In Aaron McGruder’s social critique that was the adult-rated cartoon series The Boondocks, there was an episode where the character Thugnificent rubbishes the information about a Black man running for president called Barack Obama. Thugnificent cannot believe the man’s name is what it is and scoffs at it.
“What the f*ck is a Barack? Barack Obama? Where he from? Africa?,” asked Thugnificent. When the interviewer maintained it indeed was the man’s name, Thugnificent would not buy it and quipped: “That ain’t that nigga’s name. You can’t be serious”.
That episode of The Boondocks was a fictional rendition of an actual interview of the recently departed DMX in March of 2008. Many are only now finding out as a viral tweet seems to suggest. The episode, in line with the series’ ability to satirize different aspects of African-American life, portrayed rapper Thugnificient as an insufficiently learned citizen who jumped onto the Obama bandwagon when it seemed America’s first Black president was destined for glory. Thugnificent is reminiscent of many of the people we know but so was DMX in the actual interview.
In the sit down with XXL, the rapper added that the reason he did not care about who was running for president was because “it doesn’t matter. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. It [individual civic duties] doesn’t really make a difference”. He continued: “It’s all a f*cking setup It’s all f*cking b*llshit”.
After his death on Friday in a New York hospital, many across the world have been mourning not only one of the most recognizable musicians and voices of the last half-century but also the most admirable star. Twitter has been flooded with stories that came with visuals about how DMX joined the dancing procession at an Albanian wedding, and how he went to a restaurant in Buffalo to make omelets, and how he would not run away from fans who mob him in the streets. These are testimonies of a superstar’s humanity without the cover of glitz. He was one of us, these stories seem to say.
But I am of the opinion that nothing quite qualified the ordinariness of DMX better than his resolve to distrust political power and rely on the strength of his own assumptions of social reality. The man did not believe a Barack Obama was running for president but in fairness, most Black people were still getting acquainted with their future president at the time. It is unforgivable that he treated Obama’s name with contempt but that is another issue. The point has to do with DMX’s fatigue with a system that does not inure to the benefit of the people. He was fed up. That is singularly the most popular sentiment of ordinary people about today’s politics.
Why should he be remembered for this? DMX told us in interviews and in countless songs that he was not up against enemies so much as he was up against personal demons. The drugs seemed like an outgrowth of emptiness installed by childhood abuse and neglect. From an early age, DMX was shown by this world that he had no one but himself to see him through. This brand of self-reliance was ultimately destructive but it cannot be detached from the fact that the community or system failed an individual. He had his own reasons for not giving a hoot about who became president because there was no positive correlation to his life. Isn’t this how most of us feel?
He was was gritty and gruff but the growling rapper deliberately and unconsciously revealed so much vulnerability that made him likable. Even as he abused drugs and produced gangster rap, he was associated with truth and some sense of innocence. We knew that.
Jay Z is great, Diddy was an industry genius and Kanye West is eccentric. But all three look like they will suit up in a second to get paid. Hip hop’s claim to being the medium for social consciousness and vulnerability of Black American humanity rests with the likes of DMX.