As a Christian, I wasn't allowed to listen to secular music in my home growing up.
But after listening to DMX on my school bus, I was instantly drawn to his flow and cadence.
The rapper's prayers, featured on nearly every album, also proved DMX genuinely loved the Lord.
I heard DMX for the first time in the 10th grade. After a field trip, my classmates and I were headed back to our school's campus on the bus, windows down, when suddenly someone started blasting New York's iconic hip-hop radio station Hot 97 from a portable radio. The rapper's 1998 hit single "Get at Me Dog" started playing.
I was instantly drawn to DMX's flow and cadence. His voice was distinctive, unlike anything I had ever heard. How is his tone both gritty and melodic? Is he singing, or is he rapping? He was even barking like a dog. I joined the 45 other barking teenagers on that sweaty school bus, and I've been barking ever since.
The more I came to learn about DMX, the more I was deeply inspired by his authenticity. A descriptive storyteller with amazing instincts and an infectious personality, DMX spoke candidly about the ups and downs of his life through family abuse, foster care, and addiction.
In his transparency, he never denied or made excuses for his missteps or circumstances. Rather, his honest accounts of his traumatic experiences afforded us all the opportunity to listen in on his growing relationship with his Lord and Savior.
As a Christian, I didn't grow up in a home where listening to secular music was encouraged or allowed. My family told me that listening to non-Christian music would lead me to do things that dishonored God, my family, and myself. Like many kids who grew up in the church, I was taught that listening to rap music compromised my Christian witness and failed to represent the relationship with God through Jesus Christ I was trained to espouse.
While I felt ashamed for enjoying some secular artists, I did not feel that shame as a die-hard DMX fan. That wasn't because his lyrics were any less controversial, violent, or salacious - they were - but because I always believed that, like me, DMX genuinely loved the Lord, and not in a performative, ceremonious, or conventionally religious way.
DMX's prayers were often sincere and honest messages to God
The first time I heard DMX pray was on his debut album, "It's Dark and Hell Is Hot." There amid all the profanity, misogyny, drugs, violence, and crime was an honest sincere plea for God's provision, presence, and direction. His prayer humbly acknowledged his flaws and described the fatigue of constantly falling short, yet finding hope and perspective through God's word.
DMX's prayers possessed the qualities of the prayer that Jesus modeled for his disciples when they asked him how they should pray. He recited God's promises with thanksgiving, fully acknowledging the sovereignty of God's perfect will and the peace that is promised to those who choose to accept it.
To me, DMX was an intercessor, by definition. He willingly intervened as an intermediary petitioning God on behalf of himself and others, like he did during a 2016 interview on "The Breakfast Club," when he made the three cohosts stand while he prayed. His witness was credible, not because he was perfect but because the relationship with God, featured in his music and modeled with his life, was accessible, relatable, and attainable.
Like Jesus, DMX was not concerned with title, position, politics, institutions, or institutional agendas. His priority was to ensure that people really understood the character of God and the length and breadth of the love and grace God shows to his children.
In "Prayer III," featured on DMX's third album "And Then There Was X," he affirmed:
"I stand before you, a weakened version of, your reflection
Beggin' for direction, for my soul needs resurrection
I don't deserve what you've given me, but you never took it from me
Because I am grateful, and I use it, and I do not, worship money
If what you want from me is to bring your children to you.
My regret is only having one life to do it, instead of two
DMX's faith was cultivated through a personal relationship with a God that he clearly revered and trusted without relent. That faith affirmed and empowered mine. It made me want to know God the way that he did. It inspired me to live my faith out loud, not just inside church.
DMX's prayers had wide-reaching effects on the Black church and hip-hop community
Hip-hop and the Black church are often at odds with one another, each leveling harsh criticisms against the other's methodologies, norms, and practices, while often sharing similar goals and values.
Religious leaders have condemned rap artists for their explicit lyrics and imagery that promote violence and problematic narratives. Meanwhile, some hip-hop artists say the Black church is a tool that's been used to promote values of white supremacy and stifle the cultural expression and liberatory freedom of Black people and marginalized communities. So it's no surprise that bridging the gap between hip-hop and the Black church continues to be a challenge.
But DMX's faith transcended the differences and crossed boundaries in ways that hip-hop and the Black church had never seen before. His influence is groundbreaking, as he brought prayer into night clubs and smoke-filled arenas, carrying Gospel messages of God's power, love, and sovereignty among those many would characterize as unworthy.
DMX's unashamed prayers also paved the way for other hit rappers, including Kanye West and Chance the Rapper, to bring their faith into their rhymes. He made it OK.
Whether it's comforting his frightened daughter on an amusement-park ride, playfully singing in the car with his goddaughter, or wanting to meet the cooks that prepared his meal at IHOP, DMX leaves a legacy of great faith and a life well lived after his death last week.
While others may remember his mistakes, I choose to honor him as one of our generation's cultural icons and pioneers of faith. I will miss his sound. I will miss his laugh. I will miss his magnetic energy and commanding presence. I pray for his family and his children, who will no doubt bear the heavy burden of grief for years to come.
I also choose to celebrate that DMX has completed his assignment and is now free from the pressures and struggles of this world. He has been called from labor to reward and can finally receive his well-earned rest with his Heavenly Father.
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