'Everybody has an X story': Rap legend DMX remembered by local New Yorkers

Mark Lungariello, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
·4 min read

It seems everybody from Westchester County in New York has a DMX story.

Whether it was bumping into him shopping at Target in White Plains or running into him at a New Rochelle barbershop, locals remember the hip-hop icon as always out and about on his home turf.

“He would always stop for pictures with people and have regular conversations,” said A.J. Woodson, editor-in-chief of the news site Black Westchester.

A mourner signs a poster at a memorial for DMX outside White Plains Hospital April 9, 2021.
A mourner signs a poster at a memorial for DMX outside White Plains Hospital April 9, 2021.

DMX wouldn’t be surrounded by bodyguards when he was out in public and never put on a star exterior like some other entertainers, according to Woodson, himself a former MC with the underground hip-hop group JVC FORCE.

Despite his fame, he never stopped being a “real person,” the same man who grew up in the School Street projects in Yonkers, Woodson said.

“You can’t fake that,” Woodson said. “There’s no talent, there’s no superstardom, that can buy you that.”

DMX, whose real name is Earl Simmons, died Friday at White Plains Hospital not far from where he was born in Mount Vernon and where he grew up in Yonkers. Even as he attained legendary status in the late 1990s, he remained plugged in and supportive of the local community, residents said.

Residents tell stories of him handing out $20 bills to kids on the corner of Fourth Avenue and First Street in Mount Vernon, or helping older women carry groceries to their apartments – or just being surprised how he treated his star struck fans with respect.

For fans like Khalid Washington, who grew up rapping in Westchester, there was something personal about seeing DMX’s ascent from the local scene to the world stage.

Washington saw DMX early in his career, when he was performing as Darkman X, in Yonkers. He met him in person while they shopped at the Cross County Mall in Yonkers in the early 2000s.

A hospital worker holds his arms up in the sign of an X as he looks down on a prayer for vigil for Earl Simmons, the rapper known as DMX, outside White Plains Hospital, in White Plains, N.Y. April 5, 2021. DMX was taken to White Plains Hospital, where he remains on life support. He was brought to the hospital after suffering a heart attack over the weekend.
A hospital worker holds his arms up in the sign of an X as he looks down on a prayer for vigil for Earl Simmons, the rapper known as DMX, outside White Plains Hospital, in White Plains, N.Y. April 5, 2021. DMX was taken to White Plains Hospital, where he remains on life support. He was brought to the hospital after suffering a heart attack over the weekend.

Washington saw DMX live again in 2019 in Minnesota, part of the rapper’s return to performing after very public struggles with substance issues.

"I was thinking this week on the difference between the first and last time I saw him and what he became," Washington said. "And we were all blessed to witness one of our own get so far."

When Chris Denaro heard DMX was at a Harrison hobby shop in 2004, he rushed down to the store and saw a “muscle car” parked out front with DMX in white lettering across the windshield. A small crowd gathered, but Denaro got a picture.

Later, outside the store, Denaro spoke to DMX and gave him a CD of beats he had made. DMX then played the CD in his car as they chatted, according to Denaro, who called him a hometown hero “if you grew up in Westchester.”

"Everybody has an 'X' story or an 'X' sighting," he said. “Obviously I didn’t know him personally but you feel like you do.”

Before his death, as DMX lay in a coma, fans and family held prayer vigils outside White Plains Hospital and on School Street where he grew up.

Yonkers City Council President Mike Khader was among a roster of local elected officials who attended the School Street vigil.

“Growing up listening to rap and hip hop and you think of Yonkers you thought of X,” Khader said. “And when you thought of X you thought of School Street, home of brave.”

Former Mount Vernon Mayor Rich Thomas ran into DMX on the bus, in local restaurants and even neighborhood barbecues over the years, he said.

“For me, at least, DMX is an inspiration," Thomas said. "You listen to his music and it’s all about being down but not giving up."

He was very transparent about his inner demons, Thomas said. Thomas left office as mayor in 2019 after misdemeanor convictions over misuse of campaign funds. He's now attempting a comeback as the city's elected comptroller.

“I listen DMX every day," Thomas said. "After I listen to Joel Osteen, I listen to X to get my day going to remind me that you can’t give up, you got to keep going.”

Mark Lungariello covers government and politics. Follow him on Facebook @lungariello and Twitter @marklungariello.

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: DMX dies: New Yorkers share stories about hip-hop legend