NEW YORK — The day began the way that the man it was all for might have chosen to end it: with a prayer.
Huddled together, a group of 30 clenched one another’s hands alongside a huge monster truck holding a maroon coffin on its bed. “Today’s a special day for us,” one member said with his head bowed at the start of his 90-second invocation. “Let’s celebrate our brother X.”
The group then joined over 1,000 people, mostly members of the Ruff Ryders motorcycle club, who had traveled to Yonkers, New York, to ride in a procession to Barclays Center in Brooklyn to celebrate the life of DMX, a man whom many described feeling an intimate closeness to, regardless of whether they had ever shared a word with him.
“He didn’t have family, but he found family through Ruff Ryders,” said Joaquin Dean, also known as Waah, a co-founder of the music label where DMX rose to prominence. “And then he made a worldwide family and touched them with his music.”
DMX, born Earl Simmons, died April 9 at age 50. He was memorialized Saturday at Barclays Center, where a large “X” made of off-white flowers had been constructed in front of the main entrance. The rapper, who received three Grammy nominations, sold millions of records throughout his career and was the first musician whose first five albums made their debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard chart.
But even when DMX was the most popular rapper in the world, his music inspired a connection among fans in New York and beyond, who traveled to the invitation-only event — regardless of whether they would be able to go inside — to honor a man whose lyrics about personal tumult, they said, had helped them navigate their own troubles.
“It wouldn’t have felt right not to be here,” said Bridget Nixon, who arrived in New York on Friday from Orlando, Florida. She had made the trip with a friend, with whom her bond was forged decades ago over the release of DMX’s debut album.
“He helped me deal with trauma in a time where that wasn’t acceptable to talk about,” Nixon said as her eyes began to well up with tears. “He got me through things from my childhood that now, at 46, I’m still dealing with and addressing.”
She added, “He saved my life.”
It was reflective of the celebratory mood throughout the afternoon — and the deeper spirit of mourning that lay underneath. Boisterous embraces among friends often devolved into lingering, emotional huddles.
The tribute began with a video of DMX and one of his daughters, hundreds of feet in the air atop a roller coaster as he tried to calm her. “Daddy’s here,” he shouted.
It was the beginning of a memorial in which relatives sought to remember the man fans knew for his lyrical prowess and one-of-a-kind flow as Earl, their fiercely loyal family member.
Hours earlier, before the memorial began, a crowd of hundreds broke into several impromptu choruses of “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” and grooved to the rapper’s music on the sidewalk. It seemed that everyone carried some image of DMX, whether printed on shirts and hats that depicted his album covers or clutching on to paperback photos of him.
Bubblez Jenkins, a member of the Ruff Ryders motorcycle club from Whitehall, Pennsylvania, recalled idolizing the rapper in the earliest years of his career.
“I remember growing up watching him and thinking I wanted that,” she said. “The loyalty, the love. The brother and sisterhood.” In April 2018, she received a leather vest emblazoned with the group’s logo on the back. “I actually cried because it meant that I’d have the family that he had,” she said. “He made me feel a part of something bigger.”
After his death, stories of “that one time I met X” flooded social media, where people shared memories of running into him at barbershops, receiving his help lugging bags out of grocery stores, listening to his advice on addiction and forgiveness in hotel hallways, or breaking into inescapable smiles after randomly hearing him shout, “What’s up?” from across the street.
One man, who provided only his stage name, Illuminardo, said DMX had inspired his career in rap. Illuminardo said he had been raised in East New York and had spent several years in his childhood cycling through foster homes, and he said he had been driven to infuse those experiences into his music because of listening to the rapper.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it wasn’t for him,” Illuminardo, 30, said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.