Hey, kids, listen to DMX and lay down your weapons! Oh yeah, be nice to your pooch, too!

The trouble-prone rapper and occasional actor has just made a deal for a new starring role--he'll make a series of public-service announcements warning children of the dangers of guns and urging them to be kind to animals.

The PSAs are the result of a plea bargain Wednesday between DMX and prosecutors in Bergen County, New Jersey.

DMX, whose real name is Earl Simmons, managed to stay out of the slammer by pleading guilty to 13 counts of animal cruelty, two counts of maintaining a nuisance and one count each of disorderly conduct and possession of drug paraphernalia.

In return, prosecutors decided against seeking jail time, instead slapping him with $1,000 fines for each animal cruelty count and offering him probation on the condition that he make an unspecified number of PSAs. In addition, the prosecutors dropped weapons and child-endangerment charges against his wife, Tashera Simmons.

Once the specifics of the deal are worked out, DMX, 31, will go before State Superior Court Judge Donald Venzia, who's expected to approve the arrangement at a March 15 sentencing hearing.

"I'm just glad it's over," the rapper told Hackensack's Record following his court appearance.

The Ruff Ryder has his mother-in-law to thank for his good fortune--the district attorney backed off only after Tashera's mother and the prosecution's key witness, Marcia Tate, declined to testify.

The brouhaha dates back to June 1999 incident in which DMX's business manager (who happens to be the rapper's uncle) was shot in the foot at a New Jersey hotel.

Finding Tashera's purse at the scene of the crime, police followed the trail to the rap star's nearby home in Teaneck. There, they talked to Tate, who told investigators DMX had been smoking crack cocaine all week and had pointed a gun at her.

A subsequent search of the house turned up a loaded 9mm pistol in a dresser, hollow-nosed bullets, a high-capacity magazine and six "used glass cocaine-smoking pipes." Investigators also found Simmons' then-six-year-old son and 15-year-old cousin in the house along with 13 pit bulls--hence the child-endangerment and animal-cruelty charges.

The case against the couple was originally supposed to go to trial this week.

DMX--whose latest album, The Great Depression, debuted at number one on the album charts last September--has since fled the Garden State and moved to Westchester, New York.

The rapper seems to be clearing out his lengthy legal docket. Last July, the Grammy-nominated hip-hopster cut a deal with prosecutors in Alden, New York, to end a string of charges against him stemming from a minor traffic violation and subsequent 15-day stint in the county jail.

With his lawyers working overtime to keep him out of jail, DMX will be sticking to toy guns for his next big-screen project.

According to Daily Variety, the X-man plans to reunite with his Romeo Must Die costar Jet Li for Cradle to the Grave. DMX will play an enterprising street hustler who forms an unlikely partnership with a tough cop (Li) to break up an international diamond cartel. The flick begins shooting in February.

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