TE P. woke up to “Tears of Joy” for 365 straight days.
There is an old Georgia Mass Choir song called, “Come On In The Room.” On top of it being the pinnacle of gospel music’s dynamism, it speaks to the idea of prayer’s wonder workin’ power. The perfectly raspy voice of Rev. Milton Biggham opens the hymn with the retelling of a story. In it, a group is stranded after a car accident. They just so happen to find themselves in front of a church. So, like any self-respecting group of Christians, they ask to be let in to make a call. When they call for the doctor to treat one of the passengers, they are told that he’s not in, “He’s out on his rounds.” Just as they received this terrible news, Grandma walks in. When she enters the church all she asks for is the closet.
It’s Dark and Hell is Hot is technically DMX’s debut. But the life he’d lived up to that point, the trials and tribulations, the robbing, the loss, the uncanny ability to overcome, the myth of him walking around with a pitbull from hell named Boomer, even the storied battle against an also unknown Jay-Z preceded him in some circles well before he released one of hip-hop’s true classics. The studio album was a very real and tangible measure of success in the 1990’s. Artists lobbied, grinded, and hustled in every way to sign to a major and get that debut project onto shelves. Though few had to endure the hardships that DMX did to get there in 1998.
The sounds quaked. They banged. They shook. They rang. It grabbed you by your Tommy Hilfiger collar and forced you to pay attention. It lent musicality to the sirens of concrete neighborhoods, aggression from capitalism’s continuous hold on the middle class, and ignored cries from the agony of life’s never ending blows, It’s Dark and Hell is Hot would be it. Tracks like “Ruff Ryders Anthem”, “Get At Me Dog”, and “Niggas Done Started Something” became battle cries for the streets. “How’s It Going Down” with an X-rated paranoid phone call and DMX’s calm and precise courting flipped the prototypical love song on its head. Even “Crime Story” allowed X to showcase his writing ability in narrating an illegal activity spiked bedtime story alongside “Inner City Blues”-esque bongos. 19 tracks were what X had to present to the world after 28 wild years of life lived.
With IDAHIH, X hit a homerun. There is no denying that. And “Prayer – Skit” is the bat flip. At third to last on the project, “Prayer” shattered all traditional ideas of what hardcore, street, flat out gully Rap was. For the average listener, who may not have known X’s relationship with his higher power, it would be easy to understand the confusion. For the rap fiend who stayed in the underground and grew to know X, it’s easy to understand why this could have been seen as misplaced. Instead, the moment was widely recognized as magic.
“I come to you hungry and tired,” is as memorable as any piece of audio ever recorded. One of the oldest tropes in the church is, “Come as you are.” It follows loosely the words of Matthew, taken from his book in the bible in chapter 11, verse 28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Without a shirt. Covered in tattoos and blood. Dog collar around his neck. X came to all of us, just as he was, completely himself. As he continues to speak to something larger than himself he says, “Lord why is that I go through so much pain? All I saw was black. All I felt was rain.” It was just recently that one of X’s closest friends and longtime collaborators Swizz Beatz spoke of his propensity to take on other’s pain and anguish as his own. As if he didn’t have enough inside of his torn body and soul.
As X begins to fill up with more of the spirit he jolts, “You gave me the light and let me bask in your glory. So it was only right that when you ask for this story, I put it together to do our dawgs some good. Our dawgs being brothas and sistas in the hood.” The people’s champ is a title earned not given. X was that and so much more. At his highest point, he spoke for those who couldn’t. Even in this solitary moment with his higher power, he was thinking of the hood. Like any good orator or pastor in the formal sense, X begins to wind the congregation up with his voice jumping and falling. “It’s strange. Almost got me beating down your door. But I’ve never known love like this before.” This line is so potent. It cuts right to the center of the listener because X was so loved. Yet, throughout his life he was shown so much of the opposite. It was maybe only in his faith that he truly felt that unmistakable, unwavering kind of love.
Just after he bobs and weaves some lines with his voice, he comes to terms with his mortality and where he is in the current moment: “And I fear that what I’m saying won’t be heard until I’m gone. But it’s all good ‘cuz I really didn’t expect to live long.” Every good prayer is as important in its opening as it is in its ending. X knows that and delivers, “So if it takes for me to suffer for my brotha to see the light, give me pain ‘til I die! But please Lord, treat em right.” 2 minutes and 32 seconds on one of the most celebrated debut albums of all time X prayed; as a way of bringing his listeners into his world. A world that was full of habits and contradictions. A world that created a fearless man whose achilles heel was himself. A world that showed the destitute the limitlessness of his creativity.
Nearing the end of his gripping story, Rev. Milton Biggham brings the congregation to the mountain top. After asking for the closet, the Grandma is told she can use the phone. She respectfully declines and again asks for the closet to call her doctor. She’s shown to a small door and walks in with her children following. Before she closed the door to talk to Jesus, she told her kids (Mother Agnes Coney sings), “Come on, in the room. Come on, in the room. Jesus is my doctor. And he writes all my prescriptions. He gives me all my medicine in the room.” This little old lady. Equipped with nothing more than her faith came into this white church, in the South, as she was. And spoke to the only power she felt could help her at the time.
It’s unfathomable to think that Earl Simmons, DMX, Dark Man X, or just X is gone from this spiritual plane. But X came to us as he was. Equipped with an unmatched ability to convey his pain so that we could make sense of ours. And now, he is finally relieved of his burdens so that he may forever rest — in peace.