In the coming weeks, perhaps months, many a music writer or journalist will have plenty to say about the deaths of DMX and Black Rob. You will read familiar tropes of setting up insurance for artists or label heads, current or former doing more for the creators but mortality is a given in Hip-Hop and in life.
This isn’t stated to dissuade those writers from penning their emotions, real feelings, or keen observations. In fact, the processing of grief via the written word is a gift. The power of words leaving our minds and hitting our pages or screens gives it the momentum to move beyond us so we can begin healing from the losses or tragedies life throws at us.
I would never say that I was a DMX scholar or an expert in all things Black Rob but I knew that, without doubt, both men were good at their crafts. I can effectively tell you that I owned much of their earlier work, being as though I come from the ancient days of tapes, vinyl, and CDs, relics that are now novelty items to young Hip-Hop fans.
I’m comfortable in the fact that my financial contribution towards their art, however minuscule in comparison to the masses, meant that I invested in the work and received many returns. That doesn’t give me a right to police how people are expressing themselves around the loss of these New York giants. I wouldn’t dare want to take that away from anyone.
DMX and Black Rob were both physically older than the music and culture that made them stars to fans around the world. There’s something especially interesting about that fact. Both men came from hardscrabble beginnings and have undeniable classic songs that still get the desired reaction from partygoers and fans no matter the setting. That’s powerful. And also sobering.
Black people in America face death daily by way of a staggering number of risks which are at times systemic in nature and rooted deeply in the abject fragility of life itself.
As a Black person in a nation that still struggles with how to approach you, you’re seen as something of an anomaly if you’re educated or are cordial towards others. They’ll call you special and different because you’re not lashing out at the world despite it largely being against your people for hundreds of years.
Rappers and entertainers who happen to be Black become icons, sometimes overnight. We’ve seen the videos of DMX rocking whole stadiums with all his might. We’ve all rapped “Whoa!” word for word with our peoples of all hues in clubs and parties. And at the end of their lives, these men were no longer these bright celestial beings. They were reduced to memories, and their hit singles made up the bulk of the drive-time DJ’s “old school” set.
But they were still men who had families and loved ones and the fans who kept their spirits alive. The possibility of a thriving middle-aged Hip-Hop artist is achievable, especially for rappers and producers who have already passed the mark of their late 40s. For the compassionate among us, the questions should be not when their next project is coming out, but it should be are they in good health, are their finances good, and the like.
I’ve told my personal stories of meeting DMX to close friends and associates. I won’t repeat them here but everything you’ve read in the days since his passing, believe it all. For those in my life who knew him or met him, Black Rob had the same effect on them as well. That authenticity cannot be fabricated. Their voices, uniquely their own, carried the pain of their respective upbringings. We expect men of this caliber and grit to live long lives.
Staring at the crest of middle age myself, the deaths of my favorite artists of my youth, Heavy D, Phife Dawg, Jam Master Jay, Prince Markie Dee, Soulja Slim, MF DOOM, and too many others to name occurred under various circumstances. The complications that arose because of their health become the most troubling because one would like to believe that those instances are largely preventable.
The immediate reaction to the loss of a beloved artist despite their current or past accolades is one of shock and dismay, almost universally. We see these artists as larger than life figures as their songs and videos stand as a preserved version of themselves that we’ll always have access to and expect to be vital eternally.
In those cases when the passing was due to health complications, we weren’t robbed of an artist in the same vein we would be if it were a senseless shooting incident. Death is an inevitable reality that every human being on the planet Earth faces, and if we’re lucky, we do so well into the twilight of our lives.
DMX and Black Rob going before many felt was their time could be the result of a myriad of factors that should’ve been addressed before their hospitalizations. And for all we know, they were but to what extent will remain unknown now. The easy thing to do is blast the powers that be, who reportedly didn’t have their best interests in the forefront as time went on. The harder thing to do is accept that mortality visits us all and there will never be a barrier strong enough to prevent it.
If there is a comfort to be had for both DMX and Black Rob, it’ll be the cliched position that they’re no longer suffering. But we all, unfortunately, have seen Black Rob in pain. Deep pain. Grimacing as he tried to salute a former colleague in DMX from his hospital bed.
We don’t know what DMX’s last thoughts were, only those close to him have that memory and they might guard it with all they have. These men definitely suffered and we can’t know how much, but we can say that honoring them by living our best lives is key.
Mortality, as I said in the beginning, is a given. What we do in life, good or bad, defines us. What we can gain from those who have gone from this plane is to hold tightly to what they left behind. Celebrate their art loudly and proudly. When a great song is made, it belongs to the universe. And so too will DMX and Black Rob live far beyond their physical frames, their legacies intact.
Hopefully, we learn the lesson that no matter when the end comes, we continue to live well and leave behind something substantial that can be upheld as a manifestation of our best selves.
May Earl “DMX” Simmons and Robert “Black Rob” Ross rest powerfully in peace.