Multi-platinum rapper, celebrated for raw storytelling, was first artist to top US charts with first five albums.

DMX, the New York rapper whose gruff tone electrified the US music scene in the late 1990s, has died aged 50.

The star, whose real name was Earl Simmons, was hospitalised after a heart attack on 2 April, and had been placed in a critical care unit at White Plains hospital, New York. His family had organised a prayer vigil outside, which took place on Monday.

“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” a statement from his family read. “He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him. Earl’s music inspired countless fans across the world and his iconic legacy will live on forever. We appreciate all of the love and support during this incredibly difficult time.”

His label Def Jam Records wrote: “DMX was a brilliant artist and an inspiration to millions around the world. His message of triumph over struggle, his search for the light out of darkness, his pursuit of truth and grace brought us closer to our own humanity. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and all those who loved him and were touched by him.”

Eve, who was a member of the Ruff Ryders rap collective that also included DMX, was among the artists paying tribute. She wrote: “You were one of the most special people I have ever met. Full of humour, talent, wisdom and love and most of all loyalty.”

DMX scored five US No 1 albums, featuring hip-hop anthems such as Party Up (Up in Here), What’s My Name? and X Gon’ Give It to Ya. With his gripping tales of crime and rivalry, peppered with energetic ad-libs and frank lyrics about his own psychology, he was credited with bringing fresh storytelling and rawness to the “gangsta rap” scene of the 1990s.

Simmons was born in the New York suburb of Mount Vernon in 1970, and was partially raised in children’s homes after allegedly suffering physical abuse by his mother. He took his stage name from an Oberheim DMX drum machine in one of the homes.