Wednesday was DMX's birthday.
The rapper told a room of about 50 men that he was celebrating a rebirth. His guttural voice echoed across the room as the men soaked in every single word. "The reason why I reached out today is the one-year anniversary of when I died for four and half minutes," DMX, born Earl Simmons, said.
Last year, the rapper was found unconscious and not breathing in a Yonkers hotel room. First responders were able to resuscitate him.
DMX, who was in town for Meek Mill's Friday concert at the Wells Fargo Center, chose to celebrate the anniversary of his rebirth by speaking with the men of homeless advocacy nonprofit Ready, Willing & Able Philadelphia.
RWA is dedicated to breaking "the cycle of homelessness, addiction and criminal recidivism." Men in the program are offered housing, provided with full-time work and must maintain sobriety with the goal of transitioning to full independence.
Just an hour prior, however, the men thought they were gathered for a routine house meeting. Not even Jason Miller, RWA's executive director, knew about the visit. "When I woke up this morning, I didn't think DMX would be coming to RWA," said Miller said.
Councilman Kenyatta Johnson received the call from DMX Wednesday morning. The rapper asked to speak to an organization geared toward homelessness. Johnson immediately thought of RWA. "This is one of the best programs here in Philly and I knew you'd be appreciative of having the legendary DMX," Johnson told the room.
After finding out DMX was on his way, the room was abuzz. Men had their phones ready to snap a picture. "He's a real street dude," said Dyjhea Emerson, 31. "This is someone who has been in our position."
DMX has battled drug addiction, in addition to his multiple run-ins with the law.
"When I speak to people I look them in their eyes, and when I look across the room, I see myself," said DMX. "Don't look at this as a place you don't want to be or need to be."
Throughout his speech, he got choked up, yet the RWA men urged him to continue. He thanked God not only for the good times but the hard ones, because he said, "God showed what he was willing to do for me."
DMX stayed to play pool with the guys and stopped by the kitchen, where he was given a plate of steak. "This is the real award," DMX said, pausing from his game of pool, "being among real people."
Gerard Gandy, 42, stood and watched with a grin on his face.
"Since I was a kid, he was my idol," said Gandy. "It's very inspiring to be in a program and then to have a rapper like him take the time and speak to us. It lets me know my hard work isn't in vain."
Gandy is a student at the Community College of Philadelphia studying Health Services Management. He only has a few more months left before graduating from RWA.
Councilman Johnson, who stood by listening to DMX speak, was also touched by his sentiments. "I connected with him when he spoke of faith and struggle," said Johnson. "If you listen to his music, he wears his heart on his sleeve."