Street Utility: How DMX & The Ruff Ryders Came To Define a New Era for Utilitarian Fashion
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Just one week ago on April 9th, the world was shocked to hear that legendary rapper and actor Earl “DMX” Simmons passed away. The 50-year-old artist was hospitalized and put on life support a few days earlier after being found unresponsive at his home in New York. Family, friends, peers, and fans have expressed their deepest sorrow since the announcement, mourning the loss of one of this generation’s most defining sonic geniuses.
To celebrate the life and legacy of the last real Ruff Ryder, One Block Down is dedicating the second installation of its Street Utility series to Earl "DMX" Simmons. While we pay homage to the late visionary’s sonic mastery, the piece also details his far-reaching stylistic influence and looks at how his appropriation of core utilitarian styles led to one of rap’s most prominent aesthetic turns.
Scroll down below to read part two of Street Utility, One Block Down’s homage to the late rapper DMX and his stylistic legacy as one of the last true Ruff Ryders.
DMX, also known as “Darkman-X,” “X,” or, as he called himself on the 1992 debut single “Born Loser”, the “Divine Master of the Unknown” has gone down in history as one of rap’s most iconic contributors. Having grown up in Mount Vernon in the '70s, DMX was faced with a challenging upbringing like so many others around him, but went out and made a name for himself — as quoted on “Born Loser” — by becoming one of New York’s most respected battle rap MCs.
A mere six years after the release of “Born Loser” in 1998, a 28-year-old Earl Simmons debuted with two knock-out albums. With both releasing the same year — an outstanding achievement by any means — “It's Dark and Hell Is Hot” and “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood” topped the charts and went platinum. What's even more remarkable is that all five records that X released between 1998 and 2003 went multi-platinum and charted at number one.
The late rapper’s spirituality and vulnerability, which he often highlighted during his powerful live performances, cemented him as an authentic and beloved public figure. He was a man who so boldly wore his heart on his sleeve, that the global narrative couldn’t help but appreciate something so unashamedly real. In addition to his original, somewhat abrasive sound, DMX and his label Ruff Ryders introduced an entirely new layer to rap’s aesthetic, incorporating dogs and motorcycles to their library of subcultural indicators.
And further still, what DMX and the Ruff Ryders showed us was that technical clothing was not the only genre that could flourish within the realms of rap’s “street utility” uprising. While later movements would turn to utilitarian wear for what it could offer on a technical level, DMX saw this niche as a means for unadulterated expression, imbuing the most common styles with new meaning and subcultural context. Thanks in part to the glamorous success of Bad Boy Records throughout the ‘90s, hip-hop and rap’s appearance shifted from street to a form of street-informed luxury. And as these genres began permeating the mainstream in a way like never before, those leading the movement would show up in sheen two-piece denim suits and dress shoes as opposed to the typical “hustler’s uniform”.
With the tragic death of The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, and the introduction of DMX to the world, the truer side of rap’s aesthetic was somewhat restored, reintroducing the rawness that founded it in the first place. And following the release of DMX’s cornerstone music video for “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”, the public eye was once again fixated on the rugged appeal at the root of street utilitarianism. The release of “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” saw DMX and countless others performing in oversized box-cut denim, baggy olive cargo pants, Ruff Ryders football shirts, and 6-inch Timberland boots — styles we all knew, but not in this way. Later on, Ruff Ryders Entertainment, which was only managing rap artists at the time, expanded its business by releasing a lifestyle brand and founding a motorcycle club. It would then grow to include quality cars, bikes, bloodline pitbulls, fitness, and merchandise into its expansive product portfolio.
But before all this expansion, DMX and the earliest Ruff Ryders underscored (and applied) the power of subculture. With it, they adapted common military and workwear styles to become the defining visual hallmarks of late-20th century rap. Helmed by DMX’s unwavering push towards that which was real, pieces such as oversized box-cut denim and M65 camouflage jackets have now become synonymous with utility’s stylistic renaissance.
And with that, we salute DMX, one of the last real Ruff Ryders, and thank you for showing us how to express ourselves in the truest, rawest fashion.
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