Earl Simmons, the gravel-voiced rapper and onetime Valley resident known to millions as platinum-selling rap superstar DMX, died on Friday, April 9, in White Plains, New York. He was 50.
Simmons, also known as just "X," had been on life support in a coma since suffering cardiac arrest, which was widely reported as being caused by a drug overdose, on April 2.
A statement released by Simmons’ family on Friday reads: “Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end. He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him. Earl’s music inspired countless fans across the world and his iconic legacy will live on forever.”
Famous for his trademark rasp and aggressive lyrics, Simmons rose to success in the mid-to-late 1990s behind his breakthrough albums It's Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood on Def Jam records. He also provided an alternative to the glossier hip-hop of the time, was a founding artist on the influential Ruff Ryders label and acted in such films as Exit Wounds and Cradle 2 the Grave.
Simmons struggled with drug addiction and legal problems for most of his life and was very open about both issues. Born in 1970 in Mount Vernon, New York, to teenage parents, he reportedly suffered an abusive childhood and spent periods in juvenile facilities and boys’ homes.
Simmons first smoked crack at age 14 and was arrested multiple times in the mid-’80s for theft and carjacking. He was convicted for weapons and drug possession, animal cruelty, criminal mischief, and other crimes in the '90s and 2000s, including in Arizona.
Though largely identified as an East Coast rapper, Simmons lived in the Valley off and on for several years in the 2000s. After recording his most commercially successful album, …And Then There Was X at Phoenix’s now-defunct Chaton Studios in 1999, he fell in love with the area, purchasing a five-bedroom adobe-style home in Cave Creek for $575,000 with his then-wife Tashera Simmons four years later.
“I like to go out in the desert and ride quads. It's just me and God out there,” Simmons told Phoenix New Times in 2010.
His legal woes continued here in the Valley. In August 2007, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department raided his home, discovering a cache of firearms (which Simmons was prohibited from owning at the time), a substance believed to be methamphetamine, and a number of dead or mistreated pit bulls. He was later arrested and charged with several counts of animal cruelty and felony drug possession.
(Following the raid, then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio compared Simmons to disgraced NFL quarterback Michael Vick, who was famously convicted for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring.)
In summer 2008, Simmons fled to Florida and no-showed a court date in the case and was immediately arrested at Sky Harbor airport upon his return. He was arrested again three weeks later while out on bond for giving false information to Scottsdale’s Mayo Clinic to skip out on medical bills.
Months later, Simmons pled guilty to four charges in the case and was sentenced to 90 days in Maricopa County Jail and 18 months of probation. Less than a year later, he tested positive for cocaine after a court-mandated drug test and served a six-month sentence in Arizona State Prison.
Inside, he spent time in solitary confinement after reportedly assaulting a guard with a food tray. In 2010, Simmons spent a seven-month stint in state prison, including being moved to the mental health unit.
Simmons held a grudge against Arpaio and our state due to his experiences. In a TMZ video from 2009, he stated “For the record, fuck Sheriff Joe,” encouraging his fans to “stay the fuck out of Arizona.” Simmons took his own advice in the mid-2010s and left the Valley.
His experiences in the Valley weren’t completely negative, as he reportedly performed at a charity event for Morning Star Baptist Church in Glendale in 2010. Simmons also had an impact on Phoenix’s hip-hop scene.
Days following Simmons’ heart attack, local hip-hop promoter Justus Samuel of Respect the Underground posted on Facebook about how the recording artists influenced him.
“When I was young I looked up to [DMX],” Samuels wrote. “I mimicked your style as a teenager. From the pits to the motorcycles. We would play the Ruff Ryders Anthem on the way to the park to play in the dark. I love you X. You will always be my Hero.”
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