Three years ago, DMX vowed to quit the hip-hop game and devote his life to the Almighty. And he would have gone out on top – each of his five albums, at that point, had debuted at the top of the charts. But after a conversation with rapper turned preacher Mase, X realized it wasn't time to quit.
"Mase said that as long as God gives me the talent, then I'm obligated to use it," he says. "Plus, I was hearing from fans who kept saying, 'Dog, the streets need you!' " With his gravelly voice intact, Year of the Dog Again is more battle raps from the hip-hop veteran, who has been warring with the legal system (and losing, quite a bit) since he was a child growing up in the harsh hood of Yonkers, New York. (Since 1999, he's been arrested six times, including once for impersonating an FBI agent.) In conversation he's funny and passionate, and every few minutes he'll break into song. We check in with Dog Man X – formerly Dark Man X, but he has since severed ties with Satan – on his cell phone while he drives, interrupting his a cappella rendition of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day."
So you sing in your spare time.
Yeah, you caught me there. Most of the time I'm walkin' 'round singin'. You know, old-school joints that make you feel good. Like Bill Withers – "Lovely Day" or "Soul Shadows" or "Grandma's Hands" – and Lou Rawls' "You'll Never Find." Rawls is a smooth motherfucker. He had all the ladies wanna get with him, now he's in AARP commercials.
What other R&B do you dig?
Atlantic Starr, Evelyn "Champagne" King, Stephanie Mills, Luther Van-dross, a couple Sam Cooke joints. Believe it or not, I'm a huge Michael Jackson fan. Old Michael, when Mike was black. He lost me after Thriller. There was some good stuff on Bad, but not like the old bangers.
Please, DMX, don't hate on "Man in the Mirror."
You know what? I like that one. That's a powerful song.
Good. You had a pretty rough childhood – what music helped you get through the shit?
I ain't gonna front, it was kinda hard. I always had an awkward attraction to music. Some people just listen to songs; I felt songs, as far back as I can remember. When I was about three, I remember hearing "The Night Chicago Died," and I started crying. Maybe it was because at that exact moment the building across the street was on fire, but I heard that song and I just believed it. [Laughs] I was like, "Damn, how'd Chicago just done die?"
That's a good story.
Thank you. Songs change people. I remember "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" put a good feeling in the hood. And in 1985, a song called "Silver Shadow," by Atlantic Starr, predicted my life to me. I'd just finished doing a robbery, and I was walking into my building. A woman lived on the ground floor and she always played music really loud. I stopped right in my tracks. If you hear the words to that song, you'd know how it predicted my life to me. I'd been doin' the beatbox before that, but that's when I started writin' seriously.
What instrument do you wish you could play?
Every time I see a set of drums, I jump up on them motherfuckers – try to beat away. But I used to play a couple of songs on guitar – I can do "On Broadway," by George Benson.
Craziest thing you've seen looking into the audience?
A girl getting fucked. They were standing up, he had her skirt up, hittin' her from the back. I was like, "Goddamn, they fucked the song up," because I was lookin' at 'em. Her eyes were rollin' back [laughs].
You've said, though, that these days "rap is crap."
If all you wanna talk about is asses and jewelry and cars, it shows a real shallowness. Rap, from my perspective, is totally the opposite – it's the only voice we have. I'm like, "Damn, this is the picture you paint of us?" Shit, like, "I wanna bitch with a fat ass – booty, booty, booty...." One song on the album, maybe, that's all right, but don't dedicate your whole shit to that superficial bullshit.
You've also said, "I make music to record my life." Who are the best autobiographical rappers?
I'd have to give Scarface some credit. There's one song called "Someday." Oh, my God, it's beautiful. His words are crazy. [He recites the entire song.] I also listen to some Nas – he has the ability to paint a real picture. And I'm not a Tupac fan, but there's a couple songs that I really respected – "Hail Mary" and "So Many Tears."
Do you have a favorite summer vacation spot?
I like going to Arizona. I get to ride in the car and shoot the gun. Fun stuff.
You're an infamous dog lover. What are your pets' names?
I have twenty dogs. I got Randi, Reta, Bronco, BJ, Bandit, Bobby, Pebbles, Bam Bam, Sadie, Mamas, Vicki, Go Hard and six puppies – Bruno, Chris, Peezee, Missy, Wolfie and Nat.... I can't remember the dumb one's name.
On the cover of Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, you're covered in blood. I heard somewhere it was pig's blood.
No. It's some type of syrup. Talk about some shit that burns when it gets in your eyes? The face they caught says, "Take the fuckin' picture'cause this shit burns."
You went to high school with Mary J. Blige – did you have a crush on her?
Our projects were always at war with each other. I wouldn't say I had a crush, but I was attracted to her. Y'know, 14 years old, nice lookin' girl with a fat ass? I'm on it.