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But right now, with the rapper back where he has spent much of the past several years — in jail — no one can buy it.
Simmons was born December 18, 1970, in Mount Vernon, New York, the only child of Arnett Simmons and Joe Barker. His mother already had a 2-year-old daughter by another man when she became pregnant with Earl. She was 19.
As a child, Simmons lived with his mother and sister in a one-bedroom apartment in Yonkers, New York. They were on welfare. He had no father figures except his mother's boyfriends, who rarely paid attention to him. "My mother beat me for every man that did her wrong, for every man that fucked her and left her," Simmons writes in E.A.R.L., his 2002 autobiography.
Simmons discovered his talent for words in the third grade. One day, he ran home and proudly proclaimed, "I can spell 'Empire State Building!'" But he says his mother just glanced up and told him to run along. So Simmons started doing other things to get attention, like fighting and throwing chairs at teachers. He was first incarcerated at 10, when the courts sent him to a children's home for 18 months.
Simmons returned home to his mother but ran away often. Many nights, he slept in clothing bins outside the Salvation Army in Getty Square. By his teens, he was using drugs and mugging people on the streets of Yonkers.
And he started taking in stray dogs, the mangier the better. They weren't allowed inside his apartment building, so he slept with them on the roof. He trusted dogs more than people.
One day, a neighbor kid called Peanut called animal control about Simmons' dog Blacky, and they shot Blacky right in front of him, he says. A week later, a pissed-off Simmons went to school with a sawed-off shotgun taped to his leg. A few days later, he was in a juvenile detention facility, the first of many where he would have an extended stay.
It was in juvie that Simmons decided to be an MC. He was beatboxing and calling himself Beat Box Enforcer, but when he noticed the rappers getting more attention, he began writing rhymes. He called himself DMX the Great, a nod to the Oberheim DMX drum machine that he used to make his beats.
He battled other MCs on the streets, performed at community centers, and continued to steal and sell drugs to get money. In 1991, he was featured in a column called "Unsigned Hype" in the hip-hop magazine The Source, and in 1992, he was signed to Ruffhouse Records, a subsidiary of Columbia Records. But DMX's first single, "Born Loser," didn't take off, and he was released from his contract.
Around this time, Simmons was reintroduced to a woman named Tashera, who had been a classmate at Yonkers High School. She first met him when he was 11. "I was coming down the block, and he was taking an old lady's purse," she recalls with a chuckle.
When Simmons heard for the first time that one of his songs was on the radio, he was in jail in Valhalla, New York, on assault and battery charges. His track "Spellbound" was getting airplay on local station WBLS 107.5. After Simmons was released, he hooked up with Joaquin "Waah" Dean and Dean's brother, Darrin. Together, they formed a company called Ruff Ryders.
Ruff Ryders arranged a record deal for DMX with Def Jam Recordings. His first album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, released in May 1998, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. His second album followed in December 1998 and also debuted at No. 1. He was the second rapper to have two albums debut in the top spot that year; the other was Tupac.