Xavier Simmons is the son of world-famous rapper DMX, but that's not why he's agreed to meet me at the Museum of Natural History on a drizzly week day. The 20-year-old lives with his mom, DMX's estranged wife Tashera Simmons in Mount Kisco, NY, and has begun pursuing music on his own. There's no traces of his dad's swaggering, loud rap in his music—in fact, it's not rap at all. Xavier's music is introspective, largely acoustic, and sung, not rapped.
His influences come from current artists like Coldplay's Chris Martin, and of course, he has a healthy respect for current rappers like Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. But for Simmons, the desire to create music as art quickly superseded his desire to become a rapper. Producing, writing, playing and recording all his own music, Xavier has developed a set of songs that are fully-formed and stand on their own merit. He took the time to sit down with P&P and reflect on his musical process, his family, and what comes next.
When did you first start doing music?
I would say, 14. Well, as a kid, looking back on it now, I would hear songs and make up my own melodies to them. I could hear what chord progression was coming next before it actually came. So like I said, 14. There was a local guy who had a studio and my friend went there, he told me to come down one day. So I did, we were like rapping, and I loved it. I was like ‘Wow, what is this?’ But it wasn’t until I broke up with my girlfriend and I became suicidal that it came down to either expressing myself through music or taking myself out.
When were you first aware of the fact that your dad was a famous rapper?
That’s a great way to ask that. He’s been famous for most of my life, he got on, I think when I was like six or seven. So I can’t really remember a time before he was famous. Kids would ask me “What’s it like? Did you see that video? It’s my favorite song!” I was a quiet kid so it was kind of like culture shock.
You started off on the rap route, which you soon abandoned, what was the shift there?
It was my junior year of high school, I was about 17. I felt myself reach the end point with the rap. I’ve said everything, I’ve done everything that I possibly can. I started off as a gangster rapper, then like a conscious rapper, then a romantic, emotional rapper.
I want my music to be heard everywhere. In ballrooms, in clubs, movies. I didn’t feel like I could do that with the rap. So once I heard the Kanye West album 808s & Heartbreaks I was like, "wow." It got me, it made me want to start singing. Once I heard Coldplay, it made me want to pick up the guitar, piano, and actually take singing seriously, not fooling around with it—as an art. I can play both guitar and piano.
Some of my longest friends didn’t even know who my dad was until I told them. I never bring it up because people just want to be friends with you because of that, they treat you differently.
When you’re sending people your music or talking about your music, do you tell them who your dad is from the beginning, or do you try to go on your own merit?
Always, the latter. Some of my longest friends didn’t even know who my dad was until I told them. I never bring it up because people just want to be friends with you because of that, they treat you differently. So any open mic that I go to, I don’t even mention it. I want to make it all my own.
Is there plans for an album or an EP or an official release?
You know, it’s really hard now, because sometimes you get creative and sometimes, you’re just stuck. I’m at this point now, where every song is like one meaning. But now that, I guess I’m not having that many experiences, or any worth writing about. I’m just kind of making them up. Making songs that are more obscure or abstract, meanings could be all over the place. But a release? I might re-issue Morning Truths to give it better studio versions.