'98's Best: Top Dog DMX Having His Day

In-demand guest rapper DMX is burning up the competition with Hell Is Hot..

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, Jun. 16.]

If every dog has his day and a good dog gets two, it would seem that hound-obsessed DMX has been a very good canine.

His solo debut, It's Dark And Hell Is Hot, hit the top of the charts when it was released two weeks ago. His gruff, "barking" style of rapping has added street credibility to singles by such artists as Mase and LL Cool J. He's currently headlining "The Survival of the Illest" tour, which features labelmates Onyx and the Def Squad. And he's landed one of the lead roles in "Belly," the first full-length film from hip-hop video director Hype Williams.

For DMX, these are very good days indeed.

But such days in the sun weren't always so plentiful. Back in the dog daze of 1983, when DMX first entered the hip-hop scene, he was a long way away from headlining tours and starring in movies.

In fact, he wasn't even a rapper.

"My man was rhyming and I used to do the beatbox for him," DMX (a.k.a. 27-year-old Earl Simmons) said Monday afternoon about his partner at the start of his journey to the top. "He used to get all the attention [and] I wanted all the attention, so I starred rhyming, and I found out I was better than him at it."

Hip to the fact that it's a dog-eat-dog world in the hip-hop game, DMX lost the deadweight and left his partner behind. "I don't know," DMX said of his former partner's whereabouts. "Last I heard he was in jail in Buffalo."

DMX, raised in Yonkers, N.Y., then began establishing a name for himself in hip-hop's underground, appearing on mix tapes with raps that blended the urban storytelling of the late Tupac Shakur with DMX's own distinctive, rhyming delivery, which accelerates from conversational to super fast, and often incorporates imitations of dogs barking.

By 1991, he was signed to Columbia and had a single entitled "Born Loser," but he soon asked to be released from his contract after he found himself overlooked in the shadow of such labelmates as teen hip-hop sensations Kris Kross.

An appearance on a 1996 mix tape by DJ Clue of Hot 97 set DMX's career back in motion. The first signs of renewed energy were his appearances on other people's songs, long before he began working on his own album.

DMX notes that these guest shots helped build a buzz for It's Dark and Hell Is Hot.

He claims however, that his appearances on such songs as LL Cool J's "4,3,2,1" and Ice Cube's "We Be Clubbin Remix" were not intended as advertisements for his future album. "It helps, but I didn't do it 'cos it helps," DMX explained. "If anything, it helped the other artists, 'cos every song I've done, I blazed it."

"People just wanted me to get on their songs," DMX said of his sudden must-have-as-a-guest status, "and I was like 'Well, it won't hurt.' They knew I was coming anyways, so they said, 'We might as well fuck with him now. We better fuck with him now, [because] in a minute, it's going to be on some other shit.'"

One of the artists who was eager to work with DMX was Jermaine Dupri, a man who first became well known for producing Kriss Kross -- the act that DMX claims Columbia gave more attention to. According to Dupri, who also produced Usher's My Way and TLC's Ooooooohhh-on the TLC Tip, he knew for a long time that he wanted to work with DMX.He was elated to hear that the rapper would appear on "Get Your Shit," a song that will appear on Life in 1472, Dupri's forthcoming debut album.

"I'm into his style," Dupri said of DMX. "I know how to put records together, and as soon as I heard the beat, I knew DMX had to be on it. He sounds excellent!"

For It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX says he worked hard to create a sound and style that was fun, real and extremely listenable. "You can listen to this album everywhere," he explained. "In your room by yourself with the lights out, in the car with your mans. On the way to the party, at the party and on the way home from the party."

DMX also cited such hardcore tracks as "Fuckin' With D" (Real Audio excerpt) and introspective horror-core songs like "Damien" as other reasons his album has been so well received.

He also conceded that he is the right man at the right place at the right time, saying just the right things.

"A lot of whack motherfuckers out there right now that's killing the charts," DMX said of the album track "Stop Being Greedy" (Interview excerpt). "I'm telling them to stop being greedy. I'm saying let some brothers who are actually talented -- you know what I'm saying -- get some of this money."

"No names," he continued, "but they know who they are. If you all can eat, I can eat. Don't make me bite you, don't make me eliminate you."