DMX Has Been Discussing His Mental Health For Years, But Were We Listening?

At look at the very real mental health issues that have affected DMX throughout his career.

Words By Marky Mark

The running storyline through the video for DMX’s “Slippin’” has X being rushed to the emergency room after having a near-death experience. Eerily prophetic in relation to his most recent medical scare on Monday night, X is lying on a gurney being resuscitated by paramedics while the hook plays on repeat. But let’s focus on the last bar of that hook:

“Getting back on my feet so I can tear sh*t up.”

You could argue that his entire life is built around that line from 1998’s Flesh of my Flesh, but it’s increasingly become more apt for the last decade. What started as a punchline for the latest episode of “Rappers going broke and crazy” is now becoming painfully serious and nothing to laugh at. His downfall is deeper than the normal rap sh*t and shouldn’t be treated as such. To make matters worse, he’s been crying for help since ’98. It’s ironic that no matter how many records he sold, how many arenas he sold out, or how many movies he starred in, none of us bothered to listen.

Rappers exaggerate. It’s a part of the craft and comes with the territory. When Jay Z tells Prodigy he’s got money stacks bigger than him, the audience knows he’s not being literal. DMX is no different. As honest as his music was, I don’t know anyone who actually believes he’s “f*cked a corpse,” but lost in all the hyperbole are always nuggets of truth. Just peep this line from “F*ckin’ Wit’ D”:

“Listed as a manic depression, with extreme paranoia”

At the time, it just seemed like a hot line with not much behind it. Every rapper claims to be crazy and a little unhinged in generic terms, so of course he’d be the guy to take it a step further and diagnose himself. It builds the image of making him seem like the dog not to mess with on any level. So, when he was questioned about the line in 2001, here’s what happened:

You’ve described yourself as manic-depressive. When was that?

“Waaaay too personal,” he says quietly. He’s silent for a second, then, abruptly, he laughs and stands: “I’m gonna have to beat you up now,” he announces. “Lock the door.”

The producer P.K., who has worked on tracks with him for years, is there on crutches, his ankle bandaged. (“A little drama,” explains P.K. reluctantly. “He was shot,” someone says.) DMX grabs one of P.K.’s crutches. “Manic depression? Where did you get that from?” he demands, holding the crutch mock-threateningly.

From your own lyrics.

“No,” he insists indignantly. “That never got out, man. Tell me what lyric that was in,” he challenges.

There’s an embarrassing pause, until someone reminds DMX of “F*ckin’ Wit D,” reciting: “Listed as a manic depressive with extreme paranoia/And dog, I got something for ya/Hear my name, feel my pain . . . ”

“OK, OK,” DMX says.

We can look at this a couple of ways: Either X was high at the time so he forgot he mentioned it, or it was just something he didn’t want to talk about (as the poor interviewer was about to learn the hard way). But 10 years later in 2011, fresh off his bid in Arizona, X admitted in an interview that he does indeed suffer from bipolar disorder.

First off, props to X for being open about this, even if said props are coming five years too late. He said that one of the symptoms of his condition is that he could no longer tell the difference between the man and the persona.

“I used to be really clear on who was what and what characteristics each personality had,” he said. “But I don’t know at this point. I’m not even sure there is a difference,” he continued. “I’m Earl when I’m with my children. I miss my children, I miss my children, I miss my children.”

These are real problems affecting a real person in the form of Earl Simmons. As the years have gone by, it’s easier to see that he really has had a tough time separating the two.

To him, X is the bad guy. X is the one who snarls on records, rapes daughters older than 15, and smacks people just because. X is the wild child who would be responsible for impersonating a federal officer in 2004, constant drug charges, several animal cruelty charges, and countless other shenanigans. The problem, however, is that cops don’t arrest a persona and there’s no criminal record for an alter-ego. These are real problems affecting a real person in the form of Earl Simmons. As the years have gone by, it’s easier to see that he really has had a tough time separating the two.

Now, we can get into other issues regarding celebrity culture and how we glorify drug usage and give tacit consent to certain behaviors, but there’s a larger more pressing issue as far as how it relates to the black community. Why do we have such a hard time discussing mental illness? What leads to X wanting to knuckle up a journalist over questioning his mental health? He was more willing to talk about it in 2011, but where’s the discussion been since?

There’s a stigma in our community that’s quick to label anyone suffering from a mental illness as “crazy” or in some cases, ignore the cries for help altogether while chalking it up to bad upbringing, wanting attention, or simply looking for a scapegoat to excuse bad behavior. More importantly, mental illness represents weakness, and if you’re strong enough, you can beat anything or anybody. And what is DMX if not strength?

In fact, it’s no coincidence that Empire, a show draped in black culture and hip-hop, has focused on this very thing throughout its first two seasons. Andre also suffers from the same illness as X and when he’s diagnosed, his parents tell the doctors that they’re wrong. They not only shun their medical advice, but also they get angry at them for even uttering those words, especially in their house. Lucious and Cookie Lyon represent a lot of black America. The segment that refuses to accept certain truths because “that doesn’t happen to us” because “that’s a white people thing.”

The funny thing about mental illness is that it’s not racist or prejudiced. It doesn’t care about your income level or how many degrees you’ve got attached to your name. In fact, the American Psychological Association released a study a few years ago stating that young black Americans are less likely to even speak to a psychologist than their white counterparts. More specifically, young black Americans with college degrees. Well, the dog found himself dealing with “a white people thing” in the midst of becoming one of the biggest superstars on the planet overnight and never got the help he needed. And by all accounts, he still isn’t getting it.

All through high school, my homies and I would talk about how dope X was, but then say that he’s crazy. But not crazy in a bad way, but more in a “you better not mess with him” way. Any man who barks for a living must be a bad man. Whenever we’d see videos of him breaking down during concerts, we chalked it up to passion. Whenever we’d see him pop off in an interview, we blamed the interviewer. And whenever the problems with the law would crop up, we’d do what any self-respecting teenage know-it-all would do and blamed the system. X was real. X was that dude. And X became that dude because he was always real. So. Damn. Real.

But part of that realness snuck through unnoticed in the “Slippin’” video, where he’s rapping from hell with hands reaching out at him, trying to tear him into pieces. Even then, X knew that his own demons would be his downfall and he’s been fighting them ever since. Rather than shake our heads in judgement and disgust or attempt to sweep his mental health issues under the rug, maybe it’s time we actually listen to his cries.

Not just his, but the cries of anyone else struggling to be real with themselves or their loved ones because “that’s not what we do.” Hopefully his loved ones are doing all they can to get the dog back on his feet. Even if he never tears sh*t up again, at least he’ll be standing.

You can find Marky Mark doing what he does best, which mostly consists of thinking what exactly does he do best on Twitter @AbstractPo3tic or on his podcast @beatsdimeslife.