Earl Simmons, the snarling yet soulful rapper known as DMX, who had a string of No. 1 albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s but whose personal struggles eventually rivaled his lyrical prowess, died on Friday in White Plains, N.Y. He was 50.
His family announced the death in a statement. He had been on life support at White Plains Hospital after suffering what his family called “a catastrophic cardiac arrest” a week earlier.
“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” the Simmons family said. “He loved his family with all of his heart, and we cherish the times we spent with him.”
The music made by Mr. Simmons, a muscular, tattooed and intense figure, was often menacing and dark, with the occasional nod to Christian spirituality. He committed crimes, served time in different correctional institutions and battled addiction long before he released an album, and his troubled past informed the gritty content and inimitable delivery of his rhymes.
He barked over the chorus of “Get at Me Dog,” the breakout single from his 1998 debut album, “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.”
“His throat seems to hold a fuzzbox and a foghorn, and between songs he growled and barked,” the critic Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times of Mr. Simmons’s performance at a concert in 2000. “In his raps, the gangsta life is a living hell, a constant test of loyalty and resolve.”
He rapped with an explosive cadence on “Party Up (Up in Here),” the big hit from his 1999 album “ … And Then There Was X”; raw braggadocio on “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” a tribute to his record label on “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot”; and a more introspective, brooding delivery on “Damien,” a story about making a murderous bargain with a demonic benefactor.
“Why is it every move I make turns out to be a bad one?” Mr. Simmons asks in “Damien.” “Where’s my guardian angel? Need one, wish I had one.”
Mr. Simmons, who sold millions of records, was the first musician whose first five albums reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart. He was the standout artist on the Ruff Ryders label, often rapping over tracks by the star D.J. and producer Swizz Beatz. Rappers like Eve, Drag-On and the Lox, a group made up of Jadakiss, Styles P and Sheek Louch, also recorded on the label.
Mr. Simmons was known for energetic concerts that electrified audiences. In 2000 the critic Elvis Mitchell wrote in The Times about his “remarkable and combative stage presence” in the concert documentary “Backstage,” which followed him and rappers like Jay-Z and Redman on the 1999 “Hard Knock Life” tour.
“Bombastic and hot-blooded, he holds court in a singular fashion, exercising sheer force of will to pull the spotlight down on himself and demanding the crowd’s attention,” Mr. Mitchell wrote.
Mr. Simmons also starred with the rappers Nas and Method Man in the Hype Williams gangster film “Belly” in 1998; appeared in the action movie “Romeo Must Die,” with Jet Li and Aaliyah, in 2000; and starred with Steven Seagal in the 2001 action film “Exit Wounds.” The BET cable channel provided a closer look at his personal life with the 2006 reality series “DMX: Soul of a Man.”
The macho, streetwise persona Mr. Simmons projected in his music was reinforced by a litany of criminal charges. He was arrested repeatedly, for fraud, assault, driving under the influence and without a license, and weapon and narcotics possession, among other things.
He served jail time after pleading guilty in 2008 to animal cruelty, drug possession and theft, and in 2018 he was sentenced to a year.
He released several more albums over the years, including “Grand Champ” (2003) and “Undisputed” (2012). But he often got in trouble with the law and never regained the success of his earlier days.