DMX, aka Dark Man X himself, visited the Bay Area last month to headline Mezzanine on a Friday night with local DJ Big Von and SF hip-hop group Legends Live Forever. As soon as I found out I was going, I could already hear Earl Simmons’ low growls exploding into loud barking inside my head. The barking got louder as the show neared and turned into yells by the time my friends and I walked into the venue.
When we entered Mezzanine the room was almost full, so we went right to the back bar to avoid the last-minute drink rush. Walking through the crowd to find any space that would allow for free movement is always difficult with a drink in each hand, but we found one, 15 feet just right of the stage.
Thirty minutes after claiming our spot and pounding our beers, the lights dimmed and you could hear X’s infamous dog growl. I remember hearing “It’s Dark” and “Hell Is Hot in 1998” when I was much younger and thought, “Wow, this guy is on something else!” (which would also be proven later on by his many run-ins with authority), but even then, I knew DMX was one of kind.
There is no deeper growl in hip-hop than DMX’s. At the age of 45, his gritty sound that can suddenly become melodic has long been a style to be reckoned with in the East Coast rap scene. After more than two decades in the game and a number of hits in his catalog, the Yonkers, N.Y., native came out swinging at Mezzanine. He asked us, “Where the Hood At?” and of course, made us act a fool. He even made me wish I had my own dirt bike when his signature “Ruff Ryders Anthem” came on.
But what I didn’t expect was Simmons asking the crowd to join him in prayer. “OK, D. I’ll give this a try,” I quietly thought to myself. He thanked the Lord for all his blessings and for being in SF when he noticed someone in the crowd was “mocking” him. I could quickly tell this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime moment as he called out the person in front of everyone there, telling him that he would “knock his ass out in the name of the Lord!” As serious as X was at that instant, it was hard not to find his threat a little bit funny.
As a Catholic myself, I had to give it to DMX for using his platform to promote positivity even if not all of the crowd was into it, which probably led to the brief moment of confrontation. Fortunately, nothing escalated before he asked the crowd my favorite question of the night: “What DO these bitches want from me?!?!”
After thanking the man up above and free styling gospel in between his anthems, Simmons decided to do some push-ups — 50 I believe. Yes, in the middle of his set. Maybe he knew the lights would shine on the grey hairs of his chin and wanted to show the crowd that he can still keep up, but he was so full of life that he did it with relative ease. He rocked the mic — and the crowd — with anthem after anthem, some gospel and a little preaching all while doing it over a bevy of backing tracks. There were no backup vocalists, pre-recorded ad libs or hype men. Just DMX, in the flesh.
Regardless of all the turmoil and questionable decisions Simmons has made over the course of his career, he is still giving it his all and you can feel it in his performance. You can tell he takes his religion seriously as it was present throughout the show. He genuinely wanted the people in attendance to be righteous and do good to others, which I could support. Though acknowledging he has 14 children with another on the way and still trying to have more that night reassured me that The Dog will always be, well … The Dog.
Nevertheless, I believe DMX’s faith is good for him. He knows he’s in a position that can do some good while still providing a fun time for his fans. And he made sure we knew that he loved us as his fans, just like he loves his women.