During an era where rap crews ran Hip Hop, the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan, Death Row Records, Native Tongues, and Bad Boy Records owned the airwaves. Each with a headlining artist, these talented groups ran in packs like wolves. While each would have their chance to shine individually, as a crew they were stronger, instigating debates on which crew was the best, which member was better lyrically, and who could take on who crew to crew. Some Hip Hop fans would even go as far as to create a "fantasy team" based upon the different members of various squads. The Ruff Ryders earned their place at the table of these debates.
Founded in 1988, year's before their name lived in the mouths of rap fans the world over, Ruff Ryders Entertainment actually started out as a management company. Making up the team's leadership trinity, siblings Chivon Dean, Joaquin "Waah" Dean, and Darrin "Dee" Dean managed rappers The LOX while signed to Bad Boy and upcoming spitter DMX. It was following DMX's mega success as a multi-platinum selling artist for Def Jam Records that the Double R started their own label imprint through Interscope Records. Recruiting a team of rappers, singers, and producers, the litter was born and the dogs were set loose.
Behind every successful crew/label is a group of in-house producers with a signature sound that differentiates them from everyone else. Ruff Ryders were no different. While producers DJ Shok and P.K. held it down, the main face of the label's production team was Kasseem "Swizz Beatz" Dean. Nephew to Dee, Wah and Chivon, Swizz's first major beat came when he sold the instrumental for 'Ruff Ryders' Anthem' to DMX, which not only catapulted X's career to great heights but also his own. Going on to create smash hits for Noreaga ('Banned From T.V') and Jay Z ('Money, Cash, Hoes'), the teenage sensation's use of Korg Trinity and Triton keyboards to accentuate the performance aspect of his music made him individual in a genre where sampling was king.
Releasing two solo albums - Swizz Beatz Presents G.H.E.T.T.O. Stories (2002) and One Man Band Man (2007) - Swizz started his own label Full Surface in conjunction with Ruff Ryders in 2001 and was most notably responsible for signing Philly MC Cassidy and Atlanta rapper Yung Wun. Ranked in The Source's 20 Greatest Producers list, Swizz is responsible for millions of record sales with clients including DMX, Jay Z (whom he won a Grammy Award with for the song 'On To The Next One'), Eve, Cassidy, Busta Rhymes, T.I., and many more over a 15 year career behind the boards. Producing the majority of DMX's multi-platinum selling Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood, Eve's Let There Be Eve… Ruff Ryders' First Lady, and The LOX's We Are The Streets, for an idea of his key heavy electronic soundscapes and bass littered backdrops these are the best places to start.
With the backdrops now established the first artist out the gate was DMX. Selling more than five million copies worldwide of his 1998 debut album It's Dark And Hell Is Hot, topping Billboard's Top 200 chart in the process, the aggressive nature of Dark Man X combined with his twisted tales of unruly actions and haunting street dreams made for what many claim to be a certified Hip Hop classic. With P.K, Swizz Beatz and Dame Grease instrumentally complementing the chilling ride through the eyes of street orphan, the essence of inner-city machoism was captured on the tracks 'Get At Me Dog', 'Stop Being Greedy', and of course the label's trademark chant 'Ruff Ryders' Anthem'. Within a year of release X unleashed another number one album, Flesh Of My Flesh, Blood Of My Blood. At the time only the second rapper in history (following 2Pac) to have two number one albums within a one year period, there was no stopping the self-proclaimed dog (or his bizarrely appealing barking, growling, and snarling).
Going on to be one of the most successful rap artists of all time selling over 30 million albums, DMX was also the industry's go-to-guy as far as guest verses were concerned. Popping up on Onyx's 'Shut 'Em Down', The LOX's 'Money, Power & Respect', and Ma$e's '24 Hours To Live', these are just a few of his extensive back catalogue features that made him a rap household name. Besides releasing another five albums, including the platinum sellers …And Then There Was X and The Great Depression, DMXwas a keen actor. Appearing in the action packed flicks Romeo Must Die, Exit Wounds, and Cradle 2 The Grave, he was on top of the world playing both sides of the entertainment fence establishing himself an even bigger fan base. Unfortunately then landing himself in hot water time and time again, X's run ins with the law impacted his career in a big way. In and out of prison, the controversial rapper fell at the hands of the media and only in 2012 stepped back inside the booth to record the album Undisputed after six years away from the mic.
As Ruff Ryders Entertainment began to rise in popularity the growth possibilities were endless. Releasing their own series of compilations showcasing their own talent as well as the talent of others, Ryde Or Die Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 featured bangers from the home team with support from artists such as Snoop Dogg, Scarface, Petey Pablo, Twista, Method Man & Redman, and Bubba Sparxxx. A joint tour with Cash Money Records as well as DMX's inclusion on the Backstage tour with Jay Z followed, as did DVD's on fitness (Thug Workout: Fitness From The Streets) and motorcycle stunts (Ruff Ryders: Wink 1100), and a Ruff Ryders clothing line.
The first lady of the Ruff Ryders was Eve. Originally known as Eve Of Destruction and signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermath label, the Philly rapper had already appeared on Prince's album Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic on a track called 'Hot Wit' U' and The Roots' Grammy Award-winning single 'You Got Me' before she joined the burgeoning Ruff Ryders label. Releasing three albums - Let There Be Eve… Ruff Ryders' First Lady, Scorpion, and Eve-Olution - with a combined sales figure of over eight million copies she also won a Grammy with Gwen Stefani for their Dr. Dre-produced 'Let Me Blow Ya Mind'. She started her own clothing line (Fetish) and became a pretty successful actress - her most notable roles include: Terri in Barbershop 1 & 2, Rosa in Whip It! and Shelly in sitcom Eve.
As a tough and talented girl from the hood, the "pitbull in a skirt" offered a strong role model to the lost girls of the world highlighting important topics such as domestic violence ('Love Is Blind'), her own rise from hardships to happiness ('Heaven Only Knows'), and female independence ('Gangsta Lovin'').
From a managerial stand point building up the career of The LOX, as well as the careers of individual members Jadakiss, Styles P, and Sheek Louch, the Ruff Ryders also helped the three rappers from Yonkers release music away from their restrictive Bad Boy contract. After their Puff Daddy executive produced debut album Money, Power & Respect established them as an act to keep an eye on, many will argue that their Ruff Ryders LP, 2002's We Are The Streets, was the better of the two albums. Changing their name to D-Block and releasing a host of mixtapes and EPs, Jadakiss released three critically acclaimed solo joints under the Ruff Ryders imprint - Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, Kiss Of Death and The Last Kiss - while Styles P dropped two gems in A Gangsta And A Gentleman and Time Is Money. Having recently readopted the name The LOX there's talk of a We Are The Streets 2.
Hard-working and staying true to the streets, the Ruff Ryders adopted a family first, business second mentality. With that said other artists to walk through their doors included Drag-On - whose debut album The Opposite Of H20 wasn't received with the same types of positive reviews as the rest of the early gang but did feature the street smash 'Spit These Bars' - Jin, Cassidy (via Swizz Beatz's Full Surface Records after already being a member of the Ruff Ryders-signed group Larsiny), Yung Wun, Infa-Red & Cross, and former No Limit rapper Fiend.
The Ruff Ryders Entertainment label disbanded in 2010 and is now known as Ruff Ryders Indy. With artists DMX, Eve, Drag-On, Murda Mook, and Lil' Waah (the son of label CEO Waah) signed to the label's new situation, Ruff Ryders may be a shadow of its former self but there's no denying its dominant place in Hip Hop history as one of the culture's most successful label powerhouses.
Words: Will "ill Will" Lavin
Ruff Ryders, the production team behind DMX's first two platinum-plus albums, made their bid for superstardom with Ryde or Die, Vol. 1. The trio appeared to be following the blueprint of No Limit's Master P: they've formed their own label, assembled a cast of wide-ranging acts under its umbrella, and surrounded them with a variety of productions by Ruff Ryders associates like Swizz Beatz and DJ Clue? Ryde or Die, Vol. 1 features tracks from established names like the LOX, Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, Big Pun, Mase, and DMX himself, plus new signees to the label like Eve and Drag-On. Though several of the track productions are excellent (including the New Orleans horns of "Down Bottom," featuring native-born Juvenile, and the salsa rhythms on "What Ya Want"), the album suffers elsewhere by trying to be everything to everyone. It's got a few hardcore tracks, a few bounce tracks, and a few midtempo R&B tracks, but it's far too scattershot and never jells as it should (two complaints often lodged against No Limit albums). The team saves their best productions for DMX spotlights: the minute-long "Bugout" and the title track.
Words: John Bush
The far-ranging stable of rappers on the second Ryde or Die volume ensures a diversity album of rapping styles, while the patented Ruff Ryders style of production throughout makes it a surprisingly consistent listen. Once again, producer Swizz Beatz steals the spotlight with his garish synth-powered rhythms, while the other producers -- TJ Beatz, P. Killer Trackz, Teflon, and Mahogany -- second his signature style. There are moments when the music overshadows the rappers, reaffirming the reasons why Swizz Beatz became such a renowned producer ("Holiday" and "2 Tears in a Bucket" in particular come to mind), and there are moments when his fellow producers lay down equally stunning soundscapes, particularly "Weed, Hoes, Dough" and "Got It All" by Teflon and "Go Head" by TJ Beatz. Yet there are also moments when Beatz's music almost goes too far with its excessive synth use, like on "WW III" and "Friday Night." In addition to the noteworthy production on the album, there is also some stunning rapping by the album's superstars -- Method Man ("2 Years in a Bucket"), Snoop Dogg ("WW III"), and Busta Rhymes ("Friday Night") -- along with some impressive performances by up-and-coming rappers in the Ruff Ryders stable: Drag-On's "Weed, Hoes, Dough" and Jadakiss' "My Name Is Kiss." There are a few disappointing moments such as DMX's mediocre "The Great," the awkward chorus in "Friday Night," and the questionable synth gaudiness, but these moments are seldom.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
Expanding their reach beyond their East Coast locale, the Ruff Ryders collective features a number of rappers from the South on their third Ryde or Die volume along with an array of new producers. Songs such as "Some South Shit" (featuring Ludacris, Fiend, and Yung Wun) and "They Ain't Ready" (featuring Bubba Sparxxx alongside Jadakiss over a Timbaland production) will probably surprise those accustomed to preceding Ruff Ryders releases, which tend to feature exclusively East Coast artists. These songs are deliberate attempts to appeal to the growing legions of listeners championing the Dirty South movement. Elsewhere, "Eastside Ryders" features tha Eastsidaz alongside Styles, functioning as the album's West Coast track. Besides these West- and South Coast-targeting tracks, the remaining songs are what you've come to expect from the Ruff Ryders camp. Eve offers one of her best moments yet on "U, Me & She," one of the album's singles, produced by Ja Rule collaborator Irv Gotti. There's also the obligatory DMX track, "Friend of Mine," and several songs featuring members of the LOX. Furthermore, there are several new producers on this volume in addition to staple Ruff Ryder producers Swizz Beatz and P.K. These newcomers remain consistent with the trademark synth-heavy Ruff Ryder sound but do bring a fresh approach to the album that was somewhat missing on the preceding volume. Chances are, if you enjoyed the previous volumes -- or if you simply enjoy the sound of commercial rap circa 2001 -- you'll find much to savor here. There's enough variety here to offer something for everyone, even if that means no one will enjoy everything.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
One Man Band Man is the debut studio album by American hip hop recording artist and record producer Swizz Beatz, released on August 21, 2007, through Full Surface and Universal Motown Records. The album features guest appearances from Drag-On, Lil Wayne, R. Kelly and Jadakiss. The album's production was handled by Swizz Beatz himself, as well as producers such as The Individualz, Needlz, Nottz, Snags, Neo Da Matrix, Eric McCaine, Young World Music.
Swizz Beatz announced he was working on his first solo album on November 14, 2006 at Green Lantern's mixshow. The first offering was "Come and Get Me" featuring Cassidy and produced by Buckwild. Swizz said this about it: "This is the warm up... the push up before you hit the bar. I'm tired of playing the back. It's showtime. I'm ready to get it poppin'... come and get me."
The LOX's highly publicized and drawn-out defection from Puffy's Bad Boy Records to DMX's Ruff Ryder camp was imperative. Not only because Puffy's glossy sound openly clashed with the group's thug mentality, but the change of scenery also furnished Jadakiss, Sheek, and Styles with an opportunity to assert their own identity. While The LOX as a unit do not offer much in terms of topical dexterity, Jadakiss is one the industry's most underappreciated lyricists, which he clearly reiterates on his solo cut "Blood Pressure." Ruff Ryders in-house producer Swizz Beatz handles most of the production duties, and although his syncopated production can become repetitious, DJ Premier ("Recognize") and Timbaland ("Ryde or Die Bitch," featuring Eve and Drag-On) provide some much-needed diversity with their signature sounds. The rowdy lead single, "Wild Out," is an obvious reworking of Jay-Z's "Jigga My Nigga," but it was a hit on rap radio.
Words: Matt Conaway
The LOX are some of the better rappers on the Bad Boy roster, more dexterous, clever, and hook-conscious than their mentor, Puff Daddy. That doesn't necessarily mean that their debut, Money, Power & Respect, is better than Puff's record, but it does mean that it's frequently exciting and invigorating. Like most late-'90s hip-hop records, the album runs way too long and is bogged down by filler, but the very best moments equal anything that has been released by Bad Boy, and in many cases even surpasses it in terms of lyrical skills and energy.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine