DMX: The Soul of a Man

This has always been the thing about X, his capacity to feel, hugely, completely, publicly. He hardly needs reality tv to exploit that about him.


Airtime: Wednesdays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: DMX, Swizz Beats, Tashera Simmons, Randy Acker
Subtitle: The Soul of a Man
Network: BET
US release date: 2006-07-12
Let me take your hand.

Guide me, I walk slow, but stay right beside me.

The devil's trying to find me, hide me.

Hold up, I take that back.

Protect me and give me the strength to fight back.

--DMX, "Lord Give Me a Sign"

The fact that you know who I am is my weapon.

--DMX, DMX: The Soul of a Man

Here's the thing about DMX. He's always harried. Both sincere and antic, urgent and calculated, reckless and calculated, an impossible mix of raw self-expression (rendered in that distinctive voice) and repetition: whether you hear this as a desperate need to communicate or lack of imagination depends on your relationship with DMX, and you have one, whether you know it or not.

Dark Man X, also known as Earl Simmons, has long been open about this sense of conflict. It's incorporated into his performative persona. Part Brooklyn-born gangsta, part social agitator, and part earnest man of God, X acts out his struggle incessantly. His single, "Lord, Give Me a Sign" comes with a video where shots of X wandering he desert, "Still going through it," intercut with images of Katrina victims, the war in Iraq, and 9/11; much like his remarkable video for "Who We Be," the combination of imagery and heartfelt lyrical delivery makes his identification with suffering almost painful in itself.

X's latest foray into public consciousness is, of all things, a reality series. Like Lil' Kim before him, he's making his drama abundantly available on BET in a six-part series, DMX: Soul of a Man. But where Kim's show followed her preparations for her recently concluded imprisonment (cleverly titled Countdown to Lockdown), X's first episode shows him headed to jail for a traffic violation.

Everyone keeping track knows how crazy these traffic violations have gotten. In Soul of a Man's pilot episode, X's road manager Ali Sammii laments, "He's about to go in for a traffic violation, you know what I'm saying? Something so stupid." Perhaps the most famous incident -- so far, anyway -- took place at JFK Airport, in 2004. DMX "posed" as an undercover FBI agent and crashed his SUV through the security gate; after working out probation for that, he broke it and served 70 days in jail in 2005. And just this year, on 28 June, he posted $25,000 bail to be released from a Westchester County prison after missing two court dates related to misdemeanor traffic violations.

The guy seems a menace, at least to himself (rumors circulate perpetually as to his drug use and "clinical" definitions of his state of mind). And to an extent, Soul of a Man suggests that such infractions, so irrational and so avoidable, are symptomatic. Repeatedly in the first episode, he's acting out resistances against expectations: the first scene has him late for a recording session with Swizz Beats, who calls him repeatedly to track him down while X is buying treats in a convenience store: "Ooh," he acts out for the camera, "the donuts just came in." When the phone goes dead back in the studio, Swizz Beats uses the camera for his own performance, turning to it confidentially: "The phone cut off, perfect fucking excuse." X's inability to be on time seems chronic, even pathological: everyone waits for X, as he ponders, frets, resists the very process of time. "Bazookas!" he exults in the convenience store, "You get a joke and a piece a gum."

A recurring image in Soul of a Man has him doubled in a kind of kaleidoscopic distortion, facing and not seeing himself. Soul of a Man offers several views of him, through friends and his longsuffering wife Tashera. "Marriage, relationship period," she says, "It's a challenge." No kidding. As he prepares to turn himself over to authorities back in New York, to serve 40 days for the traffic violation, Ali observes, "He's a problem by himself, he's reckless person."

But first, X spends a couple of days in Arizona, where he claims to have found "peace of mind." "Coming from New York," notes Ali, "We ain't never seen stuff like this before," as the camera cuts to a rattlesnake. Healing nature or metaphorical danger? Or maybe just a cliché? "You know what brought X to AZ?" asks the ever poetic Simmons. "Peace and serenity." And with that, he's accosted by a couple of young white girls on horses. "What kind a gangsters are you guys?" asks one girl, she looks about 12. "You didn't hear us rolling up on you?" X laughs good-naturedly, especially when she calls him Ja Rule, X's notorious "enemy." When her mom tells the girl by cell phone not to hang out with these strangers, she and her friend leave, X agreeing that her mom's right. He is a stranger. "See ya later, Ja Rule," the girl says over her shoulder, quite unpanicked and apparently unimpressed by the so-called gangstas and camera crew she's discovered in the desert.

The rest of the episode tracks X's efforts to reconcile himself to going to jail. He shoots targets with his AZ neighbor Buddy ("Buddy is one of the realest people I know," says X, arbiter of the real), and listens closely as Buddy offers advice: "You don't want your kids growing up without a daddy like you did." X paces and rubs his head. This is true, and yet, he appears helpless, unable to fit the pieces of himself together. Lord, give him a sign.

Back home, a family dinner at a restaurant and brief prayer set the mood for jail the next morning. "The more you enjoy yourself, the more you don't enjoy yourself," worries X, taking another drink at the bar. "A toast to pain." Outside, his eyes tear up while he contemplates the unknowable future, and he fusses some more. When he drops off his three sons at different schools the next morning, one by one they're eager to get on with their own lives, with a couple of authority types looking askance at the man his camera crew; he's late, again, and disrupting the order of classes. "Bitch," he mutters, as they leave one woman's hallway, stepping out into sunshine.

Perhaps the episode's most startling image occurs as they ride to the courthouse, very late (his lawyer, identified as "Murray," stands on the steps outside and suggests X's time in jail will be extended because he's late). He and Tashera ride in the back seat while Ali drives, on the phone, detailing their route, describing the knot of traffic that holds them. "He was stalling," Tashera admits during a "confessional" moment. And then you see him as she prays in the car (calling for good angels to protect the car), curled up, head in her lap, understandably depressed, slowed to the point of quiet, for the first time in the 20 minutes you've been watching.

"Every time you go to jail," he says as they make their way inside the courthouse through a throng of press and flashbulbs, "There's the realization that it's possible you may not go home, you know what I mean?" Teasers for the coming episode show X emerged triumphant, his face newly rounded, his mood considerably improved. "He's the 45 volt battery in our backs, he's the energy," enthuses Ali.

You can see how his friends and family love this man: he's surely "a challenge," but he's oddly compelling. This has always been the thing about X, his capacity to feel, hugely, completely, publicly. He hardly needs reality tv to exploit that about him. Unlike, say, Bobby Brown, you don't get the sense that he (or his wife) is going to surprise you during the series. Soul of a Man is not a train wreck, and X is pretty much what you expect. He uses, pokes at, and performs his pain, again and again, and in that he is emblematic, if not exactly representative. You don't know him. You may want to feel for him, but he feels more than enough. The question is, how did he come to this point, that his pain is so well rewarded and so marketable? Whose show is this?

DMX: Soul of a Man - Trailer






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.