The Lasting Testimony of the Street’s Disciple: Reflecting on the Faith of DMX

Earl Simmons’ life reminds me of the journey Peter took before and after walking with Jesus. If you know anything about Peter, you know he was a straight up thug. If Jesus were ever caught in a back alley of Jerusalem, Peter would have been the disciple he wanted as his muscle. When the army came to arrest and crucify Jesus, it was Peter that pulled out his sword and cut off the guard’s ears. Yet the Lord chose Peter as the disciple that he would build his church upon. Jesus didn’t ask Peter to clean up his act before he came to him. He didn’t make him commit to study or a list of good deeds before he could walk with him. Jesus took Peter in his full authentic self and used him to spread the gospel.

There hasn’t been an artist in the past 20 years more authentic than DMX. While rap was enthralled by shiny suits and “bling bling”, DMX arose triumphant with only a padlock chain and a bodega bandana. His lyrics illustrated a life full of abandonment, abuse, and addiction.

DMX cheated death for most of his life. His end could have happened while robbing people with his dog Boomer in Yonkers. He could have come home to the Lord after numerous encounters with the South Carolina State police, if a traffic stop took a wrong turn. He could have taken his last breath in the parking lot of a Ramada Inn, if prayer and Narcan did not resuscitate his cold body. After listening to his first two records, I was convinced that his life would see an early demise.

But it didn’t. DMX was a survivor to the end.

Some may see DMX’s death as just another cautionary tale of a music giant succumbing to the darkest evils of the human spirit. I don’t. I see a life serving as a guiding light for souls lost off the shores of our society. He had a story, a faith, a testimony of authentic vulnerability to share with the world. DMX was determined to be real in every facet of his life. He showed the world that one doesn’t have to be perfect to have a voice that matters. Perfection is a mirage chased by the ambitious and foolish alike. One of DMX’s dying legacies should be that authenticity resonates more with the world than a fabricated image.

Before I got signed, it seems like ’95 or something like that, I got arrested. And every time I go to jail I have a problem with the police, we get into it or whatever, [because] I don’t “perform” well. […] 23 hour lockdown, and you get nothin’ extra in your cell. So I’m in there, it’s freezing, got one little outfit, one sheet. But I had a pencil and a piece of paper. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, in tears, sweatin’, and it’s like I saw these words and I wrote them down. I think it was because, like I said, it was cold in there — tears, sweatin’– it’s like, you don’t want to get out of the covers sweatin’. I’m f***ed up, right? I got up anyway, and wrote it, in the middle of the night. They took [the paper] when I went to court the next day […] but I remembered it word for word. And that was my first prayer. And that’s what started it: because I was obedient, and because I realized the blessing that [God] gave me.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” — John 15: 1- 7

When we stray from the Lord, life has a way of pruning back the branches of our ill decisions. This doesn’t mean that one is cut off from the bountiful vine. It’s the opposite. You are pruned because you are capable of doing more, learning more, and bearing better fruit for the world. We get pruned to help bring us closer to the Lord. Vines that have been pruned grow back stronger, more resilient, and more bountiful than its previous version.

We are pruned now for growth later.

DMX was a praying man. Prayer was present in every concert he performed and each album that he released. Prayer was his way of connecting directly to God in hopes of seeking wisdom, guidance, and mercy. But prayer did not prevent X from being pruned.

I once read that while DMX was on one of his stints in jail, he developed the habit of reading the bible on a daily basis. His humbling served as proof wisdom gained in the midst of despair is fruit we bare to the world after we have been pruned. Every arrest and rehab stint served as fertilizer that fostered the blossoming of a new song, prayer, or one of the many stories shared in the wake of his passing.

We are pruned so that we can be ready to handle more. We are pruned to reach another level with God. Don’t let your personal tragedies become the defining moments of your life.

See, to live is to suffer but to survive
Well, that’s to find meaning in the suffering — DMX “Slippin”

In times of peril, we ask, “why do the good have to suffer?”

DMX shared every heartbreaking detail, every lesson learned, every bit of his suffering in hopes that his fans would gain the perspective necessary to not make the same mistakes. Life involves peaks and valleys. We will all suffer at some point. If nothing else, X’s life showed that suffering can draw us closer to God; a way to humble us so God could instill confidence in our spirit to strengthen our faith.

DMX was, In the words of Charlamagne tha God, anointed.

DMX was vulnerable in a way Black men aren’t often allowed to be. Maybe his fame shielded him from the scrutiny; maybe his hyper masculine image shielded from critique. I don’t know. I do know however, that his beats, rhymes, and life connected with men who often felt like they couldn’t show feelings. I believe each year DMX grew in faith, embraced gratitude for the joy and pain, and better understood his life’s mission to show us how to authentically persevere over our own demons.

Like Peter, God took an unlikely boy with a dark past and an uncertain future, bestowed him with the gift of rhyme, and entrusted him to bring millions to his kingdom. DMX was God’s Grand Champion, showing all of us how to live with passion, love fearlessly, and spread joy to all we encounter. In one of his final interviews, DMX said that if his life ended that day, he could go home to his father and say that he lived a good life. I hope we choose to celebrate his triumphs rather than dwell on his shortcomings.

The distinguishing mark of a disciple is their ability to radiate love. He showed the world how to love by forgiving himself. He consistently fell short, but had the courage to move forward without letting his past define his future. Even in death, his songs and interviews serve as a testimony to his life’s purpose.

And I fear that what I’m sayin’ won’t be heard until I’m gone
But it’s all good, ’cause I really didn’t expect to live long
So, if it takes for me to suffer for my brother to see the light
Give me pain till I die, but, please, Lord, treat him right — DMX “Prayer”

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