A little after Bad Boy and Death Row started to fall off in 1998, way before Cam'ron had the streets yelling "Dip Set, Dip Set" and before the G-Unit were completely formed, the Ruff Ryders were rap's #1 family in the streets and on the charts.
The team was unstoppable, DMX and the LOX had already established themselves as ferocious lyricists, Swizz Beatz's helter-skelter, gruesome productions had everyone from Jay-Z to Nas calling him for tracks, and Eve and Drag-On had hip-hop fans anticipating their debut LPs off the strength of their high-profile cameo appearances.
But lately, the Ruff Ryders are looking like a dysfunctional family. It's been rumored that Eve is leaving the label and going back to Aftermath, DMX says he's retiring and Drag-On hasn’t put out an album in three years. The LOX and Swizz Beatz have been devoting most of their time to starting their own labels, D-Block and Full Surface, respectively.
"It's no beef," scoffed Sheek Louch, who dropped his first solo LP, Walk Witt Me, on Tuesday (September 16). "People may think, 'Damn, it's over for Double R. They ain't doing nothing, Eve left. X doing this. LOX is yelling out D-Block.' I tell them that's not the case. Double R still has the potential to be the top label on earth.
"At the time when Double R had everybody, we were all kids to some extent," Sheek, pulling out his iced-out Ruff Ryders chain from under his shirt, continued. "Now Eve said, 'I wanna get into this acting thing. I wanna get a clothing line too.' X said, 'This movie sh-- is working.' The LOX said, 'We gonna do solo projects. We could get a label.' That’s the only thing that happened. We grew. Nobody's falling apart, nobody hates this person or that person."
It seems Sheek isn't double-talking about the Double R's love factor. Ruff Ryders CEOs Waah and Dee Dean let him out of his contract as a solo artist so he could drop Walk Witt Me on the LOX's D-Block label (The LOX are still signed to Ruff Ryders as a group and Jadakiss and Styles still have solo deals with RR as well). The Deans also let another of their roster's staples venture out as well.
Eve told MTV News last week she had no intentions of "jumping ship," but her next project will be a joint venture between Aftermath and Ruff Ryders that Dr. Dre will executive produce (see "Eve Says Ruff Ryders Still Family, Won't Make New LP If She's Too Burnt").
No matter what she does, Waah said, Eve will always be family. "She's always a pit bull in a skirt," he clarified. "Even if she goes over there, she was born and raised over here. We exposed her to the world. Now if she wants to step it up — she's doing movies and other things — me and my brother got nothing but love for Eve, Interscope and Aftermath. Me and my brother breathe easy.
"A lot of executives, when they have a lot of major artists grow, they like to keep them bonded into deals," Waah added. "We like to see them breathe and do their own thing. There's nothing like seeing your children go out and do their thing because you always gotta come back home. We teach them the formula, they go out and do it and we break bread together."
Waah and Dee have been breaking bread with a few different labels lately. Besides holding down joint venture deals with Def Jam (for DMX and newcomers Infra Red and Cross) and Interscope (for Eve and the LOX), they inked a deal with Virgin to put out Drag-On, new jack MC Jin and a female artist named Asia.
"It's a lot of checks flowing," Waah smiled. "We're just being humble and honest with what we do."
Sheek and DMX both dropped new albums on Tuesday. For Grand Champ, which DMX says will be his last LP (see "DMX Retiring From Hip-Hop, Plans To Read His Bible"), X shed his lone-wolf image and included the whole clique on the record and on a remix of "Where the Hood At," currently on mixtapes.
Jada and Styles' next albums may be right around the corner. Both are in the lab and Kiss says he wants to drop in December. The LOX already have songs in the can for their next group effort, tentatively titled Live, Suffer and Celebrate, and are thinking about a 2004 release date. Drag-On will drop his Hell and Back LP on October 21. Jin is due to debut early next year (see "Ruff Ryders' New Dog: Jin").
Meanwhile, Swizz Beatz is in full swing with his Full Surface Label. His first act, Cassidy, just put out a single called "Take It" and has another cut on deck, "Hotel," with R. Kelly.
To hear DMX's new album, Grand Champ, check out MTV.com's "The Leak."