DMX: The Slick Way Irv Gotti Convinced Def Jam to Sign the Rapper After They Initially Passed on Him

It’s been a year since DMX died. The rapper died from complications of a heart attack allegedly brought on by drugs. Despite his personal troubles, he’s lauded as one of the greatest rappers of all time. But the rapper’s success is partially credited to Irv Gotti. Gotti discovered X and championed for him, but he had to convince Def Jam Records to sign him.

DMX on stage; Irv Gotti convinced Def Jam to sign DMX
DMX | Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Live Nation

Irv Gotti demanded Def Jam sign DMX or he’d quit and the label would crumble as a result

Gotti was hired as A&R for Def Jam in the late 90s. An A&R (artists and repertoire) representative is responsible for finding new artists for a record label or music publisher to sign. The first act he wanted to sign was X, but the label was not convinced and felt X was too street. As a result, Gotti quit. Days later, he was approached by Lyor Cohen, who owned Def Jam, and let Gotti know that he was in a tight bond and needed his help.

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Knowing that the label’s success depended on the acts he found, Gotti orchestrated a deal Cohen couldn’t refuse: sign X or he’s gone for good. He explained in Part 1 of The Murder Inc Story documentary:

Russell [Simmons] and Lyor own Def Jam. They have a deal with Polygram. If they hit a deficit where they’re losing $25-$30 million, Polygram would have the right to just take Def Jam from them. This is what Def Jam was going through. And I was like, ‘I got you, don’t worry. I’ll come back if you sign DMX.

Lyor went to Yonkers, met X, and signed him immediately. And musical magic began

The rapper makes Billboard history

Gotti’s instincts were right, as X’s raw sound resonated with listeners. So much so that he made history five times over. His debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot debuted at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200. His sophomore release – Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood – made him the first rapper to have his debut and his sophomore album debut at No. 1 in the same year.

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X’s next three albums, And Then There Was X, The Great Depression, and Grand Champ also made the top spot on the chart. All five albums debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 makes X the first and only rapper to achieve such a feat.

With the release of his sixth album, his streak ended. At the time, his colleague and rival, Jay-Z, was the new president of Def Jam. The Cradle 2 The Grave star believed Jay shelved his album and didn’t promote it as much because he viewed him as competition.

Irv Gotti on DMX’s passing

Gotti and X remained friends until the rapper’s passing in 2021. The music executive says he’s actually at peace with X’s death because X is now free from his drug addiction struggles. “He told me the first time he took a puff [of crack], he saw the demon in him, and it never left him,” Gotti told Drink Champs. “That’s why I wasn’t upset when he passed – y’all gotta understand when I saw DMX it was like I loved him, and he loved me.”

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