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Reflection: The Gospel according to DMX

Few artists are as associated with the streets and the Church as explicitly as DMX. In the wake of his tragic death, his faith witness is highlighted by Gunnar Gundersen.

One week ago, on the Friday of the Easter Octave, Earl Simmons, known throughout his career as DMX (“Dark Man X"), passed away after struggling for several days following a heart attack.

He was a prophetic Christian witness who will be greatly missed.

As a Black Christian, I felt the passing of such an important cultural and religious figure could not go unexamined in the pages of the Black Catholic Messenger.

St. Thomas More once famously told his children that it would not be a big achievement for them to go to heaven since they were surrounded by good examples, but that:

“if you live in the time, that no man will give you good counsel, nor no man will give you good example, when you shall see virtue punished, and vice rewarded, if you will then stand fast, and firmly stick to God upon pain of life, if you be but half good, God will allow you for whole good.”

DMX understood this with every fiber of his being and preached on it throughout his life. And he stuck with God through all the pain and suffering that White Supremacy in America threw at him. I believe that God will allow DMX for whole good.

Abandoned by his father then abused by his mother, he was on his own at a young age. He discovered hip hop, but was abused by a mentor who tricked him into using a crack-laced joint. This led to a lifelong addiction struggle.

Through it all, he pursued his dreams by relying on his talents—and on God.

He never shied away from admitting his imperfections and temptations borne from seeking to thrive on the streets. He always acknowledged that God was loving him and blessing him, through the suffering and the sin. Many of his songs acknowledge the Lord’s presence, and he included prayers on his albums and at his performances.

As he put it: “I've done gospel songs on every album.”

As he grew in his faith journey, he started to discern a vocation to preach the Word to others. He perceived this call in 2009, became a transitional deacon, working towards ordination as a minister. He famously held a Bible study in April 2020 online that reached and inspired many.

Like Pope Francis, he understood that a successful pastor must smell of the sheep. As X explained, “You can’t speak for the people unless you’re able to walk amongst the people.” This was a constant belief of his:

“I want 'Flesh Of My Flesh' to be like my connection to the community, I want to say what's on my peoples' minds, soak up all their pain. I've learned that when I take it all in, I can make one brotha's pain be understood by the world.”

On Easter Friday, Redman called into a DMX tribute show on Rock the Bells, a hip-hop station created by LL Cool J (himself a Black Catholic). Redman recalled that what impressed him most about DMX is that he really believed that every person was made in the image and likeness of God and treated those around him that way. This strong Christian witness caused Redman to respond in kind and to remember his youth being raised in the Church.

DMX was loved by the streets because he was from the streets. He brought the struggles and faith of the streets to America—if you were willing to listen. And many people were listening and deepening their faith in Christ because of DMX. But too many tune out (or are not even aware of) the fact that DMX was preaching almost every chance he had. Key themes running through DMX’s spirituality are gratitude, praise, and a firm belief that no person is beyond God’s reach and love.

Given the harsh realities and desperate choices many are faced with in the streets, it can be easy to become judgmental about the choices made. Many people facing that struggle may even feel like giving up after they succumb to temptations or hurt others while fighting to survive.

DMX was there to tell them God loved them in all the messiness and suffering. And through the reach of his music, he was able to remind all of us of that reality.

And for those of us whose ancestors have roots in the streets, experiencing racial violence and poverty, but who are blessed to have lived a different kind of life, DMX’s music provides a way to reconnect and understand what it took to be where we are.

While many of us are living the dreams of our ancestors, there are still too many of us ignored and discarded by society. We cannot forget them, and DMX never let us.

The Old Testament formula for expressing what a patriarch’s death is: “He was gathered to his people.” DMX has been gathered to the people he loved his whole life, and he cannot be separated from them now. And he is bringing with him the life-giving love of Jesus to enrich and free the people he loved:

We Christians know that death is not the end, but that life goes on in the resurrected Lord. DMX will continue to gather God’s children through his body of work and prayers with that second, heavenly life. God has overcome the regret expressed in DMX’s prayer and is granting him a second life through his legacy to continue to gather God’s children home.

I can only hope that when I am gathered to the people that I will come bearing gifts half as good.

“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. Amen.”

R.I.P. Earl “DMX” Simmons
(12.8.1970 - 4.9.2021)

Gunnar Gundersen is an attorney in Newport Beach, CA. He serves in his parish council and choir, is a published essayist, and regularly lectures on natural law and the American Founding. He is also the first Ordinariate member of the Knights of Peter Claver and is starting their first council in Orange County. Follow him on Twitter at @GBGundersen.