31. “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” by DMX (2002)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

I have had the lyrics to “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” sung to my face on average once a month for the last 20 years. I literally never get tired of this. If Kristin’s theme song is “Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite, I suppose this one is mine. I mean, shit, I’m 21 years old and fresh off a big breakup when this thing comes out, and my entire college identity is tied up in my radio persona “Jonny X.” I’ve got some partying to do, motherfucker! And who better to soundtrack the moment than the “Party Up” guy?

First things first, this song, like much of DMX’s catalog, is an absolute assault. DMX shouts all of his rhymes with that raspy snarl and rat-a-tat gatling gun pacing that feels like you’re getting absolutely bludgeoned with body blows by Manny Pacquiao. Is DMX mad on this track? Probably! But it’s hard to discern emotional subtlety from DMX when everything is delivered in Dad Voice with the volume turned all the way up. Huge cymbal crashes and horn stabs propel this thing recklessly ahead with suicidal zeal. There’s a reason badass action movie scenes are soundtracked by this. It might as well be the rap version of the climax of Mad Max: Fury Road.

From 2002 until 2006 or so, I was perhaps the most OUT LOUD version of myself. I had been in a long relationship that had become no longer fulfilling. Part of the reason for that was her wilting in the face of having boss college experiences, and me wanting more of them. I realized that one night in particular when she backed out of tailgating before the football game with my roommates and a huge group of cool people for no real reason that I could discern. I went anyway (she was so pissed), drank Jagermeister straight out of the bottle and god knows how many beers, ate two hamburgers that tasted like lighter fluid, smoked a half a pack of cigarettes, watched CSU kick ass and win, and had a fantastic College Guy night.

I wanted more of that! So when we finally broke up, that version of myself came rampaging through the front door. My friends and I drank a shitload. I hosted the punk rock radio show on Friday nights from 8-10. I went to concerts for free all the time. I was opinionated and LOUD. I was smug. I was cocky. I was arrogant. I was totally full of my own shit. Looking back, it was all incredibly obnoxious and sometimes I wonder how anyone liked me at all. And y’know what else? It was fuckin’ great.

If you’re not the most insufferably self-confident version of yourself at 22, perhaps you’ve fucked up. I still did well in school (well enough to go directly into grad school and thrive there), but as far as I’m concerned we earned an A+ in creating debauched memories I will always cherish. And since I was frequently the loudest and most outgoing of my particular crew, how could my theme song be anything but “X Gon’ Give It To Ya.” (Jonny) X was definitely gonna give it to ya. What was it? Who knows! But whatever it was, I made sure to be as unsubtle about it as possible. It bears mention I had a Nokia 3310 phone, which had a ringtone composer feature. I found a tutorial on how to make this my ringtone, and did. So anytime my phone rang, the most irritating, shrill version of “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” went straight through everyone’s skull. I was a total frying pan to the face.

DMX is perhaps the least subtle rapper in history. It takes probably not even one second of hearing his voice to know it’s him on any track of his including an impromptu rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I remember sitting down to watch the DMX episode of Behind the Music and was ready for a real good time. I was unprepared for how tragic and sad DMX’s upbringing was, which throws his whole rabid Doberman persona into sharp relief. We all create personas to deal with whatever it is we need to deal with. DMX’s music finds him aggressively proclaiming his own toughness, resolve, and greatness over and over again. He’d have to since his parents were so abjectly evil, and that kind of betrayal to a child either kills them or turns them into a warrior forged in fire.

I had no such trauma, but DMX and this song allowed me to borrow some of that well-earned swagger and appropriate it for myself. And because I leaned into that bravado, everyone was more than happy to reflect it back at me, which is why I’ve had this song sung to my face – by friends, by new acquaintances who hear either my last name or learn I was a college radio DJ called Jonny X, by Orangetheory instructors, or whoever else – once a month for the last 20 years.

My left arm is my punk rock arm. I have 12 different symbols tattooed on that arm, each representing a different musical act, nearly all of them on this list. Only one is not punk rock related, and it’s the “X” from the DMX logo. I have never, ever gotten tired of this song. I love when I hear it in the wild. I queue it up and play it myself frequently. It always brings me joy.

And somehow, even after all this time, it still gets me hyped up. That’s why it’s also been bestowed one of the rarest honors a professional wrestling superfreak can bestow upon a song. “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” would be my personal entrance music. Fuck yeah. I’m hyped thinking about it now.

Up next: You got my letter. You read it twice.

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