To be a DMX fan in 2017, you have to remember what it was like to be a fan in his heyday. In 1998, DMX was the hottest rapper alive with It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, which were released the same year, and supplied enough hardcore aggression to contrast the glossy hit factory of Bad Boy Records. His forward attitude about everything made him a lovable act, and his raw energy got even the shyest fans to bark loudly when he performed. With almost 20 years in the hip-hop industry, he has etched himself in history as the symbol of Ruff Ryders, the Yonkers-birthed label that continues to be grounded in the streets.
But DMX in 2017 is not what he used to be. His narrative is filled with chapters of run-ins with the law and drug addiction, clearly affecting how he embraces the beloved fans who still hang on to every word and want to see him tear down the stage again. Seeing a DMX show in 2017 is like watching a troubled artist battle their way out of darkness to find the light. In one of many sermons during the Ruff Ryders reunion show at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Friday (Apr. 21), he noted how a man with 12 felonies was able to travel the world through the grace of God. In another, he sent a prayer in hopes of changing one person’s life in the arena. “One thing about my ritual,” he said. “I pray that I’m able to touch one person in the name of Jesus. If I do that, then I can say I did something with my life.”
Darkman X’s headlining set concluded a nearly four-hour run through the Ruff Ryders’ past, present, and future. The anticipation for The Dog was somewhat mixed throughout the night as long transitions in between artists created a lull in the concert experience. What entertained concertgoers was the highlight reel of moments delivered by the Ruff Ryders’ roster that spans from the Ruff Ryders Indy branch (Lil Waah, Drew James, Quadir Lateef, and Brillo) to the Ruff Ryders legacy artists (Drag-On, Eve, Swizz Beatz, The Lox, and DMX).
In particular, The Lox declared their anti-Donald Trump stance with a “Fuck Trump!” salute by instructing everyone to put their fists up before performing “We Gonna Make It.” They were also joined by some hometown guests: Uncle Murda (“Cam’ron Voice,” “Thot”), Junior M.A.F.I.A. (“Player’s Anthem,” “Crush On You”), and M.O.P. (“Ante Up”). Overall, The Lox’s set was the most energetic, a firm reminder of why there’s only a handful of groups who can wait 16 years to drop another album and still have fan loyalty.
Prior to that, Ruff Ryders’ dedicated soldier Drag-On, who was introduced with an orchestra rocking all-white outfits, scored high points for crowd engagement with “Down Bottom.” Eve took the ladies back with her nostalgic hits, including “Who’s That Girl?,” “Gangsta Lovin’,” “Rich Girl,” and “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.” Fans got to see just how influential Swizz Beatz is to hip-hop with his multiple medleys: “Start It Up” to “On to the Next One” to “Swing Ya Rag” to “Welcome to the Jungle” to “Fancy” to “Famous” was extremely potent.
In the first wave of surprise guests, Swizz brought out Fat Joe and Remy Ma for “Lean Back,” and in turn, Terror Squad got assistance from French Montana for “All the Way Up.” For a short run, French took over the Ruff Ryders show to much delight—his remix to “Hot Boy,” “Pop That,” “Ain’t Worried About Nothin’,” and his new single “Unforgettable” (featuring French and Swizz doing the #UnforgettableDanceChallenge) all connected with the crowd.
It’s odd to call 2007 a throwback era in hip-hop, but embattled rapper Cassidy warped back in time with his songs “My Drink N’ My 2 Step,” “I’m A Hustla,” and “Hotel.” Before he plugged an upcoming project with Swizz called Crook and a Thief, he took the opportunity to send shots at Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, and Young M.A., called himself the best rapper alive among J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, and listed the criteria for what makes up a rapper today. While probably intended to rile up a crowd who favors bars over melody, it was an ill-conceived freestyle.
For a lot of middle-age rap fans, nostalgia is a trend that is getting bigger as hip-hop dominates pop culture. We saw just how special Puff Daddy and the Family’s Bad Boy reunion tour was, and Ruff Ryders intended to do the same. Though the idea of a Ruff Ryders reunion show hasn’t been entirely new (it’s been discussed since 2012), it certainly shows why doing it for the culture actually matters. Among Ruff Ryders founders Joaquin “Waah” Dean, Darrin “Dee” Dean, and Chivon Dean who orchestrated the reunion, Swizz reasoned why doing these things (like go head-to-head with Just Blaze in a beat battle) are for the greater good of hip-hop. “I’m so happy to be in front of the real Ruff Ryders fans,” he said earlier in the night. “It wasn’t easy to get everybody in this building. We had to humble ourselves for the culture.”
For X, he seems beyond grateful to wake up everyday and make his fans happy. “When I’m on stage in front of a room full of people that love me, it’s better than the best p***y that I got in my f***king life!” he said. “So when you think you’re having a good time, trust me: I’m having a much better time!”
You can harp on the multiple rants and prayers he made last night or agree with disappointed fans who felt like he bombed the show. Others will argue that X just needed to find his groove again, which happened during his performance of “What These Bitches Want,” where he cut the instrumental and everyone rapped the list of girls he has messed around with. We probably would have benefitted from seeing his Ruff Ryders companions return to the stage to perform any of their collaborations, which didn’t happen. Was there internal beef? Or did X just want the yard all to himself?
If you choose to ignore the criticisms, at least consider this about him: take it for what it is. See X perform for the memories, the hits, the prayers, and wish him a healthy comeback. Leave knowing that there’s still people out there who trust in the double R for life.