While X's aggression lured fans in, it was his versatility that kept them enthralled. From juggling topics such as money-hungry women on "What These B---ches Want" to battling his demons on "Slippin'," X never shortchanged the listeners from his thrilling experiences. - Carl Lamarre
Check out DMX's 10 Best Songs below.
"Get At Me Dog" (It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, 1998)
In a GQ oral history of DMX's It's Dark and Hell Is Hot debut, producer Dame Grease boasted that he helmed both the final song of the "shiny suit era" (with The LOX's "If You Think I'm Jiggy") and the first song of the "bring it back to the streets era" with "Get at Me Dog." That was the kind of hard reset that "Dog" marked in late-'90s hip-hop -- a relentless breakthrough single with an absolutely irrepressible livewire energy, thanks to an inspired BT Express sample that actually sounded more electric when slowed down by Dame Grease. Not many MCs could've corralled that beat, but DMX was born for it, growling and slithering and (of course) barking his way through three verses and an unforgettable hook like the game's apex predator. "There's at least a thousand of us like me mobbing the street," he forecasts on the song; five straight platinum albums later it was pretty clear he was underselling. - Andrew Unterberger
"How's It Goin' Down" (It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, 1998)
For an entire generation of hip-hop fans, nothing will be as instantly transportive to the summer of 1998 than the fat bass and smooth electric keys hitting on the intro to "How's It Goin' Down." The song isn't exactly as sentimental as its groove would perhaps imply, but the tumultuous relationship at its core still can't help sound sweetly romantic over that production, and DMX's gruffly crooned chorus ("What type of games is bein' played/ How's it goin' down?/ It's on 'til it's gone, then I gots to know now") was still the stuff of countless young dramas. X's gritty street singles were what made him a sensation, but his ability to connect on this more tender level was what made him a superstar. - A.U.
"Stop Being Greedy" (It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, 1998)
With the barking dog snippets and that haunted house organ running throughout, DMX managed to sneak a hardcore hip-hop Jekyll-and-Hyde tale onto the Hot 100 with "Stop Being Greedy." DMX oscillates between delivering lines like "I don't like drama, so I stay to myself" in a measured tone and growling threats like "I'ma bash his head wide open / Beggin' me to stop, but at least he died hopin'" in that trademark rasp. With this It's Dark and Hell Is Hot classic, it's not about light or dark winning: It's about exploring the duel. – Joe Lynch
"Ruff Ryders' Anthem" (It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, 1998)
DMX wasn’t initially sold on the steady, fat Swizz Beatz rhythm and black-key lines of what would become “Ruff Ryders' Anthem.” But the simplicity of the beat cleared the way for the gravel-throated rapper to get his Ruff Ryder troops in line with a “Stop! Drop!” X matched the steady tone in his verses, keeping the rhymes (“All I know is pain, all I feel is rain”) as straightforward as the sentiments (“F--k it, dawg, I’m hungry”). But it was what he did in the background, unleashing growls and his now-legendary “what!” ad-libs, that made the mid-tempo track immortal. - Christine Werthman
"Slippin'" (Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, 1998)
So much of DMX’s career was about channeling pain, his voice used an instrument to mine sorrow and analyze hurt rather than celebrate his rise to rap’s A-list. Nowhere is that more clear than “Slippin’”: the lead single to Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood -- DMX’s second album of 1998, and the second to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart -- is haunted by his imperfections, each verse coloring in the details of his unhappy upbringing and the chorus serving as a self-motivation to reach a higher plane. The wounds of “Slippin’” are raw, but DMX was not about half-measures: he wanted to confront listeners with his devastated psyche and achieve stardom on his own terms. -- Jason Lipshutz
"What's My Name" (…And Then There Was X, 1999)
Before “Party Up” became the breakthrough hit from DMX’s blockbuster 1999 album ...And Then There Was X, it was preceded by lead single “What’s My Name,” an absolutely ferocious chest-thump that followed a dominant run to mainstream hip-hop’s mountaintop in the late ‘90s. “What’s My Name” wasn’t designed as a pop crossover like the smash that followed, but captured X’s bone-crushing charisma at a pivotal moment: each verse is constructed around short verbal jabs followed by sumptuous bars, the rapper’s bark-then-bite approach delivered to the masses and setting him up for even greater stardom. – J. Lipshutz
"What These B--ches Want” feat. Sisqo (…And Then There Was X, 2000)
The second verse is the stuff of legends: DMX, spending the middle third of the song rattling off the names of different women from his past (“Cookie, well, I met her in a ice cream parlor / Tonya, Diane, Lori, and Carla”), as guest star Sisqo croons wholeheartedly by his side. Yet the rest of “What These B--ches Want” holds up as the go-to DMX slow jam -- or, at least, DMX’s version of a slow jam, with gruffness fully intact and gender stereotypes unapologetically slung around his bars. Back when the song became a hit in 2000, the pairing of DMX and Dru Hill breakout star Sisqo was momentous; over two decades later, the collaboration still sounds fresh. - J. Lipshutz
"Party Up (Up In Here)" (…And Then There Was X, 2000)
DMX may have intended “Party Up (Up in Here)” as a diss track, but any hate is stomped out by whistle blasts, a beat that hits like a right hook (courtesy of Swizz Beatz), and X’s hilarious exasperation. “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind,” he shouts on the chorus like some fed-up parent, later coming through with a laundry list of reasons why an anonymous rapper is trash: “You’re wack, you’re twisted, your girl’s a ho/You’re broke, the kid ain’t yours, and everybody know.” But as much as the song burns, it bangs, a jubilant ragging that only X could deliver. - C.W.
"Who We Be" (The Great Depression, 2001)
"Who We Be” is a song about relentless struggle, with each new obstacle faced by underpaid people of color replacing the one that preceded it before the listener can fully process the tension. With his flow transformed into a list of the issues beating down upon his community every day, DMX tries to both represent the voiceless and explain systemic conflict to the millions buying his albums that had been shielded from it. In the process he delivers a tour de force performance, full of hardened takes on racial injustice (“The streets, the cops, the system, harassment / The options, get shot, go to jail, or get your ass kicked”) and clipped, visceral observations (“The hurt, the pain, the dirt, the rain / The jerk, the fame, the work, the game”). – J. Lipshutz
"X Gon' Give It To Ya" (Cradle 2 the Grave, 2003)
Easily the best thing to come out of the DMX/Jet Li action flick Cradle 2 the Grave, this No. 60-peaking single finds the New York spitter splitting the difference between his menacing alter ego and the life-of-the-party side of his persona. As much of a threat not to f—k with him as an invitation to shake your ass (try to sit still when those marching band horns start sounding off), "X Gon' Give It To Ya" is equally suited for a throwdown in the streets or on the dancefloor; it's a prime example of his compelling, multi-faceted voice. – J. Lynch