Ask most casual hip-hop fans about Ruff Ryders Entertainment, and they’ll probably tell you that it’s the “House that DMX Built”.
But there likely wouldn’t have been the Earl “DMX” Simmons we know and love – a multi-platinum multi-hyphenate – without Joaquin “Waah” Dean, who founded Ruff Ryders in the late 1980s along with his sister Chivon Dean and brother Darrin “Dee” Dean.
The road to DMX becoming a household name started with him and the Deans grinding in New York in the early 1990s, a time when the East Coast was the epicenter of hip-hop and competition was steep. Ruff Ryders became a hip-hop powerhouse by the turn of the 21st century thanks to X and labelmates Eve, The LOX and their in-house producer (and the Deans’ nephew) Swizz Beatz.
Though his 2021 album Exodus would mark the last time Waah and the label would work with him before his April 9, 2021 death at just 50-years old from a heart attack induced by cocaine, DMX had a bright future brewing with Ruff Ryders and the rest of his career, including getting back into film roles and recording gospel albums, according to Waah.
To commemorate the one year anniversary of DMX’s death, Ruff Ryders will host a motorcade in New York the morning of April 9 reminiscent of X’s April 24, 2021 funeral procession, in which a monster truck holding his body was followed by thousands of car and motorbike riders. Ruff Ryders will soldier on without X, as it’s preparing to release a new energy drink, an NFT and new music from Waah’s son, Lil’ Waah.
Waah talks with BET.com about that fateful moment a year ago and what it was like to rock with the Dog throughout his entire career.
BET.com: What went through your head when DMX was first hospitalized last April?
Joaquin ‘Waah’ Dean: We sent people to his house to check on him to make sure he was alright. It was something we went through in the past with X. He’d been in the ambulance before and recovered, so I really didn’t take it there, like he wasn’t going to be with us. I was looking forward to him getting through this. It was a shocking thing, but nothing happens without the permission of God. We were just in prayer because it came out of nowhere for us. It was amazing that it happened just as we were finishing his album.
BET.com: How were his spirits while recording Exodus (his posthumous eighth album) after such a long break from music?
Joaquin ‘Waah’ Dean: DMX was DMX…he had his ups and downs but his headspace was to get in there and do it. X don’t normally like a lot of features on his album, but a lot of people reached out to honor him and let him know that they support him and if there was anything they could do for the album to let them know. He was open to getting on tracks with a lot of features as a formal introduction of him getting back in the music game.
He was in a different space, especially with “Letter to My Son” the song about [his son] Xavier. I was there with him specifically with that. He took some time to write the track because it was really touching to him, not being able to talk to his son and not be close to him the way he wanted to be.
BET.com: Do you have any standout memories of your time with DMX?
Joaquin ‘Waah’ Dean: In the early 90s, I took him on a bus ride to a Philly show from Yonkers. I had some of the illest rappers on the bus, including, I believe, Big L…rest in peace. That was my first experience seeing X battle 40, 50 cats at once. He battled them all the way there and all the way back. Also, we took X to a show once and he performed right after Ice Cube and Eazy-E and they approached him after and were [interested in] him. The Dog was around for a long time – it just took us 12, 13 years to put him on.
BET.com: Do you think DMX could exist as he was if he came out in 2022?
Joaquin ‘Waah’ Dean: Most people like DMX because he was a realist and people could relate to him in the struggle. Only thing is he didn’t like to be on social media heavily – he was more hands-on and would rather be in your space in person. I think that the new generation would really love X if they learn more about him. They could see that X is actually a real artist and his Ruff Ryders family is real.
BET.com: What do you think separated DMX from his contemporaries?
Joaquin ‘Waah’ Dean: Even though he had his [internal] fights, he displayed his good, bad and ugly in front of the world. And everybody don't have the guts to do that. He exposed himself to the highest level and kept true to who he was. A lot of people hide behind the curtains. He never sold his soul for money or fame, and that’s why he became iconic.
It was beautiful to take that journey and give this music to the world with X. Even though he had times when he didn’t wanna show up, he showed up and did his part. He became bigger than artists who had less problems than he did. X was the truth and he represented to the fullest. Most artists blow up and pass that peak in their careers where they’re no longer in the position they were in and they turn to everyone and anyone to get on. X was Ruff Ryders ‘til he died. And we rode with him, through the good, bad and the ugly. Nobody complains when things are good. So, when things were ugly, we weren’t going anywhere. We rode the wave and enjoyed the ride.