Can DMX Ever Stay Out of Trouble Long Enough to Top the Charts Again?
Looking at rapper DMX's life is like watching someone punch himself in the face repeatedly. One can easily picture a cherubic angel sitting atop one of the big black guy's shoulders, telling him not to snort that line of coke or skip that appointment with his probation officer. But, on the other shoulder, he's got a horned red devil prodding him with a pitchfork, urging him to just go ahead and do it.
For DMX, choosing between right and wrong is an extreme struggle — and it's never sounded more fierce than on two unreleased albums, Walk with Me Now and Fly with Me Later. His gruff, deep voice bursts out of him on these new tracks — almost as if he were barking, truly the sound of a man who calls himself "the dog." The good, bad, and ugly is all there, the words of an everyday man falling down and trying to get back up.
Lyrically, DMX's new songs paint a striking picture of his duality. On one hand, he makes liberal use of the words "nigga" and "faggot" and raps about "breaking shanks" in jail and feeding people to javelinas. On the other hand, he's rapping repentance and praying to God.
New Times feature
Hear DMX�s new single, �Y�all Don�t Really Know,� plus two exclusive new tracks, on our music blog, Up on the Sun.
Musically, the tracks run the gamut, from the jazz horn samples, funk beats, and rhythmic record scratching on "It Ain't My Fault" to the screaming '70s classic rock guitar that drives "The Way It's Gonna Be."
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsTue., Nov. 1, 7:00pm
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
And it sounds phenomenal. Whether he's rapping over an infectious club groove about shooting people on the streets or over somber piano and church bells as he praises God, DMX's lyrics are raw and heartfelt, filled with tight rhymes wrapped around beats that make you bob your head. It feels like dancing and crying at the same time. Even if you can't specifically relate to shooting someone or being locked in a jail cell, you can relate to being conflicted and the struggle of trying to do the right thing when everything's going wrong. That's the story of DMX's life. His music speaks to a lot of people.
DMX is the only hip-hop artist in history to have five straight albums debut at number one on the Billboard charts and the only one to do it twice in one year. He's sold more than 21 million albums worldwide. At one time, he had a huge fan base; those fans have dwindled as his legal problems have mounted. But he could be like troubled NFL quarterback Michael Vick, staging a triumphant comeback and silencing haters with an MVP-type performance. Because now, for the first time since 2006, there are two albums' worth of great new DMX music ready for release.
And for now, anyway, no one can buy it.
You can hear a couple of DMX's new songs exclusively on New Times' website, but don't expect an album anytime soon. The new DMX record was originally scheduled for release this coming March, but it's been delayed repeatedly as the rapper (real name: Earl Simmons) tries to get himself out of trouble — again. He's currently incarcerated at the Alhambra prison complex in Phoenix — and, in news surprising to his fans but perhaps not to those closest to him, DMX is now being held in the prison's mental ward.
Simmons, now 40, has been in group homes and jails, off and on, his whole life, beginning when he was just a boy. His criminal record includes more than 20 arrests across the nation, for everything from rape in New York in 1998 and a stabbing in Denver in 1999 (he was acquitted of both) to animal cruelty in New Jersey in 2002 (he pleaded guilty) and numerous drug possession charges.
Simmons has done drugs since he was a teenager, mostly marijuana and cocaine. At times, he's also been a heavy drinker. When he got famous as a rapper, his manager says, people kept his missteps quiet and he tended to get off easy. But now he's locked up again for a probation violation stemming from failed drug tests, and because he's been away from the business for a while, all the media have to focus on are his repeated arrests.
But the fact that DMX is currently behind bars is only one reason his two new albums, Walk with Me Now and Fly with Me Later, haven't come out yet. There's also legal wrangling over music licenses, investors, and publishing royalties, all compounded by the fact that, after years of paying legal fees and being a free-spending rap star, DMX is virtually broke.
The licenses for the new albums are owned by Her Royal Majesty's Records, but the company doesn't want to release the records while DMX is incarcerated — and they say they need more investors for distribution and promotion. The fact that DMX can't tour and promote the records from jail has kept investors away, and he can't afford to put money behind the records himself. And November's onstage outburst in Scottsdale toward a former collaborator and potential benefactor — Def Jam Records president Jay-Z — hasn't helped his comeback aspirations.
Over several weeks in late 2010, New Times was granted access to Earl Simmons, his management team, family members, and those who've worked with him on the new material. With the exception of two brief local television interviews, New Times' access has been exclusive, right up until Simmons' most recent court date, December 16, on charges of probation violation.
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 United States 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 he 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' 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."
DMX was last released from jail in July and began to build buzz around one of his new songs, "Y'all Don't Really 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 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 10 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 (which threw a wrench into New Times' plans to interview him at home). When Walker visited him the following week, he told her, "I can't live like this anymore. This is crazy."
And "crazy" has been only 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 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 speakers.
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 on to things, instead of talking about things and releasing. He expresses himself through his music."
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 name, on December 18, 1970, in Mount Vernon, New York, the only child of Arnett Simmons and Joe Barker. His mother already had a 2-year-old daughter by another man when she became pregnant with Earl. She was 19.
According to Simmons, his father, an artist, came around only 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' 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 locked up at 10, when the court 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 named Peanut called animal control about Simmons' 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 beatboxing and calling himself Beat Box Enforcer, but when he noticed the rappers getting more attention from the girls than the beatbox guys, he began to write 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' 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' 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' "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.
Ruff Ryders arranged a record deal for DMX with Def Jam Recordings. His first album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, was released in May 1998. It debuted at number one on the Billboard chart in the United States, thanks largely to hit singles like "Get at Me Dog" and "Ruff Ryders Anthem."
Simmons' career flourished over the next eight years. His second album, Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, was released in December 1998 and also debuted at number one. He was the second rapper to have two albums debut in the top spot that year; the other was Tupac Shakur.
DMX released three more albums over the next five years: . . . And Then There Was X (1999), The Great Depression (2001), and Grand Champ (2003). All debuted at number one. His last studio album, Year of the Dog . . . Again, was released by Columbia Records in 2006. It fell short of debuting at the number one spot by about a hundred copies.
Between albums, Simmons starred in several movies, including Last Hour, Exit Wounds, and Romeo Must Die.
But despite his commercial success, Simmons' personal problems continued. His rap sheet, like his music, would become epic.
In June 2004, DMX made headlines when he was arrested at JFK International Airport in New York. He'd reportedly tried to steal a car by telling the driver he was an FBI agent, then crashed his SUV — with a billy club and a bag of crack in it — through an airport parking lot gate. Simmons was charged with impersonating a federal agent, possession of cocaine, possession of a weapon, criminal mischief, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and attempted carjacking. He pleaded guilty, paid several fines, and served a seven-day sentence.
A couple of years later, he was sued by a Maryland woman named Monique Wayne, who claimed Simmons was the father of her child. The married rapper denied it. When paternity tests showed he was indeed the father, he told media, "She raped me. I mean, you know, that might sound like some bullshit."
He started racking up arrests in Arizona three years ago. His November arrest marked his sixth in Maricopa County. He stayed in Arizona between arrests, despite his previous statements that he'd never return. "At one point, I think I said I'd rather fly around the state than over it," Simmons says outside the Venue Scottsdale, between puffs of a Newport cigarette. "To tell you the truth, I haven't left yet. I think I'm gonna stay. I've been in jail out here, so I guess it's home now."
Simmons had recorded his third album, . . . And Then There Was X, in 1999 at Phoenix's Chaton Studios. He lived primarily in New York until 2005, when he relocated to the outskirts of metropolitan Phoenix. Arizona was supposed to be a new beginning.
He says he fell in love with the desert and "all the openness" and bought a half-million-dollar, adobe-style home in Cave Creek, near 11 miles of open trails for riding his ATVs. "I like to go out in the desert and ride quads. It's just me and God out there," he says. "Back then, Pima and Princess was the last exit on the 101, so I'd set off at Pima and Dynamite, and we could ride from the house straight to the trails."
He had his family and he had several dogs, including a black and white pit bull named Phoenix. He made six episodes of a reality show on BET called DMX: Soul of a Man. He was clean for a while, by all accounts, and worked hard in the studio. But at some point, everything went astray again.
In August 2007, Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies raided Simmons' Cave Creek home. According to court documents obtained by New Times, they found 15 firearms, which Simmons was prohibited from possessing, including a .50-caliber Desert Eagle handgun and a 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun. They also found a Bell Atlantic bag containing baggies "with a yellow rock substance, possibly methamphetamines," as well as three dead pit bulls and a dozen others in bad condition. Simmons wasn't home during the raid and wasn't charged with anything until almost nine months later — when he was slammed with a slew of charges, including seven misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and four felony drug possessions.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who's long been a crusader for animal rights despite the ongoing string of human abuses in his jails, told local media, "We have to send a message that we're not putting up with animal cruelty, no matter who they are."
Simmons was in New York in the weeks leading up to the raid and says he'd hired a caretaker to look after his dogs before he left. He says he wasn't aware until after the raid that the caretaker was checking on them only once a day. The caretaker, Brad Blackwell, told sheriff's deputies he'd agreed to watch the dogs "for just a couple of days" while Simmons found another caretaker and that he didn't want to look after them anymore.
The MCSO search log details the conditions of the dogs found on Simmons' property, including three canines found with fecal matter on their legs and four with various scars.
Simmons had raised many of the dogs from puppies, and reportedly even threw birthday parties for them. He says he was heartbroken when he learned of the dogs' conditions.
Arpaio and the media compared DMX to another famous guy who'd recently been convicted of dog fighting, NFL quarterback Michael Vick. "The sheriff went and got Michael Vick, then came and got my dogs," Simmons said in an interview with TMZ. "I wasn't even fighting with my dogs. I love my dogs."
Simmons skipped out on his court date in Maricopa County and went to Florida — where he was promptly arrested for driving on a suspended license. Four days later, he was arrested again in Miami, this time for attempting to purchase marijuana and cocaine from an undercover cop. Meanwhile, back in Arizona, Joe Arpaio told local media that as soon as Simmons stepped foot back in the state, he was going "straight to jail."
Simmons left Miami and flew to Phoenix on July 2, 2008, and was immediately arrested at Sky Harbor Airport. Seventeen days after posting bond, Simmons was arrested again, this time at a shopping mall, for allegedly providing false information to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale to avoid paying medical bills.
He eventually pleaded guilty to four of the charges stemming from the MCSO raid on his home and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 18 months of supervised probation. During his time in Lower Buckeye Jail, he was placed in solitary confinement for allegedly throwing a food tray at a guard.
Simmons was released on probation in late April 2009. Everything seemed fine until 11 months later, when he was arrested after a court-mandated drug test came back positive for cocaine. He pleaded guilty to violating his probation and was sentenced to six months in jail. "It was a pretty good stretch," Simmons says. "At least I was in the A/C."
He was released early for good behavior in July, after serving four months. A couple of weeks after his release, Tashera Simmons announced they were separating after 11 years of marriage. She cited Simmons' years of drug use and legal battles — along with the fact that he had fathered five children by other women outside their marriage — as the reasons. But she tells New Times that the two are still on good terms.
Now separated from his wife, Simmons says he's trying to focus on himself and do positive things. Before he got arrested in November, he'd planned to participate in a December charity fundraiser for the Kyds Foundation, a Phoenix-based nonprofit group founded by Nakia Walker's 12-year-old daughter, a rapper who goes by Baby T. Despite his own current financial distress, Simmons wanted to raise at the event $500 each for 20 Phoenix families in need.
He's also trying to strengthen his relationship with God. "I read the entire Bible in lockdown," he says. Asked what he got out of that, he simply says, "Peace."
Simmons has lyrics, dating back to the beginning of his career, that describe a fierce struggle between good and evil and an intense love-hate relationship with God.
On 1998's Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood there's a song called "Ready to Meet Him," in which DMX talks directly to God: "I thought that I was special — that's what you told me / Hold me! Stop acting like you don't know me / What'd I do so bad that it sent you away from me? / Not only sent you away, but made you stay away from me?"
When Simmons started attending Morning Star Sanctified Church in Glendale last year, Pastor Barbara King had no idea he was "the famous rapper DMX." He was just "Brother Earl," who helped fix things around the church and asked for prayer. She says in all the time she's known him, he's only used a cuss word around her once — and then apologized profusely. He even performed a gospel concert fundraiser at the church last April, alternating among rapping, preaching, and weeping.
"This right here, it's all in the name of Jesus," a tearful Simmons said from the stage, dressed in a red Ed Hardy shirt and blue jeans. "Because that's all it takes, is being asked for it in the name of Jesus. I'm talking to somebody! All it takes is for you to ask in the name of Jesus!"
"Earl is so spiritual," Walker says. "He has so much favor with God. This guy, he probably should've been doing 10 years a long time ago."
Despite his mistakes, Simmons says he believes God will see him through. "If you listen to his prayers and the hurt inside him, he is crying out for help," King says. "He's a great person, someone you can depend on. He will give the shirt off his back. He does know the word of God. He just needs deliverance."
As part of trying to get his life together, Simmons turned himself in to authorities in Los Angeles in July for a reckless driving charge from 2002. He served 18 days of a 90-day sentence and returned to his home in Cave Creek, hoping to stay a free man.
Anybody who's heard DMX's new songs says they're great. The fact that most of them were recorded on the first take, right after Simmons heard the beats for the first time, speaks to his talent.
"He is truly one of the world's greatest rappers and a genuine poet," says Don Salter, owner of Saltmine Studios in Mesa, where DMX recorded the Walk with Me Now and Fly with Me Later albums. "He has a spontaneous ability to rhyme, reason, and record masterpieces on the fly."
Many of the new songs reflect on DMX's chaotic life in Arizona. Perhaps most haunting is the track "Soldier," which begins with a collage of sound bites from news stations about his various arrests, laid down over a melancholy piano hook and marching beat. In the first verse, DMX raps: "Ran through the streets, made it out of NY / Come to AZ, cowboys trying to end my / Man, you can't be serious homie / Besides mountains, ain't a fucking thing you can show me."
Whenever DMX has been arrested in Phoenix, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been right there, helping to make it a media production, saying the rapper "never learns his lesson" and vowing to treat him the same as any other prisoner — which includes making him wear pink underwear like the rest of the MCSO inmates. A couple of years ago, DMX told TMZ, "For the record, fuck Sheriff Joe."
But if DMX is rapping about Arpaio in songs like "Soldier," he hasn't come right out and said it. Asked if he feels he's been treated unfairly by Arpaio, Simmons now says, "I'd say I've been given a lot of unfair treatment. But I'm not gonna let that dictate what I do."
Other new DMX songs address his relationship with God. Fly with Me Later consists entirely of gospel hip-hop songs. In one of them, "Have You Eva," he raps over R&B music and soulful female backing vocals about common struggles we all face. But the lyrics apply to Simmons as much as anyone: "Have you ever got up smiling and laid down crying?" he asks, before rapping, "Have you ever seen something that you wanted so bad? / Then you got it and wished it was something you never had? Don't beat yourself up like 'Where did I go wrong?' / Just get back up, pray on it, and go on."
Many of the tracks feature beats contributed by DMX's old friend, Swizz Beatz, who sold his first beat to DMX when he was 17. He's gone on to produce music for Beyoncé, T.I., and Busta Rhymes and now runs his own label, Full Surface Records.
When Beatz initially sent the music, DMX had been out of jail for a few months and was recording in the studio almost every day. "He was very diligent at being clean and maintaining his sobriety. He was very clear-headed," Salter says. "I think he really did buy into the idea that he was going to get his life together and get his career back."
But by 2010, Simmons' career had fallen apart. He left the Def Jam label in 2003. For a long time, Simmons claimed he left because the new president of Def Jam, Jay-Z, wasn't promoting his albums. Others in Simmons' camp, like his manager, Nakia Walker, say Jay-Z let Simmons go so he could deal with his problems and was nice enough not to demand the $2 million Simmons would have owed for not fulfilling his contract. (Jay-Z's publicist at Universal Music did not respond to interview requests for this story. An interview request through his book publisher was declined.)
Simmons signed to Bodog Music in 2007 to record and release Walk with Me Now and Fly with Me Later. After Bodog Music shut down in 2008, International Arts Management and Her Royal Majesty's Records retained the rights to the new recordings. According to IAM CEO Peter Karroll, the plan is still to get the records released.
"I've always felt the guy was a creative genius and deserved another shot," Karroll says. "This is a big record. I think this album has the potential to take him back to number one."
But Karroll says that every time they got ready to release the albums, Simmons would get arrested again. They don't want to release the records while he's in jail. Karroll also says once the albums are released, there must be a budget for videos, promotion, touring, etc. "We still have the album, and we still believe in it," he says. "We're looking for someone who's going to invest something tangible. We're looking for equity partners or even a new label deal."
Karroll says he's received several offers, but negotiations collapse every time DMX lands in jail. Ideally, Simmons could buy his licenses back, but he doesn't have the money. Somebody who's sold millions of albums could conceivably live off publishing royalties, but Simmons admits he never looked at his finances during the first 10 years of his career. Most of the time, he was busy dealing with jails and courts.
When Nakia Walker came on board and looked at Simmons' business last year, she says she discovered someone has been stealing his publishing royalties for more than a decade.
On April 26, 2010, Simmons filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court against Rich Kid Entertainment, a company he'd hired in 1999 to collect his royalties. The lawsuit alleges that instead of taking the 10 percent cut their contract dictated, Rich Kid pocketed 100 percent of Simmons' publishing profits. "DMX has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and has had number one singles and albums on the Billboard charts, which in turn have generated a great amount of revenue for defendants, but has left [DMX] with nothing," the suit says.
The outcome of the lawsuit is pending. Walker says she's putting out plenty of other fires, including promoters' threats to sue DMX for missing concerts while he was incarcerated.
When Simmons isn't in jail and it's a "good day" for him, he'll typically go in to the studio until 5 or 6 in the morning, then go have breakfast, then take a nap, then go riding quads through the desert, then shoot pool somewhere, then watch movies at home. "The whole day needs to be mapped out," Walker says. "But that stems from him not having label support, not having any large tours. He's used to that. He needs that. And without that, we have to find other things to fill his time. Because idle minds are the devil's workshop.
"He has to be around the right people at all times, even when he's away from us. And he knows it. Because he's not there yet, to do it on his own," Walker says. "And the person on the side has to be strong enough to say, 'I don't care that your back hurts, no, you're not going to the emergency room.' He's going to throw a fit, he's going to act up, but you're doing him a favor. We've done it many times. He curses me, he yells at me, he gets mad, but . . . I tell him to shut up. It's hard. It's really hard."
Walker says she's doing everything she can to help get the music out and keep Simmons focused on positive things. "We're reaching out to Swizz [Beatz]. Busta Rhymes is calling; he wants to help. Flava Flav is calling; he wants to help," Walker says. "And I'm not lying to people. I'm telling them, 'He needs help. It's time we address it. It's time we come together and save his life. Or else he's going to die.'"
Asked what Simmons might be doing if he wasn't rapping, his cousin Rowe says nothing, but her eyes widen and she gets a petrified look on her face.
For years, Simmons' alternative to the streets was the studio and stage. With no alternative, the prospects aren't good. "That's my biggest fear, that I'm going to get a call and . . . I don't want that to happen," Walker says. "I love him. The world loves DMX, but we love Earl. And that's what matters to us. So whatever expense. We do what we need to do to make sure he's safe."
During his high-energy performance in November in Scottsdale, DMX took a break to talk to the crowd. What he said — and the fact that someone in the audience videotaped it — could be a major blow to his comeback aspirations.
"New York to AZ, niggas must be craz-y, I'm a dog — fuck Jay-Z! Ya hear? Ya hear?"
"I need a little feedback," he says. "What do y'all think is the state of the record industry right now? You know, I'm an artist, so I kind of have biased views, but I think most of those niggas suck. I think they not only suck, but they suck dick."
DMX finished his rant with this freestyle: "My take on it is: You got Patron in your cup? Good for you! You got a bitch that wanna fuck? Good for you! You sittin' on 24s? Good for you! You got Lamborghini doors? Good for you! But at the end of the day, I ain't got that shit. And I really don't give a fuck if you got that shit. Because you ain't giving it to me!"
The video of DMX's outburst hit the Internet that night. By the next afternoon, it had gone viral, and his "Fuck the Industry/Fuck Jay-Z" speech was the talk of every online hip-hop forum in the country.
Ironically, Swizz Beatz had just released DMX's new single, "Y'all Don't Really Know," that day and was getting positive feedback. He told Walker that Jay-Z had even approached him about maybe doing something with DMX before he heard about the diss video.
Beatz defended DMX in an interview with Vladtv.com, saying, "There's no problem with DMX, with Jay." He also said, in part, "X is forever my brother . . . he's had this trouble in his life that nobody cared about when he wasn't successful . . . I just pray for X a lot, man, because I remember people couldn't even follow up after his performances. Period."
Walker says three days before Simmons' arrest, Beatz tried to get him on a three-way call with Jay-Z, but by the time it happened, "Earl had been drinking and it wasn't a good idea."
She says DMX has "no problem" apologizing to Jay-Z. "At the end of the day, Jay is a great businessman, and they don't have any ill intentions toward one another," Walker says. "The reason Earl did that [rant], and this is something that came out of his mouth, is because it rhymed with 'AZ,' and it got a roar out of the crowd. And that's really it. X wanted to address it before he got locked up."
Shortly after Simmons got locked up in Lower Buckeye Jail, he stopped granting interviews to New Times. According to Walker, he wanted to wait until after his court dates on the latest probation violation charges.
"I'm still the project, huh?"
Earl Simmons is dressed in the black-and-white-striped suit of a Maricopa County jail inmate, with the word "Unsentenced" in red on his back, talking to the one photographer who showed up to take his picture today. It's just after 8 on a Thursday morning in December, and he's handcuffed on a bench in a downstairs courtroom of the Fourth Avenue Jail.
This is Simmons' probation revocation hearing. Though he's often had bags under his eyes and stubble on his face lately, Simmons looks rested, thinner than he was a month ago. He's freshly shaven, smiling and talking about the lack of entertainment in Lower Buckeye Jail. "They play the same five Christmas songs, over and over, all day long," he says. "And four of them are in Spanish."
When the proceedings start, Simmons pleads guilty to a felony probation violation. His attorney, Glenn Allen, admits that in the early morning hours of November 13 (right after his concert in Scottsdale), Simmons consumed some alcohol. Judge Christine Mulleneaux, who's presided over Simmons' previous probation violation case, accepts the plea. She also accepts evidence that "the opiate" found in Simmons' system was a prescription medication from his psychiatrist and throws that charge out.
But she adds, "His substance abuse issues are at the root of this problem. He's been on some type of substance since he was 14."
She also says Simmons has an undiagnosed mental condition, and she says she believes he's been self-medicating with illegal substances. Simmons' probation violation report shows he admitted to using cocaine on August 12 in Los Angeles, shortly after being released from jail there on a reckless driving charge. He admitted to using cocaine on October 20, and his drug tests were positive for cocaine on October 12, October 15, and October 25. He failed to show up for his drug test on October 28. "You went on a downward spiral," Mulleneaux tells Simmons. "Your criminal history goes back to 1988. It's going to continue if you don't care of your mental health."
In the courtroom, Simmons' supporters are praying. Pastor Barbara King is here, along with a woman who's holding one hand on the Bible and the other up toward Simmons, whispering from the Book of Psalms. Judge Mulleneaux acknowledges she's read several letters of support for Simmons; these letters include one from Mueziq Entertainment CEO Antwone Payne, stating "we are in the process of negotiating a record deal for Mr. Earl Simmons," and that upon solidifying the deal, they planned to enroll Simmons in a substance abuse program at Promises Treatment Centers in Los Angeles (which costs more than $54,000 for 31 days of treatment).
But Mulleneaux also had to consider Simmons' record of 11 felony and 15 misdemeanor convictions. Before sentencing, the judge asks Simmons if he has anything to say. He bows his head and pauses for a moment. "I did make the effort that I could," he says. "And I appreciate any help you can give me."
Mulleneaux passes the sentence: one year in jail for the felony probation violation, followed by community probation. She tells Simmons he'll be credited with 113 days already served and urges him to follow up with therapists and continue treatment for substance abuse.
Simmons casts a quick, disappointed look at his attorney, but then raises his head high. Though he's received the maximum sentence for his offense, he got nearly four months shaved off for "time served" right away. He knows that if he can follow the rules in jail and be a model inmate, he might get out even sooner.
Four days after he was sentenced, Simmons was admitted to the Flamenco Mental Health ward at the Alhambra prison complex and denied visitors for 30 days. His mental health, particularly the long-circulated rumor that he has bipolar disorder, was not something Simmons would comment on during interviews for this story, saying only, "That's way too personal."
After the news that he'd been moved to the mental health ward — where he remained, as of press time — Nakia Walker issued this statement: "He is not crazy! Earl's stay inside of the Flamenco Prison Complex in Arizona, as weird as it may sound, will be beneficial. Does he deserve to be caged in a cell? No! That's why he's not! He sleeps in a dorm that is complemented with doctors, medical attention and treatment."
As he's being fingerprinted, Simmons turns to the handful of court spectators, who include his cousin Rowe, Pastor King, Nakia Walker, and a young blond girl who simply introduces herself as "a friend of X." Simmons smiles at them. Walker is wiping tears from her eyes.
As he's led out the steel door, Simmons says, "Yo, I'll be out in two-and-a-half, three months, all right?"
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.