Drag-On Remembers DMX: ‘We Really Looked at Each Other Like Brothers’
Ruff Ryders MC recalls DMX discovering him at age 17 and the friendship that followed: “It was way past music, the love he had for me”
Bronx rapper Drag-On was a key part of the Ruff Ryders rap dynasty in the late Nineties and early 2000s, making many memorable appearances alongside DMX, the Lox, and Eve. As fans around the world mourned DMX after his death at age 50, Drag-On called to share his memories of the late MC.
When I first met DMX, I was 17. I was pretty much homeless at the time. They brought me down to the Power House studio in Yonkers to meet a rapper. I didn’t know it was going to be him. Back at that time, it was the battle era — all that SMACK DVD stuff came from us. He was there at the studio, and they told me to rap, and they told him to rap. Next thing I knew, it turned into a battle.
Of course, I lost the battle. But he respected me, because I kept coming at him. X used to battle, like, 10 people by himself, and literally make them stop one by one. For me, being 17, and not really knowing I was in a battle until toward the end, I just kept coming at him, and he felt my hunger and felt my pain. He was the one that put the stamp on me: “I’m not going to front. I want this little dude right here.” That’s how I became Ruff Ryders.
Coming from where I came from, and going through what I was going through, it was a relief to feel as though I came across family. It took a couple days for us to become brothers. I loved every artist, but me and DMX were always the tightest. We really looked at each other like brothers. It’s crazy, too, because at the time I actually looked like I could have been his little brother.
There’s two words to describe DMX: Energy and passion. Even if you found other words that go with that, you cannot leave out those two. Those are mandatory. That’s DMX. That’s why the world loved him, and that’s why we loved him. His energy and his passion were something from out of this world.
X was a genuine person. He had love for me instantly. It was natural for him. When he came across people, if he rocked with you, he rocked with you; and if he don’t, he don’t. But he was always genuine about it. You’d be like, “Yo, X, what’s up?” And he’s the type that would probably tell you: “Dog, listen, I don’t really fuck with you.” He was real kind-hearted, too. X was a giving type of person — and he didn’t care about you giving it back. He felt as though his blessings came from the Lord.
He gave me a chance to let the world hear me even before I was signed to Ruff Ryders, on the song on his first album [1998’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot] called “For My Dogs.” I did that in 1997. That was the second song I ever even recorded in my life. I’d never been in the studio like that, and I had to go in and do that verse right there with all these big MCs that had already been in the game. A lot of people liked my verse on there. I was just glad that I held my weight on it.
Being in the studio with DMX was a great experience. Your pen had to be moving, and you had to be aggressive with it, and you really had to be about your shit. There was no playing games. He was real strict. He’d be like, “All right, Drag, look. This is what we’re doing.” I didn’t have too much say-so. He had the whole orchestration of what he wanted to do. I learned a lot from watching him do that. Like on “No Love 4 Me,” he’d say, “Drag, we’re gonna rap like this: ‘If I’m gonna rob, I’ma rob all night…’” And then I had to do the same thing: “You fuckin’ with me, ain’t keepin’ your health right…” He’d say, “I need you to rap this way, or you can’t get on the song.” It was structure and it was love and it was passion.
The first time I went on tour with DMX, I was nervous. At first, on the Survival of the Illest Tour [in 1998], I was just his hype man. That was a learning experience. When you’re performing party music, all you gotta do is dance and go with the party. But Ruff Ryders, we put out street music. To get the crowd hype over some street shit takes way more energy than trying to get the crowd hype off of a party joint. So being his hype man really taught me how to perform. By the Hard Knock Life Tour [in 1999], I was able to come out and perform with DMX two or three times a night, because we had so many songs together.
Performing with X was a little different than performing with other artists. Some nights, he didn’t want you performing with him. Songs like “Stop, Drop” [“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”] — sometimes he’d do the joint with all of us, and sometimes he’d do it by himself. The scary part was that he never told you. You found out onstage. Right when your part was supposed to come up, he’d just keep rapping his part. But when he did want you to perform, he would look at you, and you just gotta be ready to do your verse. I learned that maybe the fourth time performing, and then I was sharp and ready to spit my verse, just in case.
When I think back on those days, I think about so many things that he did for me. It was way past music, the love he had for me. It was making sure my mental was right. Speaking words from the Lord. He was a real believer, like I am. He always preached the word to people that he felt needed it, and he always ended his show with a prayer. He also helped build my movie career. I was able to shoot movies with Steven Seagal. I was able to go from my projects to getting in a fight with Jet Li in Cradle 2 the Grave, co-starring with Gabrielle Union and Tom Arnold. These are things that DMX did for me.
I’m still processing this. It’s been rough for me. I was just listening to the song that we did for DJ Clue, and then I was listening to “No Love 4 Me.” A lot of his old classics, the songs that me and him did. He was one of the greatest rappers to ever do it. One of the biggest, too — there are people in their 70s and 80s who I know personally are huge DMX fans. He will be remembered as a king.
From Rolling Stone US.