Police officers are removing pit bulls from a woman's property in Compton, and DMX is getting worked up about it.
"They're taking her babies," shouts the fiery rap star as he watches the TV news report about illegally housed dogs.
"Whoever's dog that is, they're going to be sick," he says. "They took my dogs, those [expletive]. They took them for no reason. They did that the same way that they did mine, bringing 'em out of my house all crazy."
His agitation doesn't come as a surprise. For DMX, dogs are more than pets, more than a hobby. They're an integral element of his harsh brand of hip-hop.
On several of his songs, DMX barks and growls. His first successful single was "Get at Me Dog," and the tattoo on his back, reading "One Love Boomer," memorializes a deceased dog.
Turning away from the television in the dressing room of the Hollywood studio where he's performing on the UPN program "Motown Live," the denim-clad DMX speaks of dogs as if they're family.
"If people were like dogs, the world would be a much better place," he says in his signature raspy voice. "Dogs only want to eat. They don't want their food and their territory invaded. Other than that, they leave you alone. That's life. Eat, sleep, do what you've got to do.
"Your dog will die for you. You can beat your dog and your dog will see you in a predicament where you're about to lose your life and your dog will be right there for you. That's how dogs get down, unconditional love. Humans are not really capable of unconditional love."
There's an obvious explanation for this affinity with the animals: Like the beleaguered pit bulls on TV, DMX often feels under the gun.
And it's easy to see why. He's an angry, muscular, expletive-hurling black man whose songs exude rage and paranoia. And he's had his share of scrapes with the law.
He's also the biggest-selling rapper of the past two years, and many people, including a number of industry insiders, compare DMX, 28, to the late Tupac Shakur, one of the most charismatic and anti-establishment hip-hop artists of the decade.
"People needed a rebel, and that's what that dude is putting out there," Cypress Hill's B-Real says of DMX. "That's what people look at him like. . . . People were looking for another Tupac, and [DMX] came along and he had that sort of energy and attitude about him. There was nobody else like that."
DMX's third album, due Dec. 21, figures to be the biggest of the month's flood of hip-hop releases, which also includes albums by Jay-Z, Cypress Hill and the late the Notorious B.I.G. His first two albums, both released in 1998, made him the first artist since Elton John in 1975 to debut at No. 1 on the pop chart twice in the same year. The albums have sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. combined.
But his sales and his artistry have been overshadowed to an extent by his legal problems. He was accused of being involved in a post-concert stabbing in Denver in April, and he's been fined for his use of profanity onstage. The most notorious incident occurred in June 1998, when he was arrested on charges of rape in New York. Although the charges were later dismissed, the incident brought attention to a song lyric about raping a teenage girl. All of a sudden, DMX was the latest rap star to be demonized as a social threat.
"Other than that, I was just another rapper," he says, lighting another in a chain of cigarettes. "I was no one to them until I got arrested and they found out that I was also a rapper and millions of people were listening to my music. That's the point when they said, 'Hold up. We can make something out of this.'
"It didn't really bother me because I've always been one to not really give a [expletive] about what people think or say about me. . . . If anything, they helped me sell a few more records. It didn't hurt me. As long as I know who I am, all that other stuff is irrelevant. I know I don't get down like that."
DMX, born Earl Simmons, grew up in housing projects in Yonkers, N.Y., with his mother and five sisters. Without a father figure and with little money, he sought ways to ease his pain.
"I knew that nobody really wanted me here," he says. "I played with people. I basically got people to respond to me how I wanted them to. I was called manipulative before I knew what the word meant. It wasn't a bad thing with me. I just wanted people to respond to me a certain way. I learned early how to get that. I didn't want extra praise or glorification. I just wanted to be liked."
Like many other young men in similar situations, DMX turned to drug dealers for inspiration and guidance. He admired their stylish clothes and their disregard for authority. But he also noticed a problem.
"I saw what they turned into," he says. "This one's been in jail. These two [were killed]. Keeping it real? I look now and I see one out of maybe 30 real brothers that's still here and is all right. It was that being 'cool' thing."