He appeared on a Verzuz with Snoop Dogg last July, looking healthy and happy and reminding everyone that he was once the biggest music star in the world. The next few months would feature viral videos of X, real name Earl Simmons, dance to the 70s soul, offering another side to the surly and lyrically violent character who made him famous. And when he was invited on Noreaga Drink champions show in February, a three hour journey of stories, laughter and healing followed. X seemed to have found happiness.
Eight weeks later, he was reportedly found dead of a heart attack caused by cocaine.
As painful as the death of DMX was for many who grew up loving it (I had just write a profile where I told people close to him about his newfound happiness and was shattered by his death), there was a level of peace in knowing joy in his final chapter.
The HBO documentary, DMX: don’t try to figure it out, airing Thursday, is a jerk of a disturbing reality and a reminder of the demons Simmons has had to contend with. Director Chris Frierson had unlimited access to DMX, from the time the rapper was released from a one-year jail term for tax evasion.
“I’m into the characters and the way the media defines them,” Frierson said. “DMX’s music means so much to people and it is unfair that his narrative has been defined by the media more than himself or his art. I wanted to leave to find out the veracity and untruths of the Earl that we saw on VH1 and TMZ.
Cameras follow DMX through his old neighborhood, documenting his relationship with his children and their mothers, his drug addiction and the rehabilitation that has led to a rejuvenation of his career. The 80 minute document gives us unfiltered DMX, even the parts that we want to look away from.
To be frank, there are parts of the documentary that made me feel bad watching: DMX and his fiancée, Desiree Lindstrom, argue about his relationships with other women while cameras peek around the corners. and Lindstrom begged him to turn off his microphone; the rapper cursing the amount of money his children’s other mothers receive from him; and the night the DMX addiction sent him to rehab. This last scene included voicemail messages and phone calls from friends and family members concerned about his well-being. It was just overwhelming and disgusting.
Frierson explained his thinking behind including these difficult times: “[The documentary] was meant to be the most accurate portrayal of man at this point in his life and changing these things is not telling the truth about the reality of the situation, ”he said. “One of the things about Earl and a lot of those awkward situations isn’t that awkward. It’s him. He didn’t want the project to wrap anything up.
The most difficult scene for me to watch happened during a short interaction with her toddler, Exodus. The boy was playing with a phone and DMX grabbed him, cursing and snarling at him. Then he sits Exodus on his lap, trying to comfort him, but he can’t do it without the hypermasculinity and the stereotype, “You’re tough as hell, aren’t you?” Nobody wants to hear that, ”even if he tries to show physical affection. We watch a man at odds with himself – struggling with the abuse he suffered from his own mother while trying to love his son the best way he knows how. And what he does know is to continue to verbally abuse, even though his gut reaction is to provide the physical affection his crying son needs. Seconds later, the two are laughing together while playing Rock ‘Em Sock’ Em Robots.
It’s the struggle at the heart of the documentary and DMX itself as he tries to defeat his demons and find joy. The climax of this experience comes in the film’s most moving scene, which finds DMX in his old Yonkers neighborhood talking to two potential young rappers. While an MC is rapping, DMX interrupts him, inviting him to rap more passionately, then demonstrates what he means. Here we see the DMX of the Legend: The Fighting Rapper whose name has sounded across New York to the point that Def Jam has come knocking on the door. Seconds later, he talks to the other MC about letting his pain out. The second rapper begins to sob. DMX hugs them both, putting their three heads together.
These are the moments that remind us of the rawness that captivated fans over 20 years ago. It’s a reminder of why I clung to every word DMX barked the only time I saw it live in 2019 as it played hits like “Party Up” at the end of its emission by a prayer. These moments in the film feel like a real farewell.
It’s unrealistic to expect a DMX documentary to show only the good sides, like how he mended his relationship with his eldest son (who, along with DMX, has already been the subject of an episode of Iyanla: Fix my life) and can celebrate his release from rehab with his ex-wife. But viewers should know that, especially against the backdrop of her dying life, the documentary’s last scary scene is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
i can’t decide if DMX: don’t try to figure it out is a good documentary, or even if it matters. What is more important to me is how I felt about him, the end of his life and what it means to have hope for someone you love. I watch the documentary as I saw his life, choosing to remember the happy parts and the heart of a man who wanted to live and love as hard as he hurts.