Despite having only emerged onto the scene three years ago the Ruff Ryders collective have had a significant impact upon the world of hip-hop. And despite being virtually anonymous in Britain with regard to chart positioning, a whole slew of their artists have released top-selling albums in America. In fact DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood (Def Jam) saw him become the first artist in history to have two releases go straight to the number one slot on the Billboard chart in the same year. However, not being one to rest on his laurels, his next album And Then There Was X saw him notch up a third set in little over 18 months.
Nevertheless, before DMX came The Lox. Having publicly freed themselves from an ill-fated relationship with Puffy’s Bad Boy label, January saw them release their eagerly anticipated second album We Are the Streets through Ruff Ryders own Interscope-affiliated imprint. In addition to these releases, albums from Eve, Drag-On and even the Ruff Ryders Volume: I compilation, have all done much to establish this crew as a modern hip-hop powerhouse. Even so, the forthcoming months promise further solo albums from Jadakiss, Swizz Beatz, Eve, and newcomer Yung Wun. Thus in many ways the second Ruff Ryders compilation again acts as somewhat of a showcase. Alongside established producers Swizz Beatz and P.Killer, 19-year-old newcomer, Teflon lays down tracks for the Ryders’ own Eve, The Lox, Jadakiss, DMX, Yung Wun, and Drag-on, as well as guest artists such as Snoop, Scarface, Method Man, Redman, Twista and Busta Rhymes.
First up comes the uninspiring doomsday track “WW III” whereupon Snoop, Scarface, Jadakiss, and Yung Wun supposedly represent their respective coasts. Elsewhere, formulaic Ryders material comes in the shape of “Ride or Die Boyz,” “Holiday,” “Weed, Hoes, Dough,” “Fright Night,” “Twisted Heat,” “Stomp” and top-dog DMX’s somewhat ordinary “The Great.” Slightly more engaging are Jadakiss’ “My Name Is Kiss,” the synthesised orchestral backing of The Lox’s “Go Head,” and the bouncy “2 Tears in a Bucket” which sees the inimitable duo of Method Man & Redman teaming up with The Lox’s Sheek to inject some much needed life into the proceedings.
However, well worth investigating is the sets highlight “Got It All.” With its smooth Caribbean flavour this track will appeal to those who were fans of the Timbaland produced “Ryde or Die Bitch” from The Lox’s last album. Once again featuring Jadakiss and Eve, it shows that a little imagination in the production department can take superior rappers a long way. In addition to these comes a curious bonus track in the shape of Parle’s “It’s Going Down.” Sampling The Gap Band’s “Yearning for Your Love,” this appealing mid-tempo R&B song with vocals reminiscent of 112 is somewhat at odds with much of this compilation
To be honest the success of the whole Ruff Ryders movement remains a mystery to me. Over the last three years the only tracks that have really held my attention are DMX’s highly introspective “Slippin,” The Lox’s “Ryde or Die Bitch” and the DJ Premier-produced “Recognise.” To some degree Jadakiss pretty much summed up with his opening line on the latter of these:
“I know you all couldn’t wait to hear ‘Kiss over Premier.’”
Indeed, such is the lack of appeal that I find in many Ruff Ryders tracks that to hear Jadakiss rhyming over one of Premier’s beats is a welcome relief. In many ways the same can be said of Eve’s appearance upon The Roots’ “You Got Me.” Maybe I’m not the best one to judge but I cannot help but feel that a little more imagination or substance in the production department is very much needed: especially when you are putting out as much product as this collective.
Significantly this is inevitably the problem. Not so long ago the Wu-Tang empire was at the peak of its powers, but over-exposure and the exploitation of their listening core saw what was once fresh stagnate and become, with the exception of Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele, what was at best lacklustre. However, unlike the Wu explosion I’ve never really engaged with the whole Ruff Ryders movement so my reaction to much of this release is generally apathetic. Nevertheless, this endless stream of releases will no doubt continue until the Ruff Ryders crew meet a similar fate as the once mighty Wu. That said, I’m sure that they’ll undoubtedly milk us while they still can.