The LOX's move last year from Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy Entertainment to the rival Ruff Ryders Records--home of million-selling rapper Eve and producer Swizz Beatz, who has produced some of DMX's and Jay-Z's most popular songs--is being viewed in rap circles as the biggest defection since Snoop Dogg's jump from Death Row Records to Master P's No Limit Records two years ago.
The LOX's second album, "We Are the Streets," is due Tuesday on Ruff Ryders/Interscope Records and is expected to debut near the top of the sales chart.
The LOX--Shawn "Sheek" Jacobs, Jayson "Jadakiss" Phillips and David Styles--created a tremendous buzz on the New York "mix tape" circuit in the mid-1990s with its clever, energetic raps. Laced with biting humor and the type of wordplay that can require playing more than once to fully grasp the meaning, the LOX produced lyrics that became the talk of the underground.
With the guidance of Ruff Ryders' management wing, the LOX was signed in 1996 to Bad Boy, which at the time was New York's hottest hip-hop label. The LOX's first album, "Money, Power & Respect," was released in January 1998 and has sold more than 693,000 copies. Despite the group's rock-solid reputation and the success of its anthemic title track (which featured Lil' Kim and DMX, who was virtually unknown at the time), LOX members say they became an afterthought at Bad Boy, getting little attention or promotion from the company.
Not wishing to get into a debate with the rap act, a representative of Bad Boy Records, when asked about the Lox's comments, merely said, "Bad Boy Records extends its wishes of success to the Lox on their forthcoming album."
Maybe it wasn't a good fit to begin with. The group was the antithesis of what Combs--recording as Puff Daddy--and other Bad Boy acts such as Ma$e and 112 represent. While Puffy and company boast of their materialistic spoils to the sound of radio-friendly production, the LOX appeals to hard-core fans who are more impressed with grime than shine.
Now with the future of the label clouded after some disappointing releases and--more seriously--Combs' indictment on weapons charges in the wake of a December shooting in a New York nightclub, the LOX, which negotiated its release from Bad Boy, appears to have jumped ship at the right time.
"People are tired of the glittery stuff," Jacobs says. "They want a brother just like them to represent. They want to see their next-door neighbor, or somebody just like them, rock."
That's exactly what the group hopes to provide with "We Are the Streets," and the time seems ripe for a big commercial breakthrough by a group like the LOX.
Jay-Z, whose braggadocio raps feature the same type of clever lyrics that the LOX favors, has enjoyed tremendous success with his last two albums. And their new album features production work from the immensely popular Swizz Beatz, whose beats back some of the most popular--and gritty--songs of DMX, Eve and Jay-Z. The almost universally respected DJ Premier and the innovative Timbaland also produced songs on the new album.
"We've always believed in [the LOX] artistically," says Chivon Dean, CEO of Ruff Ryders Records. "They're comfortable now, so you're going to get the best out of them. They're able to do what they want 100%."
Dean says she expects their album to sell 3 million copies. The LOX says it features the type of up-tempo sound and intensity that made it popular in the first place, following the somewhat compromised "Money, Power & Respect," which was produced by Bad Boy's commercially minded team.
"We're taking it to the streets and giving off the original hip-hop sound that everybody's used to hearing us on," Jacobs says. "That's what everyone's looking for from us anyway."
Indeed, before they signed with Bad Boy Entertainment, the LOX honed its hard-core sounds on a number of underground tapes. It was the first group to break through for the Ruff Ryders management, paving the way for the success of DMX. The LOX appeared on 1999's "Ruff Ryders' Ryde or Die Vol. 1" compilation, which has sold more than 1.7 million copies, and in February it goes on tour with Juvenile, Eve and Hot Boy$.
As has become almost obligatory for any successful rap group, the members of the LOX will be releasing solo albums. They also expect to pursue careers in modeling and film, the latter courtesy of Ruff Ryders' film division.
And as a testament to its new creative freedom, the group plans on bringing out its own stable of groups.
"Rap is like food, and we're the seasoning," Phillips says. "We're adding spice and consistency to the game."
TRACKS IN THE RACKS: Several notable hip-hop artists are scheduled to release albums in the next weeks. Among them: Atlanta rapper Drama, whose debut album, "Causin' Drama," is slated for a Feb. 8 release. His "Left Right Left" single is a catchy tune that dares you not to dance. . . .
The Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah returns on the same date with his second solo album, "Supreme Clientele." Wu-Tang members Raekwon, the RZA and GZA/Genius are among the guest artists featured on the album. . . .
Also on the schedule for Feb. 8: hard-core New York rappers Screwball, whose debut album, "Y2K," features some of the best underground hip-hop of the last few years. *