You don’t rush a man like DMX. It’s impossible, potentially dangerous and…a complete waste of time. It’s taken ten years to get X back on a New York stage – for reasons evidenced in news headlines and court records – so when you think about it, what’s a couple more hours?
But it’s 10:45pm on Feb 24, 2012 and X is late. His call time was 9. Upstairs SOB’s is packed, the crowd is hot and getting restless. Downstairs, SOB’s is tense. “Did you call them again?” Larry, the owner of the historic venue asks to no one in particular.
“He’s in the car, for real this time,” someone confirms. X skipped sound check, sending his DJ instead and of course his manager, to collect his money. But there’s been no actual X sighting since his appearance on Power 105’s Breakfast Club recorded the day before. If his technical rider is any indication – requiring his dressing room be stocked with clean hand towels, orange Sunkist, a dozen hard boiled eggs, two packs of condoms, 4 packs of Newport’s and $150 in cash – we’re definitely in for an interesting evening.
10:55 and the basement doors open. The first 25 people to enter could easily be here to tape some sort of reunion special for The Tunnel nightclub. Then, the man himself, enters. X is quiet, quickly surveying the room. There will be no questions about his tardiness. He eyeballs everyone he doesn’t know, then “What the fuck we doin? Let’s go!”
Ten minutes later the downstairs area is cleared. DMX is praying. It’s almost show time.
A show is indeed what follows. With the exception of one verse from his new single, DMX took a sold out crowd through his impressive catalog for 90 minutes. He commanded the stage, he danced, he growled when needed, joked with the audience, preached a little and shared a bottle of VSOP with the front row, instructing them to ‘pass and sip’.
Joined by fellow Ruff Ryder, Swizz Beats for three songs, before carrying the rest of the show alone, DMX answered the question running through everyone’s minds: Could he still do it?
“I’m excited. Tonight is big,” Swizz tells me. “This takes me back to where we started, to a much different place in hip hop. So to see X back on stage, this is historic and important.”
1:20am and the show’s over, X is all smiles. Hold–up in the tiny dressing area of the PACKED greenroom, he’s surrounded by only his old friends. X regards everyone else with an obvious sense of paranoia. Up close, the toll of the drugs is apparent. On stage he looked muscular. In front of me, in nothing but a wife beater, he’s skinny. His skin is dull and battle scarred, his eyes are jumpy and he can’t stop moving – despite just coming off an exhausting 90-minute performance.
“I don’t have any regrets. I wouldn’t take back any of it,” X tells me. His security, one of his friends and his manager – satisfied by my answers to their many questions – has granted me access to the room. The Newport’s are being put to good use. No sight of the condoms. “Things might not have worked out the way I wanted but they worked out the way they should. See…what you have to understand is, the things you don’t know are sometimes more important than the things you do know. So you can’t regret how it all goes down, because if it went down any other way, the things you needed to know, might become the things you never got a chance to learn.”
DMX is obviously in his own world. But that’s the thing about Earl Simmons – if you can get past the antics, a great deal of the things he says aren’t too far off. DMX sits somewhere between your streetwise Uncle whose outlandish metaphors seem to always hit the nail on the head, and Gator, the addicted natural performer whose volatile tendencies stays dangerously close to the surface.
“Coming from Yonkers, listening to Hip Hop, DMX was obviously one of my influences,” Leroy Beneros says. He’s the man that got the crazy idea to bring X to the venue more that 4 months ago. “I remember buying It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, so to be able to contribute anything to his story…means a lot to me personally.”
The mood in X’s dressing room is celebratory. He talks about his new album, inquires about who’s going to the hotel, then proclaims himself back.
2:30am. Tonight was a success. The new album, Undisputed, is finished. But as DMX and company file into their caravan, he’s followed by the question in the back of the minds of any real Hip Hop fan, the one that no one wants to say aloud: Tonight was great, but how long will it last?