Earl Simmons obtained critical success in the hip-hop world with his first major label single, “Get At Me Dog.” It was released and certified gold in February of 1998 — a month after this writer was born and, more importantly, three months before his debut album, It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot released. By May of 1998, the world was officially in the hands of “DMX.”
DMX, the stage persona but also the truest persona of Earl Simmons, held nothing back. His passionate, in-your-face style of rapping and his dark, personal lyrics shaped an entire generation. Eight albums, 47 singles, tons of film and tv deals, and a nation of hip hop lovers behind his back, DMX became a household name practically overnight.
Over two decades later, DMX’s story, his love for his community, and his personal battle with drug abuse, is finally told with full access thanks to DMX: Don’t Try To Understand; a new documentary, part of HBO Max’s Music Box series.
I was lucky enough to see the doc early, at HBO’s “Scene in Black” event, and I walked away with more than the lyrics to “Party Up” stuck in my head. Don’t Try To Understand, contrary to the title, invites viewers the most honest and personal look at the daily life of Earl Simmons, and offers insight into the mindset of one of rap’s most influential pioneers of the ‘90s and beyond. Set in 2019, the documentary follows DMX and his managing crew of old friends and family as they prepare for his comeback tour. The artist’s first since his incarceration a year later.
While the film is releasing after his untimely passing in April of this year, the documentary (directed by Christopher Frierson) celebrates the life of DMX and chooses to showcase his influence and involvement with his family, his community, and his fans. Frierson has a mastery of the documentative lens, following DMX on and off the stage.
What may seem like “nothing moments” are transformed naturally into moments of love and fellowship between DMX and the people who followed him on his tough journey through music.
Don’t Try To Understand shows us the humanity found within a legend. Whether that’s through inspiring moments when DMX is visiting his hometown, freestyling with the local community and spreading love, or when he’s with his family — his children and their mothers, his goddaughter Paige Hurd, his eldest son Xavier Simmons — reconciling and nurturing his important relationships.
But it also doesn’t shy away from the darker side of Simmons’ life. His constant battle with his drug addiction, the wedge it created in many of those bonds he created. Don’t Try To Understand dives deep into the life of DMX and perfectly displays why the artist’s powerful lyricism continues to stand the test of time.
Though he may have gone far too soon, the legacy of Earl “DMX” Simmons lives on through not just this doc, but the people who helped create it, the people who he surrounded himself with, and the community that he unashamedly loved with all of his heart. Whether you’re a longtime fan, or you’re just discovering the late New York rapper, DMX: Don’t Try To Understand is the perfect glimpse into his true nature. The documentary premieres on HBO Max on November 25, just in time for Thanksgiving.