The holiday season and the dynamics that come with it—homecomings; family—made the Thanksgiving Day release of HBO’s documentary, DMX: Don’t Try to Understand, particularly apt. The film, directed by Chris Frierson, follows DMX for a year following his release from jail, where he spent a year for tax evasion. Throughout, the rapper attempts to revitalize his career while reconnecting with the people closest to him, specifically his family.
It’s a difficult watch for several reasons. First and foremost, it shows DMX—who died of a cocaine-induced heart attack in April at the age of 50—struggling with drug addiction. But it also offers glimpses of his relationships with his fiancee, ex-wife, and children, as he wrestles with past mistakes in an attempt to make things right moving forward. The documentary’s throughline is DMX’s return—to his native Yonkers; to Def Jam, home to his glory during the 1990s and early 2000s; and to his family. The latter is where the documentary cuts deepest. It comes at the start of a season in which so many people look forward to seeing their loved ones, while others cope with either having strained relationships with theirs or having lost them altogether.
An unblemished depiction of DMX would be dishonest; DMX: Don’t Try to Understand shows the spectrum of who he was. To his credit, DMX was unflinchingly honest, sometimes to a fault, about his flaws. The documentary captures the ups and downs that come with being in his orbit. One moment you see him dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” with his fiancee, Desiree Lindstrom. In another, you see her confronting him about his dealings with other women (just after he discusses the difficult relationship he has with some of his children’s mothers and complains about the amount of money he has to give them), then him using both the camera and their son, Exodus, to trivialize her grievances that he later admits are valid. These are snapshots of the moments which exhibit how much DMX loved the people in his life and how his actions created tension in their relationships.
The film zeroes in on DMX’s relationships with Exodus and his oldest son, Xavier. He’s a doting father in nearly every scene with Exodus (in 2019, he told GQ he was happiest when looking at his youngest son), save for one where he snatches a cell phone away from the boy, who bursts into tears. “Nobody wanna hear that,” he says before cradling Exodus in an attempt to comfort him. Earlier in the film, he calls Exodus his “inspiration”—the ultimate motivator to get his life in order. It’s as if he’s trying to do right by Exodus to make amends for the mistakes he made with Xavier, who he says, “Didn’t come with an instruction manual.” Xavier spends a lot of time discussing how rocky he and DMX’s relationship has been and how much some of his father’s decisions have hurt him. The film includes footage of their 2013 appearance on Iyanla, Fix My Life, where Xavier tells his father that he wants DMX’s sobriety to be part of their relationship moving forward and DMX chides him for trying to place a condition on it.