Rewind '99: A 25th Anniversary Retrospective of Ruff Ryders Albums "Ryde or Die Vol. 1"

This LP was ignited by rhymes spit by DMX, Eve, and Drag-on, which contributed to the success of the family-owned record label reared on the East Coast.

Undoubtedly, the East Coast had the rap game on lock in the 1990s. As race relations in the United States hit an awful low, communities from coast to coast needed escape. Rap illustrated that revolt and an emerging group was ready to explode. In the fifth installment of “Rewind ‘99,” we’re looking back at Ruff Ryder's "Ryde or Die Vol. 1" album on its 25th anniversary.

The Ruff Ryders were founded as a family enterprise in 1988 by South Bronx natives  Darrin “Dee” Dean, Joaquin “Waah” Dean, and Chivon Dean. Following DMX's paramount success, the label signed Sheek Louch, Styles P, and Jadakiss, who would later become The Lox. Along with DMX—who died in 2021—and The Lox, their roster was home to Drag-on, Jin, and Eve, who would be crowned the First Lady of Ruff Ryders.

With a stacked house, Ruff Ryders released its namesake album as part of a trilogy, led by Volume 1 in the series. An emerging producer the would get acquainted with, Swizz Beatz–also the founders' nephew—produced over 60% of the LP's 16 tracks.

"I'm still moving off that plane ticket from to New York right now," Swizz Beatz said during an episode of "Drink Champs" in 2020. "At the end of the day, we all got opportunities, we all got chances, we all got chances we all got opportunities. It's what we do with it. We could take opportunities for granted or we can understand that it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be great.”

Decades before Swizz Beatz declared those words, the Ruff Ryders accomplished that very thing. Not only were they great, they were a force to be reckoned with.

When the album was released on April 27, 1999, it sped up the charts, becoming a national treasure.

"Ryde or Die Vol. 1" peaked at #1 on the Billboard 100 chart and topped the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart in the first place spot.

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The Ruff Ryders triumph didn't end there. The album sold one million units after its release, and the RIAA certified it Platinum.

The album was loaded with Hip Hop bangers perfect for the club or cruising on the block, including "Down Bottom," "What Ya Want," and "Jigga My Nigga."

Fast-flow lyricist Drag-on led "Down Bottom," which bolstered relations between artists from the East and West coasts with a feature by New Orleans Hot Boy Juvenile. Drag-on was introduced to Juvi while watching a late-night episode of "BET: Uncut," which he credits with musically bridging the gap between both regions.

“I feel like BET UnCut introduced the South to the East Coast," he said in October 2018 while appearing on "Sway in the Morning."'

From that moment, Drag-on called to get the "Ha" hitmaker on the track.

“When I heard Juvi, and he was talking that real street s - -t, I was able to relate to that right away."

"In the late night, we be cockin iron and givin you stage fright / Yo head might explode, when I bust with the lead pipe Now say it right, Juvenile, Head tight / Stay hype, now page Mike and make sure he got all the yay, aight?" raps Juvenile in verse two.

The track –that peaked at no. 43 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart– was also produced by Swizz Beatz, who Drag-on said was "ahead of his time."

“Swizz is from the Bronx (He’s from Gun Hill), but he was raised in Atlanta so he was able to hear the different sounds [and] he was just combining the Bronx with the Atlanta sound," he elaborated.

Drag-on also recounted multiple times when the super producer would predict that a shift in the Hip Hop scene was imminent.

“The South got a ‘lil wave that’s coming right now. I’m telling you, it’s sounding real crazy in the clubs,” while adding Swizz Beatz was incorporating Southern flair into his projects.

The second song that stimulated buzz in the genre was "What Ya Want" at the helm of Eve, with a feature from Nokio of Dru-Hill.

From the track's first tunes illuminated by Salsa-inspired beats sampled from Carnaval Demo 82E-mu Systems, Eve steers the rap game into a salacious appetite for more.

"Popular since I started my life/ Eve you know my name, probably the dangerous type/ Brick house stall-ion, think you tamin me right? / Not this baby Del-Philly streets they raisin her right / Keep it pretty or can make it gritty be a LADY! / Need boots pocket books and a baby 380!," Eve spits in the second verse as the chorus packs major heat.

"What y'all niggas want? (what we want, wha?) Can't touch (uh) / All y'all niggas need (what we need in our life?) / Is right here with me (uh) / Sounds y'all wanna hear (who dat? who dat?) / That's Swizz Beats (uh) / I'm the one you fear (why? huh?) / It's my time, feel me."

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The track peaked at no. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

In the music video, Eve is seen in multiple scenes rocking her signature blonde cornrows at the time while on a dance floor, cruising in an old-school whip with Nokio, and holding it down with a crowd behind her.

Although co-ed rap collectives were nothing new in the 90s, it was still considered a rarity. While the group did not underestimate her skills, Eve said her experience on the label entailed her as the "adopted daughter from Philly."

"I was the most protected female on the planet at that time," she told Entertainment Tonight in 2020. "I was Baby Sis, but not like, coddled. Baby Sis in a way that you were gonna protect, she hustles with us."

She continued, "Anytime I tried to go out, I was told to stay in the room," she recalled. "But when I did go out, listen, it was nuts. It was nuts. It was on another level. I've never ever seen another club in that way, with people partying and people just having fun."

"It wasn't just about the bottle poppin' and all that. I don't even think we were really into that, it was really more about just celebrating how excited we were to be in that time... We were a movement, and we knew it, and we were a family."

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Even so, the legend living—who would later release multiple acclaimed albums—revered that era in Hip-Hop as groundbreaking. "That time in music history was just phenomenal… I don't think there will ever be another movement that way, ever."

Another classic rap song from "Ryde or Die Vol. 1" is a collaboration across labels between Roc Nation and the Ruff Ryders. The result was the Jay-Z hit single "Jigga My Nigga" which features Eve. That song sparked a major diversion that eventually spiked its success on the chart, hitting no. 1 on Billboard's Hot Rap list. On the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, he landed at no. 6.

During another appearance on "Drink Champs" Swizz Beatz revealed that he made the song for Jadakiss but he refused it. During that confession, he also revealed that Eve's voice is the chorus.

"...the original record was ‘Jaaaada,’ and he didn’t want it,” Swizz Beatz revealed. “Jada’ had ‘Jigga’ first. Then ‘Jigga’ came out and we got into some words. [Kiss] didn’t drop a verse on that. Most of my records, when they come out, they’re not who they were for. ‘Bring Em Out’ was for when Beanie Sigel got out of jail. ‘Touch It’ was for Eve. DMX didn’t like [‘Ruff Ryders Anthem.’] So none of my records really went to the people I [originally ] made them for,” he elaborated.

Years before, in 2011, he described how the "Blueprint" rapper elevated the song after he sent it to him.

"I sent Jay-Z the beat and he and Dame Dash called saying, ‘Yo, this is crazy!’ I came up with the hook where they say ‘Jigga.’ I had Eve and another person I can’t remember saying ‘Jigga.’ People don’t know that’s Eve doing that hook. I told Jay, ‘The track’s called ‘Jigga.’’ And he destroyed it," he recounted.

Since 1999, the Ruff Ryders have lit a path in the rap game by illuminating how grit, street hustle, and indestructible grind can feed the whole table. "Ryde or Die Vol. 1" showcased edgy voices from the East that have impacted lives across coasts and beyond.

Today, to be Ruff means to be down for the Ryde, and to be down for the Ryde means to be Ruff.

As the legacy of this '99 album drives music forward, its impact continues to impress on those who played it on repeat in the past and those who are finding influence from it today.

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