Fueled by the hardcore lyricism of The LOX, the edgy sexiness of first lady Eve and the soul-bearing intensity of de-facto crew leader DMX, the Ruff Ryders stood atop Swizz Beatz Triton keys at the top of the Hip-Hop charts from the late 90s to early 2000s. The thing about eras, though, is they eventually end. At some point, due to self-sabotage, refusal to innovate or just good old-fashioned Darwinian defeat at the hands of a stronger movement, the next big thing always comes along. While Jadakiss and Styles P have maintained relatively successful solo careers and Swizz Beatz is designing sports cars and marrying pop ingenues, the Yonkers-based crew no longer possesses the sound that dominates the radio and clubs.
People still love nostalgia and every once in a while a nod to the past that also embraces what’s currently hot can spark a comeback. Ruff Ryders: Past, Present, Future, unfortunately, is not that. What it is is a seemingly thrown together collection of songs that lacks any high points. They threw everything up against a wall but almost nothing stuck.
“World’s Greatest” starts the proceedings with the whole crew, including new addition Mook (formerly known as Murda Mook), in tow over faux-Swizz production. A decade ago, a track featuring the Double R would have been rushed to Hot 97 where Flex would have bombed it into oblivion. Now, even with Swizz playing hypeman and DMX peppering the hook with his signature ad-libs, the song is forgotten almost immediately after it’s over. X doesn’t fare much better on his solo outing “Get Your Money Up,” which nods to frantic club bangers like “Party Up” and “Get It On The Floor” but ultimately falls flat.
Surprisingly, Eve’s upbeat “Hot Steppa” represents the first sign of life for the album bringing some much needed verve with two gritty verses over Angel Aponte’s dynamic production. The album’s other highlight comes on the Swizz solo track “Off Da Cuff.” Never a lyrical dynamo, Swizz at least exhibits a sense of confidence missing from most of the album. CEO Waah Dean’s young son Lil Waah got counted among the few artists who seem happy to be included to shine on “Showtime.” It’s cute, supposedly.
Ruff Ryders: Past, Present, Future is less a stain on the crew’s legacy than it is an afterthought. It’s more than likely that much of the original crew will disavow any knowledge of this project in the future. From the album cover, phoned-in verses and derivative production, the project reeks of a lack of real effort. Let’s hope they don’t dilute their legacy with more releases like this.
Label: Ruff Ryders | Producers: Swizz Beatz, Kevin Randolph, Quinton “Q” Boyd, Black The Beast, Angel Aponte, Avery, Snaggs, Top Notch