BET’s five-part docuseries Ruff Ryders Chronicles follows the formation, highs and lows of Ruff Ryders Entertainment. Through their look, lyrics and sound, the hip-hop collective and label—founded by Swizz Beatz’s uncles and aunt Joaquin “Waah” Dean, Darin “Dee” Dean and Chivon Dean in 1997—aimed to bring real street shit to the people amidst the late-’90s wave of mainstream, money-flaunting emcees. The brand was relaunched as several different entertainment sectors in 2010, including Ruff Ryders Indy music label and Ruff Ryders Films.
The docuseries, which began airing on August 12, also details the lives of the collective’s biggest stars: DMX’s heartbreaking youth and tumultuous times in the spotlight are centered throughout the series, while Eve’s battle with depression during the height of her fame is discussed. However, their personal struggles did not deter from their innumerable successes, and this unabashed rawness is one of the reasons why Ruff Ryders found some real riders of their own during their reign.
“I think people just wanted something that they were familiar with that they really understood,” David “Styles P” Styles of The L.O.X. tells The Root of the label’s relatability factor. “And I think that was us: from X to ourselves, to Eve...I think these [stories] were things hood people were very familiar with, but they didn’t get to see it in hip-hop too often. Ruff Ryders brought that element to the table and back [to] the forefront.”
“[The collective] came with the no shirts, and the dogs, and the bikes, and the rawness—they smashed the scene with that,” The L.O.X’s Sean “Sheek Louch” Jacobs adds. “I think people weren’t ready [for Ruff Ryders], but that’s why they blew up.” The Yonkers-bred trio, consisting of Sheek, Styles P and Jason “Jadakiss” Phillips is featured heavily in the fourth episode of the docuseries, “Ryde Or Die.” (The title is derived from their 2000 Eve and Drag-On collaboration of the same name.)
After a co-sign from fellow New Yorker Mary J. Blige, The L.O.X. burst onto the scene as members of Diddy’s Bad Boy Entertainment in 1995. They provided electric features on songs including Puff’s “All About The Benjamins,” Mariah Carey’s “Honey,” and Mase’s “24 Hrs. To Live,” where their natural, down-and-dirty grit became recognizable. Money, Power & Respect, their debut album, was released under Bad Boy in 1998 and received a platinum certification. However, they knew their personal integrity was worth more to them than the glitz of Bad Boy’s then “ghetto-fabulous” aesthetic...and Diddy’s reportedly questionable business dealings.
They famously went to great lengths in order to be released from their contract, such as orchestrating the “Let The L.O.X. Go” campaign throughout 1998. The campaign took a turn at NYC’s Summer Jam in 1998, where the group sported t-shirts with the slogan emblazoned on them and handed them to fans, which Jadakiss noted in a 2000 interview with Vibe that “Puffy didn’t like one fucking bit.” This sparked a grassroots movement amongst their supporters, and also garnered attention from other labels. According to the docu-series, Diddy and the Deans settled on a deal worth $3 million, and The L.O.X. became members of the collective in late-1998. Ruff Ryders’ rough-and-tumble energy—coupled with the Deans’ similar upbringing in Yonkers—made the trio’s addition “a perfect fit.”
“I think that what we did is something to be proud of,” Sheek says of sticking to their guns in several senses of the phrase. “We’ve been paving the way for a long time, we’ve been setting the tone for a while.”
The L.O.X. released their sophomore album We Are The Streets through Ruff Ryders in 2000; it went on to receive a gold RIAA certification, and their songs “Wild Out” and “Recognize” became well known amongst their fans. Their highly anticipated third project Filthy America… It’s Beautiful was released in 2016, and featured production from DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Dame Grease, among many others.
Although they’ve had their respective solo successes and business endeavors, The L.O.X’s musical brotherhood never dissolved. Their fourth studio-album Living Off XPerience (which is what the L.O.X. acronym stands for) is scheduled for release on August 28 via Roc Nation. The album features production from AraabMuzik, Scott Storch, Large Professor, and more; many of the collaborations are currently under lock and key. Two singles, “Loyalty and Love” and “Gave It To ‘Em,” precede the project, and a third (“Bout Shit” featuring DMX) will drop on August 19.
Jadakiss says that while their new album’s content is primarily focused on their own experiences, they will also feature some candid bars about “things going on in the world.” (The album artwork for “Gave It To ‘Em” features a stimulus check for $1200, a nod to the piddling, one-time COVID-19 assistance check provided by Donald Trump.) Sheek adds that Living Off XPerience showcases a “grown man point of view, but over that live energy” that has become paramount to their discography and legacy. For instance, on the retrospective “Loyalty and Love,” The L.O.X. rap about being ride-or-dies for their homies over a boom-bap style beat, a production attribute that has become central to New York hip-hop.
Styles P explains that although they’ve been at this rap shit for decades, The L.O.X. can still roll with 2020’s rap elites, and may even teach newcomers a thing or two.
“As we do outside and as we’ve done all our career: we respect who’s older, who’s younger, our peers,” Styles says. The trio dotes on East Coast emcees Young M.A., Dave East, Smoke DZA, Joey Bada$$, and the Griselda collective during our conversation.
“I think people just like how organic we are and how real we are, and how we carry ourselves in the game,” he continues. “So they relate to that and try to look for that. And plus: we stand for loyalty. So I think they see that and want to acquire the same thing or figure out how we did it or why we did it.”
The L.O.X.’s longevity is due in equal part to their rap skills and core values. Hard work and discipline are principles Ruff Ryders prided themselves on during their heyday (as detailed in the BET documentary), which the group is thankful to have witnessed firsthand.
“Working with Ruff Ryders was just a natural, meant-to-be thing,” Styles P exclaims. “They came from a certain place, and we came from a certain place. I believe we all shared the same aspirations, dreams and goals, and it was just amazing making and seeing that kind of thing work.”
Jadakiss adds that working with the Deans also helped them to become better businessmen, acknowledging that they were so young and “didn’t know shit” when they first embarked on their musical journey. Above all, the timeless trio agrees that the learning process has been the most rewarding aspect of being musicians and that their “ambition and attack” has never been stronger during this new era of their career as a trio.
“Every day you’re learning something new, with trying to be businessmen, entrepreneurs, working towards something bigger,” Styles concludes. “Evolving, growing, and maturing and learning how to delegate with all sorts of people—that’s constant, that’s daily growth. We started this as a hobby; it turned to a job. Fortunately enough, we made it a career. We were able to make other careers out of it, so it was just a constant challenge of growing and being able to mature with the group.”
Watch BET’s Ruff Ryders Chronicles Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET.
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