rappers getting more attention from the girls than the beat box guys, he began constantly 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 to get money. 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's beat maker Kasun reintroduced him 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.
The two were married in 1999, and went on to have four children together. Tashera says Simmons's drug use "was always a big fight," and worsened with fame and fortune. But Tashera says the thing he fought the most was "that demon of not loving himself, because of everything with his mother. When you don't love yourself, it's hard to accept love from others."
Tashera said she noticed Simmons's "different mood swings" early in their relationship, "And 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 was 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.