I was headed to Miami the day DMX (X) transitioned. That weekend the venues showed X mad love, but I knew the energy wouldn’t be the same as in New York. When his memorial service was held at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, I was on another flight out. However, I did see a video of the bikes going down Atlantic Avenue and it took me back to spring and summer of 1998. As a matter of fact, today would make it 23 years since “How’s It Goin Down” was released. I was a teenager and I remember when X’s bike crew, Ruff Ryders used to ride down Fulton Street Mall and catch everyone’s attention. When the double R came through, you paused a little longer–maybe hoping to see X? They would be in the shirts or vests with the big “R” on their backs with the matching bandanas or helmets. They would post up for a minute, take some flicks and dip. This was before vehicles were prohibited to go down that section of Fulton Street.
On a sunny afternoon, I was in S&D’s, a dimly lit retail store designed like a train station that you had to go down stairs to enter. They sold fly gear–and more exclusive brands and selections like Iceberg (Ice Jeans). (For context S&D’s is now a Gap outlet store–won’t gentrification do it?). So I am looking at clothes and they’re playing DMX’s debut album It’s Dark and Hell is Hot and at this time X was everywhere. Hot97 had X on heavy rotation whether it was a single or not (shout out to Tracy). I heard four straight tracks with dude at the register rapping every word while I was looking at a shirt. I put the shirt I was looking at back on the rack, went up the stairs and made my way to Beat Street, the go-to music store a few blocks down, where artists like Marcy’s own, Jay-Z, and street teams promoted music. I bought the album and then went back to S&D’s, but didnt buy anything that day. I went home, struggled with the wrapper, took the CD out the case, placed it in my stereo and read the credits and thank yous as the album played. I got to “Prayer” and “The Convo” and froze. Wow, he talking to God like that? It shouldn’t have been a surprise, the previous tracks alluded to what X was capable of…
DMX permeated our existence. For a class project, one of my classmates handed out business cards (cut up index cards) that read: My Mans & ‘Em Entertainment, a nod to X’s homies throughout the album. Our teacher laughed because she knew it was X-related. That was light work, though. The conversations about X spilled outside of the lunchroom and beyond high school. The most memorable conversations were the low-key ones with the homeboys who call(ed) me “Kash.” That’s not to say that my sisters didn’t relate, but the conversations with my mans and ’em were different.
You gave me the light and let me bask in your glory
So it was only right that, when you asked for this story
I put it together, to do our dogs some good
Our dogs being brothers and sisters in the hood
“Prayer,” It’s Dark and Hell is Hot (1998)
Critical Race theorists and rappers use composite narratives to tell a single story because of the common truths that they share. Teneka from “How’s It Going Down” is fictional, however, there are real stories similar to the one X described of relationships that happened. The following is a composite narrative, with “My Mans.” ‘Cause it’s only right, actually.
My Mans mediated the lyrics to X’s debut album and sophomore album, Flesh of my Flesh, Blood of my Blood especially “Slippin’”. He and I talked about the value of life, resilience, beating the odds in the car, on my mother’s phone ‘til I got my own phone line. Fast forward to texts and DMs at odd hours or DMs. He made it to see the day and remembers when this was uncertain. My Mans growled and prayed with X. The multi-platinum rapper’s rawness and vulnerability were blended in his life and lyrics. There was no separating the two, but saying that was all X was is a false dichotomy. To paraphrase lrv Gotti, there were more guys like X than there were like Jay. The nuances of X’s struggles and survival captured My Mans’ essence and efforts. X articulated how’s it going down, even when he was chasing Teneka in her 54-11s. The Yonkers rapper dropped gems…but you had to listen like My Man’s and ‘em.
Life lessons were sprinkled across bars based on the bible, burners and barking. He never claimed to be perfect. Some of his struggles were filmed. Nevertheless, he strived for better. His interviews always made you think about moves you made and will make. His prayers hit different. Seeing him on Verzuz with Snoop was everything. Like all the greats, we gon’ always rep X to end. Mad love X, ‘til we see you again.