BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — DMX, a hip-hop great who left his mark across decades of music, is no longer with us. But the world hasn’t heard the last of his work.
In fact, you’ll recognize his signature gruff voice on a soon-to-be-released track by a rapper based right here in the Queen City.
Austin Rothwell has donned a number of monikers since he began rapping at age 16 — Bones-E, Austin Nova and now, Austin Ryder.
Now on the edge of turning 27, that last name rings truest to who he is. Actually, it was his real surname for the first five years of his life.
By bearing his mother’s maiden name, Rothwell seeks to honor his family, whom he described as people of character who love their neighbors as themselves. You might be catching a certain theme here that ties into his music.
Before releasing songs as Austin Ryder, Rothwell’s music was more fitting to sit among the earlier works of artists like Kanye West and Drake.
“I went from being the guy who was making songs about getting girls to talking about the dangers of not having your relationship be exactly what The Bible says it should be,” Rothwell said.
Now, his songs are more in line with artists like Jon Keith and Canon — some of the men making their names known in a genre that may sound unorthodox to the unfamiliar: Christian hip-hop.
They’re a couple of music makers featured on Rothwell’s full-length debut with the Austin Ryder name, “A Beautiful Death.”
But the name casual listeners may recognize the most is that of Earl Simmons, or as he’s better known to the world, DMX.
Noting that X isn’t a man who made his name in the digital age, Rothwell took notice of his increased social media presence amid the first autumn months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Respecting hip-hop’s history, Rothwell says he likes to keep tabs on “the OGs,” and while working on what would become “A Beautiful Death,” he and his manager started brainstorming ideas. One of those included what Rothwell described as “this weird feeling” that he should reach out to DMX.
Unsure of DMX’s willingness to work on a faith-based project, Rothwell says he took a shot in the dark, messaging him on Instagram, sharing that he raps, sings, and produces “and it’s all for God’s glory.”
And guess what? DMX responded.
A series of conversations between the two followed. Was DMX going to rap? Was he going to do something else? Ultimately, Rothwell says he just wanted to bring the “Party Up (Up In Here)” rapper’s presence to the album in some capacity, one way or another.
“We never really put a title on it, but it was him, kind of, presenting the album,” Rothwell said.
Buffalonians unfamiliar with DMX’s music may recognize him for another reason.
“I’ve been locked up here twice,” DMX said in an interview with News 4 in 2015.
Throughout his life, DMX had demons to battle. At that time, he had a daughter living in Erie County and his final stay in a local facility took place that year after he failed to pay a reported $400,000 in child support.
But like Rothwell, DMX was a man of faith who recognized himself as a human with flaws. Believe it or not, he was a deacon in his church.
“I thank God for my problems, as well as my blessings because they are equally relevant to my life,” he told News 4.
And Rothwell is someone who knows how to take the good with the bad, too, seeking growth in himself, not only as a musician, but as a person. The change in his musical style is a reflection of who he seeks to serve at the end of the day.
Looking back at his past work, Rothwell says, “It was really all about me. It was about ‘How can Austin be put on a pedestal? How can Austin get some attention? How can Austin feel good about himself, despite insecurities?'”
The presentation shows this. At shows, and in his album art, too, Rothwell doesn’t show his face anymore.
“My goal is not for people to look at me, and want to be me, and want to glorify me, and want to give me praise,” Rothwell said. “But to look at me and say ‘Well, maybe that could be me. The things he’s talking about, I could be talking about. And so, I can more-so put myself in his shoes and give that glory straight to Christ instead.'”
The song in which DMX appears on, through a spoken word part that ends the track, is called “Cry No More,” a composition about vices, pitfalls and “kryptonite,” according to Rothwell.
“It was a really challenging and interesting situation in how it all played out,” he said.
The two began talking in November 2020. Their final communication, when the finished product was sent over, took place the following February.
Two months later, DMX died. His premature death at age 50 was the result of “catastrophic cardiac arrest,” according to the hospital in White Plains where he passed.
“It’s really kind of crazy to listen to because when we were first making that song, it was just ‘Ok, yeah, we’re just making a song,’” Rothwell said. “But now that he’s passed, it just takes on a whole new meaning.”
According to Rothwell, the last words spoken by DMX on the album are “You need to check this album out,” before the penultimate track ends and the final begins.
The Buffalo rapper says the album’s title is centered around the central figure of Christianity.
“It’s this concept of Christ’s death, as gory and gruesome as it was, it’s beautiful for humanity,” he said. “It’s beautiful for those who have faith in him in a tragically beautiful way.”
But it can be taken a number of ways, with Rothwell noting how ends can be grand new beginnings, whether it be the end of a particular season in life, or the end of a toxic relationship.
Rothwell worked with mixing engineer Caleb Mitchell and three producers in the album’s creation. His own parts were recorded right at home.
In anticipation of the album’s September 30 release on streaming services, like Spotify, Rothwell has been hinting at its sound with singles like “6 Feet Deep.”
Altogether, Ryder’s Spotify profile boasts an impressive number of monthly listeners exceeding 2,800, with hundreds of listeners found in an unexpected place — Helsinki, Finland.
Something Rothwell has taken note of is his popularity in places outside Buffalo. One of those locations is a city he’d eventually like to call home.
During conversations with News 4, Rothwell spoke fondly of Atlanta, Georgia — a place comparatively thriving in the Christian hip-hop scene, and a location he feels called to, not only for music, but ministry, too.
But it’s not exactly a big, organized, structured type of ministry he’s looking to take part in there. Rothwell wants to just talk to people. Modeling the actions of Jesus’ apostles, Rothwell wants to present The Bible to people “at face value.” He wants the small things, the intimate interactions with those around him.
Speaking on the impact of his deeply grounded faith, he says, “it would be probably harder to say things that it hasn’t changed” about himself.
With help from opener Ashleigh Cole, Rothwell will perform as Austin Ryder in a release show for “A Beautiful Death” on October 14. The concert, his first show in five years, is happening at The Chapel’s Apex Building in Getzville at 7 p.m.
To get tickets, click or tap here.
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