A formidably talented performer, rapper DMX put his powerful charisma to good use, starting his film career in 1998 as his recording career was on the ascendancy. Born Earl Simmons in Mount Vernon, New York (although some accounts list his birthplace as Baltimore, Maryland), the youngster and his five half-sisters relocated with their mother to Yonkers, New York in the early 1970s. He started out as the "beat box" in freestyle rap shows, but quickly found that more glory went to the rapper, and pursued that career. Freestyle competitions (like one where he and fellow future superstar Jay-Z were the last men standing) won him notice in the "Unsigned Hype" column in the hip-hop monthly The Source. A founder of Ruff Ryders Entertainment (the group that would go on to include and foster the talents of such stars as Eve and The Lox), DMX was signed to Sony's unrelated Ruffhouse Records in 1992, but lack of promotion left the rapper with the desire to leave his contract. Five years later, Def Jam stepped up to the plate and signed DMX, launching what would become a stellar career. With a fearsome bark and insightful lyrics that largely focused on the internal struggles between good and evil, DMX made 1998 his year, with two multi-platinum albums released (both debuting at Number One on Billboard's charts). That year he also made his feature debut in the hip-hop organized crime drama "Belly," playing "ghetto president" Tommy Brown, a thug about town who grows apart from his aptly named, more intellectual childhood friend and conspirator Sincere (fellow rapper NAS). DMX released the successful "...And Then There Was X," an album that spawned the musician's first Top 40 hit, the remarkably catchy "Party Up (Up in Here)." The multi-platinum album debuted at Number One in December of 1999. A featured role in the Jet Li gangland vehicle "Romeo Must Die" (2000) didn't showcase DMX to his full ability, but it did at least establish that "Belly" wasn't a fluke. The well-made hip-hop tour documentary "Backstage" put the rapper on the big screen again in 2000. While he made headlines for his soap opera-like dealings with a Cheektowaga, New York court and a 15 day jail sentence, DMX's co-starring role in "Exit Wounds" (2001) hit theaters. Playing a street smart crime lord who joins up with Steven Seagal's burnt-out cop to battle police corruption, DMX would prove his star status with a far bigger role than he had in previous efforts. DMX's fourth album, "The Great Depression," which dropped in the summer of 2001, was the rapper's most introspective work yet and showed a definite progression in his development as an artist. 2003 found DMX back working in film, co-starring alongside Jet Li in "Cradle 2 the Grave." Earl "DMX" Simmons died on April 9, 2021 at the age of 50.
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