Question: What happened to the Ruff Ryders?
Answer: What do you mean? They’re still here.
After almost twenty years, this hip-hop label is still keeping it together with the tried and true formula of family. In 2006, Joaquin 'Waah' Dean - co-CEO and founding member since 1988 - along with brother, Darrin 'Dee' Dean, started off the new year by appointing nephew Swizz Beatz as the new RR President. Together the three plan to expand the Ruff Ryder dynasty through a reality series, a custom line of bikes – and yes through music.
Chronicmagazine.com: You all are one of the few hip-hop labels that’s still in tact. Who’s on your roster now?
Waah: X, Jadakiss, Styles P., Drag-On, Inf and Cross, Aja, My-My, Flash, Kartoon, Jin. We’re good. We’re still breathing.
Chronicmagazine.com: How much pressure is on you to make this X project work?
Waah: We’re in the matrix right now.
Dee: X is on a whole different level. He’s sold so many records. Now’s he’s a little bit different…His project is good. He’ll get his mil.
Waah: We’re looking to get 500,000 the first week. We’ve got about one or two more joints that we’ve got in our pocket and we’re going to call it a night.
Chronicmagazine.com: Now did he scrap everything from the last project that Def Jam didn’t release?
Waah: No. He kept some of those joints. Now, we’re in grind mode tweaking the album. We’re making this album real crazy.
Chronicmagazine.com: Why the switch to Sony with him?
Waah: It was a better deal. There were no conflicts in that situation. It was neutral. The Def Jam situation just wasn’t working for us. X and Jay-Z were cool, but there were a lot of new people and changes. No one from the Def Jam back office was still there. We just didn’t feel comfortable with it. We just wanted to start new and fresh. They had their own agenda and we weren’t apart of it so we went with Sony.
Chronicmagazine.com: Have you finished the re-negotiations for the Lox?
Waah: It’s pretty much finished. There are one or two things that we’re waiting for, but everybody’s on the same page now.
Dee: We had a little difficulty, but we’ll still alright.
Chronicmagazine.com: How’s Drag-On? Did you all ever get a distribution deal for him?
Dee: We’re working on Drag’s deal now.
Waah: We’re going to throw some fire out there. We want to build a momentum. We want his situation to be a unique deal. We don’t want him to just have a regular situation.
Chronicmagazine.com: And Jin is still on the label?
Waah: Yeah, Jin is still on the label.
Chronicmagazine.com: Will he drop another album?
Waah: He’s working on some songs. We just need to get him to the place where we plan on putting him. We’re working on where he wants to go and do now.
Chronicmagazine.com: Why do you all think his album didn’t do so well?
Waah: The Virgin situation was unique. It was before Jermaine (Dupri) got there. The people they had at that time [weren’t] reaching out. They didn’t understand hip-hop. They weren’t from the culture. They couldn’t relate. What we wanted them to put out, they didn’t want to put out. It just didn’t add up. They cut a decent check, but their back office and who they had running the department was weak. Even Gang Starr took a brick over there. We had a couple of situations that didn’t go well.
Dee: We picked one single and they were pushing another.
Chronicmagazine.com: You didn’t like the single that Wyclef did?
Dee: It wasn’t that we didn’t like it, but we knew that wasn’t going to get him the attention. That wasn’t our first pick. The powers that be wanted it or no album - period. In the end it was just like they didn’t put it out. The powers that be don’t care. They weren’t on top of the project. Jin had some good stuff, but he didn’t get good people behind him.
Chronicmagazine.com: How do you scout out talent for the label?
Dee: Every artist that we ever had was brought to us on the street. People know where we are. We don’t have to be downtown for them to get their demos to us. We’re usually in Harlem on 125th.
Waah: We usually meet people in battles on the street. We want the great artists – the artists that’s in the hood but really don’t give a sh*t about rapping but have the talent.
Chronicmagazine.com: How hard is it to run the label now? It seems like you have a lot of pots on the stove.
Waah: It’s all good. My nephew (Swizz Beatz) is running the company now. We had to tweak it a little bit, but it’s family. Ruff Ryders is a family so it’s not going to be but so difficult for us. It’s true family that’s running this business. When it’s hard and tight, a lot of cats jump ship and leave because they don’t get a check this week, certain things don’t happen, the artist is acting funny or when we’re in heavy negotiations. Family can’t go no where. We can have disagreements and things like that, but you know what, show up tomorrow in this meeting. It’s bigger than rap for us. My sister does legal. Another brother does marketing and promotion and my oldest brother does management. We circle ourselves with family so it’s hard to penetrate our business.
Chronicmagazine.com: What do you think Swizz is going to bring to his new position?
Waah: Swizz is not just an artist. He’s a business man/ artist. He brings two different elements. [My brother and I] bring that business, street savvy to it. Swizz brings the artist/ business to it. Artists will be able to relate to him on a different level. Sometimes artists can be unreasonable. They’ll be able to relate to him on that strength.
Chronicmagazine.com: What’s up with the reality show? Are you all still shopping that?
Waah: Yeah. We’re still shopping the reality show. We have a lot of situations going on. There’s a new franchise store we’re working in the South. It’ll be a club, restaurant theme store.
Chronicmagazine.com: What about the bike club?
Waah: It’s growing in numbers. We’re about 20,000 deep and growing in numbers.
Chronicmagazine.com: How can people get into the bike club?
Waah: They’ve got to be riders. They can sign up on-line. The local chapters in their area with screen them. It’s a 60 – 90 day program that you have to go through to become a member.
Chronicmagazine.com: Are you still working on a costume line of bikes?
Waah: Yeah. We’re also working on a limited edition Ruff Ryder Chevrolet coming out in June/ July and putting together a race line.
Dee: Since everyone’s doing clothes, we switched over. Where we’re strong at is bikes, so why not do a bike line. [Ruff Ryders] and probably Harley Davidson are two of the more popular lines.
Chronicmagazine.com: After 20 years, is it still fun?
Dee: We wouldn’t call it fun. Our fun is a little different, but music is something we grew up on. We have love for hip-hop in general. We don’t do it for anything other than our love for it. We love to see someone come from nothing to something. I used to pick Kiss up from high school. We watched them go from high school to having kids and living comfortably.
Waah: We’re having a good time with it. We had our best moments when were just getting started. Now it’s a whole different beast. We learned the business as we were moving.
Chronicmagazine.com: Do you believe not knowing the business is the biggest mistake cats make when they come into hip-hop?
Dee: Very much so. If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, it’s going to take you a couple of years. We can take new artists and educate them to the business because we know the mistakes that will probably catch them. Knowledge is definitely the key. These older cats have wisdom. What it took them 40 years to learn, they can show you in one year. You have to be aware of what’s going on and what you’re getting into at all times.
Keep up with Ruff Ryders at www.ruffryders.com