You’d be hard-pressed to find a more momentous concert video than DMX’s performance at Woodstock ’99. The 50-year-old rap veteran was sadly pronounced dead earlier today after spending a week in the hospital from a drug-induced heart attack, but thousands of his fans have memorialized his name by sharing clips from the 1999 set on social media. It’s how he deserves to be remembered.
Woodstock ’99 was by nearly every metric a disaster (the heat was brutal, the food and water were dangerously overpriced, the crowds were unmanageably large, and there were numerous reported sexual assaults), but DMX’s 45-minute set felt like a beam of heavenly light. Before the rapper born Earl Simmons strutted out on stage, his DJ hyped up the crowd by chanting, “When I say ‘DM’ you say ‘X'”, and the booming response he received sounded like the whole world shouting gleefully in unison.
Eventually, the NY MC came dashing out, alternating between razor-focused and feral grunts. Throughout the set, he struck an ungodly balance between graceful poise and unvarnished rage. Despite standing at the musical equivalent of Mount Olympus’ peak, staring out at a near-endless see of heads that totaled up to nearly half-a-million people, DMX doesn’t look satisfied. Grateful, yes. Excited, sure.
But while watching him perform tracks like “Stop Being Greedy” and “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”, one gets the sense that he knew he was just getting started. He had only released his debut album one year earlier and was already standing at a place that 99% of musicians could only dream of occupying, but he delivered his electric raps with a determined humbleness. It was as if he knew he hadn’t even recorded his best material yet, so he had to put on the tightest, most energetic performance possible so he could continue to prove his place.
In that sense, the set feels more like the start of something new than a celebration of what was, which is what makes it so bittersweet to watch today. A few months after Woodstock ’99, DMX released his 1999 smash …And Then There Was X, which spawned the most successful single of his career, “Party Up (Up In Here)”. Despite dealing with myriad legal and mental health issues in the early 2000s, he continued to produce what have become his most iconic songs — “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” and “Where The Hood At?” both arrived in 2003.
Sadly, though, he was never able to maintain his position at the top of the rap world. But his Woodstock ’99 performance remains a timeless document of what it was like for him to be there. It was glorious. Watch the whole thing below.
Read our obituary of DMX.