The year was 1999 and I was basically an unemployed scrub in my early 20's still living with my parents trying to figure out the direction of my life. I may or may not have had a job at that time but I had these coupons from Harrah's Casino in New Orleans which would give you $100 in free game play. I was a "rewards" member and they sent them to us all the time as a way to entice gamblers to gamble but I wasn't much of one and saw them as "free money" so I would go redeem the coupons for cash and leave $100 bucks richer.

But this one time I went I decided to gamble some of it and ended up hitting a couple of times on slot machines and manage to turn my $100 in free money into $400 profit. I was super excited and walked out the casino to Canal Street. On my way back to my car, I saw a record shop (back in those days kids, you had to go to a STORE to buy MUSIC you liked) so I went in and DMX had just dropped what would be his most successful album of his career "And Then There Was X".

At that time, DMX was the OPPOSITE of what hip hop was at that time: Money Cash & Heaux, Flossing, Cristal and bling bling. X was the voice of the street, raw, real, authentic, and his first 2 albums were instant successes as well. I was a fan but didn't own any of his albums because I was on my "dirty south" bias but for some reason out of the albums I could have brought in that store, "And There Was X" was the one that stood out to me.

The reason that album was successful was because it was the transition of X going from the street to global superstar but still maintaining that edge. Almost a year later, I would be in Smoothie King Center in NOLA watching X hold myself and about 5,000 people in sheer awe and captivated by his energy as he performed during the Cash Money/Ruff Ryders Tour. No "entourage" with mics, no flashy explosions, just X and his DJ for more than 30 minutes rocking this arena. Voice matched the recording, energy was nonstop and so real you can TOUCH it and when he ended with a prayer for all of us to find our way including himself, it was like going to church despite the fact that for 30 minutes we was letting MFs, "*ITCHES, and other cuss words fly. I've been to HUNDREDS of hip hop shows, X in my opinion, was the BEST LIVE PERFORMER in hip hop.

Its because we all need a place to release our anger. Just like church, you go in feeling tired, angry and downtrodden but when you leave you feel refreshed, hopeful and optimistic? That's what X's music gave us. I know it may sound crazy but X through his struggles helped us see our "dark side". I say all the time "Everyone has a little bit of trash in them" and while most of us do our best to hide our flaws, X showed us his. While it may have been frustrating and sad sometimes, its called being HUMAN.

And to see a man rise from the darkest depths to become an icon we will always love, is something we will always admire. How could you not want a guy like that to win?

When I played "Slippin" on my show on Saturday morning, I shed a few tears. I cried not for DMX's death but because "Slippin" is OUR story, the story of those who fought through hell to find our heaven told through X's eyes. If your life was perfect and wonderful, that's great, but for us who came up out of the mud and still found the light at the end of the tunnel, "this is OUR song" and X has a catalog full of them.

We thank you Earl Simmons for sharing your life, struggle and music with us. Rest in Power.


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