A Hip-Hop Breakdown: On DMX and His Motherless Inner Child
By Jamall Calloway
You know what, I think people lose sight of the fact that no matter how strong you are, as a man, no matter how tough you are, we all need to be somebody's baby." - DMX
Earl Simmons, artistically known as DMX (Dark Man X), has always been an honest and transparent artist. In an era where mainstream hip-hop uplifted the shallow gospel of materialism and non-stop braggadocio, DMX’s music soared to the top with lyrics containing honest elements of urban aggression, theological negotiating, romantic instabilities and masculine bravado.
Sometimes you could hear DMX asking “What They Really Want?” (2000), and other times, you heard him pleading to the Lord to “Give Him A Sign” (2006). His lyrics are no doubt problematic, but they often reflect the very best and worst of our humanity. A humanity that isn’t always virtuous but never fully depraved. I don’t know many artists that lyrically proclaim belief in divine orchestration while also discussing the existential absurdity of living in a universe that appears indifferent to your needs and wellness. But there is a darkside in the Dark Man’s life that he doesn’t discuss much, until a recent episode of "Couples Therapy" on VH1:
Get More: Couples Therapy
In the corpus of DMX’s music, one thing he barely discusses is his relationship with his mother, Arnette Simmons. We can hear him slightly discuss his issues with his father on records such as “Slippin” (1998) and “I Miss You” (2001) but I cannot recall him ever talking publicly about his mother or the issues he has with her. But in this clip we find DMX divulging the pain of never hearing his mother express her love for him. He never had that “mommy moment” that so many of us take for granted. It’s the moment where we fall off our bikes or scratch our knees and a mother is there to help us heal; it’s the moment of excitement when we run to tell our mothers about the good grades on our report cards or when we just want her to tell us that we matter and we’re important. I can’t imagine my own life without my own “mommy moments.”
I can only imagine the silently sharp and unmerciful pain one experiences while going through life without ever hearing their mother convey her unconditional and unmitigated love. This is especially painful in a culture where the unfortunate narrative of black maternal reverence and fatherly absence are considered the norm. One can only imagine the trauma that DMX (and others with similar stories) went through and continue to go through. This story is, unfortunately, all too familiar in our community.
Research in child/adolescent psychology shows there are psychopathological effects for parental absence and non-affection. These effects manifest themselves in behavioral issues, sexual promiscuity, low self-esteem and in worst cases, drug usage. Coincidentally, we can find each effect in DMX’s life and music (if the two can be separated). I wonder how different DMX might be today if he had received that affection from his mother and attention from his father? How many of our young men would be in our nation’s universities and trade schools instead of prison if statistics for absentee parents weren’t so high?
Allow me to be clear - I am by no means saying that an absentee or indifferent parent is strictly to blame. I am fully cognizant of the complexity embedded in life’s hypotheticals. Ifs and maybes can only take us so far. So who knows how different anyone would be with altered circumstances. There are incarcerated persons and drug abusers who had the normative nuclear family dynamic and, of course, there a plethora of successful, whole and mentally healthy people who were reared in single parent households or by different family members. I, although remotely far from perfect, am a product of a single parent home. But since it does take two to tango, it should also take two to rear the beautiful result of sexual intimacy.
DMX’s brave tears open the door for conversations regarding parenting in urban communities. We should remember that even though his artistic image is that of a hard-core rapper from Yonkers, he is still human. We all need our parent’s love, admiration and affection. And even though this narrative is all too familiar in urban communities, like DMX said towards the end of the clip, it still hurts immensely. So what does this clip teach us? What lessons can we glean from DMX’s tears?
It's OK to Talk to Someone
Too many children who experience mental trauma hold in their emotions without talking to anyone. We need to understand that mental health is just as important as physical health. Just like we need exercise and good nutrition, we also need to release our anxieties with professional aid. Ignore the stigmas. It is ok to receive professional counseling.
It's OK to Cry - Let It All Out
Oftentimes, especially with male-bodied persons, we tend to think it is not ok to cry. Society ignorantly teaches us a false correlation between tears and weakness. In this clip, we see DMX saying that he was looking like a “sucka” for crying. He did not look like a “sucka”; he looked like someone experiencing a cathartic moment by releasing emotions he had held within himself for years.
It’s OK to Love One Another a Little Harder
One can never replace a mother’s love or a father’s presence. Sometimes, there is no emotional compensation for that missing love and it just hurts. But what we can do is make sure the love that we are divinely assigned to give out does not go missing. If you are a spouse, parent, sibling, son/daughter, best friend, cousin, aunt/uncle, teacher, neighbor, etc., ensure that the people with whom you’re in a relationship know just how much you love them - in words and in actions. Love them as hard and as much as you humanly can without harm or hurt to yourself or them.Jamall is from Oakland, CA and a graduate of Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS. He is currently a Masters of Divinity Candidate at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, CT.
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