June 28, 2011

The Lox - Money, Power, & Respect (January 13, 1998)


Most hip hop heads consider Puff Daddy's signing of the rap trio The Lox to be one of the most questionable moves in the history of our chosen genre, but that distinction refers to both sides of the transaction.  For the man who will forever be known as Puffy no matter how many times he changes his goddamn name, it stands out as an ill-advised attempt to market his newly-blingy Bad Boy Entertainment to a street audience, an adjustment that took over the sound of rap music on the radio for a short time in the late 1990s after the passing of its most popular artist, The Notorious B.I.G.  Puffy signing The Lox was the music business equivalent of hanging out with the skaters, the goths, and the burnouts in high school when you wore nothing but designer gear and never got into any trouble.  But The Lox aren't completely blameless, either: they couldn't possibly have believed that the hip hop audience would take them seriously after scoring a deal with the East Coast version of Satan.

The Lox consists of three rappers: Jason "Jadakiss" Phillips, David "Styles P" Styles, and Sean "Sheek Louch" Jacobs, all of whom hail from Yonkers, New York.  They formed as a crew in high school and have been rhyming off and on ever since.  They've undergone multiple name changes, for whatever reason, as well.  They were originally called The Bomb Squad, which was, obviously, already taken by Public Enemy's production team; shortly after, they called themselves The Dog Pack (under which name they scored their music debut, making a cameo appearance on the post-Large Professor Main Source album Fuck What You Think), and then The Warlocks, which was later shortened to The Lox, thereby setting the stage for Kanye West to get in a quick joke on his song "Touch The Sky".  They came of age with another Yonkers-based rapper by the name of DMX, who would later form the loose collective the Ruff Ryders, with the trio as inaugural members. 

Fellow Yonkers-based success story Mary J. Blige discovered The Lox and passed their demo tape to Sean "Puffy" Combs for unknown reasons: I assume she really hated what she heard.  Puffy apparently did not, though, so he quickly scooped them up and set about training the group in materialism and 1980s samples, which, to be fair, did not come naturally to the three, who grew up in the streets and, as such, felt an obligation to "keep it real".  They made guest appearances on albums from the late Notorious B.I.G., Ma$e, and Puffy himself, before they were allowed to record their debut project, Money, Power, & Respect, which dropped in early 1998.

Although Money, Power, & Respect sold more than one million units, Jadakiss, Styles, and Sheek all found themselves disenfranchised with Bad Boy Records and their general bullshittery.  They formed an movement that quickly spread across our chosen genre, forcing Puff Daddy to concede and release them from their contract (although not without continuing to earn royalties off of every fucking thing they recorded, Eazy E-style).  Today, Money, Power, & Respect represents little more than a footnote in the backstory of The Lox, whose individual members have all achieved varying degrees of success in hip hop, with Jadakiss being the most prolific, Styles P the most aggressive, and Sheek Louch sounding like a perpetual upstart waiting in the wings for his big break.

I'll end this intro by stating the following: I never cared much for Money, Power, & Respect.  When I purchased it back in 1998, I spun it a few times and promptly packed it away.  It just never captured my interest: hearing The Lox blended with Puffy's sound-of-the-moment was too jarring for me to find entertaining.  At least Ma$e fit Puffy's materialistic mold: the three members of The Warlocks always stuck out like sore thumbs on the Bad Boy roster.  It was not surprising that they soon wanted their freedom from the label; what shocked me are the recent news stories indicating that The Lox are seriously considering re-signing with Puff Daddy, as if suddenly he knows how to manage the careers of anybody but himself.

1. YONKERS TALE
At least this intro tries to set the appropriate mood. It isn't completely successful, but it's still better than Ma$e's intro on Harlem World, where Puff Daddy pretended to walk a mile in Mason Betha's shoes.

2. LIVIN' THE LIFE (FEAT. PUFF DADDY)
Aside from Puffy's intrusion, “Livin' The Life” actually follows up (somewhat) on the concepts introduced during the intro: The Lox derive their crime tales from their upbringing, and have an interesting eye for detail while doing it. All three rappers have distinctive styles: Jadakiss is the cocky con artist, Styles is the grizzled veteran, and Sheek is the loose cannon. As such, they are extremely easy to tell apart, a trait that doesn't apply to many rap crews these days. Younglord's production was a simplistic loop, but it wasn't a bad way to kick things off. In fact, I never cared for this song back in the day, but in listening to it today, I find it to be a decent introduction. There was still no reason for Puffy to force himself into the proceedings, though.

3. IF YOU THINK I'M JIGGY
The shiny-suit-wearing first single (if you don't count “We'll Always Love Big Poppa”, anyway) that sounds like the complete opposite of what The Lox allegedly stand for. Sheek, Styles, and Kiss all hit on chicks at the club over this Dame Grease production, but not very convincingly, as all three sound like they have better things to do. Puffy has also coerced Jadakiss into singing the chorus in the style of Rod Stewart's “If You Think I'm Sexy”, which no, I did not just make that up. Wow, when you see it written out like that, not only does it look like a poor business strategy, it also appears to be really fucking stupid. Anyway, I've always liked Styles P.'s contribution, as he shows his progressive side when he tells us, “Regardless who she fucked, I'm the n---a she deserves”, but then abandons that facade with the admission that “Sheek don't like her, had a dream where he shot her”. This wasn't as terrible as it should be, but it also isn't very good: I prefer the remix that The Neptunes were commissioned for, since at least Pharrell and Chad abandon the Rod Stewart concept-jacking in favor of actual club spins, and does so successfully.

4. THE INTERVIEW, PT. 1 (INTERLUDE)
Skit...

5. MONEY, POWER, & RESPECT (FEAT. LIL' KIM & DMX)
The second single, which sounds dramatic enough without Little Kimberly's chorus, thank you very much. DMX's guest spot serves a dual purpose: not only was he hip hop's reigning cameo king back in 1998 (hell, I bet there were rap albums back then where a DMX appearance was contractually obligated before the label would agree to release it to stores, he popped up that fucking often), he was also the starting quarterback of the Ruff Ryders camp, a crew that also counted his Yonkers homeboys The Lox within its ranks, so this could be considered a family posse cut. (Kim appears mainly because Puff Daddy threw her into the mix: after the passing of The Notorious B.I.G., he never could get rid of her.) While the overall effort is alright (this sounds very dated today, but I remember liking it back in 1998), The Lox are actually the worst aspects of the track, as they all sound relatively bored: when X steps into the booth and steals the show with an energetic verse, it's a welcome diversion. Sigh.

6. GET THIS $ (FEAT. PUFF DADDY)
Erase all of the materialistic vocals and J Dub's beat sounds like a parody of The Ummah's work on A Tribe Called Quest's Beats, Rhymes, & Life. Kiss shows his loyalty to his current employer, who provides chorus duty on here, but he ends up sounding like he's sucking the Bad Boy cock during his verse (“Bad Boy, 'Hits 'R Us'”? The fuck?). Everything about this song was fairly awful. Moving on...

7. LET'S START LOVE OVER (FEAT. CARL THOMAS)
This was actually the third single from Money, Power, & Respect (promotional CDs were even pressed and shipped to radio stations), but no video was ever released (to my knowledge). My assumption is that Puffy was simply trying to promote his newest vocalist, Carl Thomas, but his contribution is merely passable. The artists formerly known as the Warlocks tackle their fond memories in rhyming fashion, making sure to complain about the state of hip hop today, which grows tiresome with the knowledge of how much worse our chosen genre is today. Puffy even inserts himself into the third verse, as if he has ever had anything important to say. Consider this bullet dodged, Lox, as a video for this shit could have been potentially damaging to your careers.

8. MAD RAPPER (INTERLUDE)
Even when misspelled, he still isn't funny.

9. I WANNA THANK YOU (FEAT. KELLY PRICE)
Nashiem Myrick's beat isn't anywhere close to what you would want to hear street thugs such as The Lox perform over, but I still liked its low-key, smoky vibe, and Kelly Price's vocals on the hook suit it well. To their credit, Jada, Styles, and Sheek all try to adapt the best they can, but this sounds like Puffy was trying to water them down, turning the trio into three Ma$es (who, interestingly enough, fails to make a guest appearance on Money, Power, & Respect). Decent, but instantly forgettable.

10. GOIN' BE SOME SHIT
Finally, The Lox (well, Sheek, anyway, as this is a solo effort) take the offensive when discussing the state of hip hop and the backlash they saw when they signed with Bad Boy Entertainment. Sheek's dissecting of emcees who don't write their own rhymes is doubly hilarious if you imagine Puffy being in the studio when he recorded those lines. This has always been one of my favorite songs on Money, Power, & Respect, even if Jadakiss and Styles are missed. This was the first example of just how much harder Sheek Louch has to try to reach the same lyrical level that his friends are already at.

11. THE HEIST, PT. 1
Kiss and Styles act out a bank robbery gone horribly wrong over a beat that manages to sound both dramatic and ridiculous, thanks to the shuffling drums that are better suited for Bad Boy's club hits. The attention to detail is fucking spot-on, though, which makes this tale really good. I imagine Sheek was still at home with his baseball glove, wondering where his older brothers were, as they promised to play catch with him that afternoon.

12. NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH
A very boring Styles solo effort (with Jadakiss rambling on the chorus as though he made that shit up as he went along). The Puffy-slash-Dame Grease beat barely qualifies as “music”, and over the course of his two verses, Styles P. fails to impress the idea into the listener's mind that he is capable of fucking with the ominously named “them” in the hook. This was a misfire all around.

13. THE SET UP (INTERLUDE)
Skit...

14. BITCHES FROM EASTWICK
The three members of The Lox weave a tale about female con artists (the titular “bitches”) who get their comeuppance (sort of) at the hands of Styles P. D-Dot and Chucky Thompson's beat is too low-key for anybody to actually get into the story, but the three verses do their best to paint the picture, even if Sheek claims that a female acquaintance named Cindy's favorite television show is Mork & Mindy just to hit the rhyme. That took me out of the entire experience: nobody's favorite show is Mork & Mindy.

15. CAN'T STOP, WON'T STOP (FEAT. PUFF DADDY)
No, seriously, please stop. For the love of fuck, please stop.

16. ALL FOR THE LOVE
Because his partners in rhyme have already presented their solo efforts, Jadakiss (also known as the first of the trio to release a solo album) submits his for the audience's approval, but the end result sounds hollow, not unlike most rap music these days. Swizz Beatz substitutes spacey sound effects for whimsy, and Kiss sounds not entirely confident of his surroundings, but he gives it his best shot anyway. Skip.

17. SO RIGHT (FEAT. KELLY PRICE)
Puffy's fingerprints are all over this pop-friendly production, and the three members of The Lox make a hilarious attempt at fitting in, but this just isn't their world. It's not that anybody on here sounds awful or anything, nor is it that Kiss, Styles, and Sheek fail to adapt to their surroundings: no, the shiny suits in the closet were so bright that the reflective light burned away their capacity for reason. That's the only reason I can come up with that explains why “So Right” is on a Lox album and not, say, No Way Out.

18. THE SNITCH (INTERLUDE)

19. EVERYBODDY WANNA RAT
Did I miss the Christmas season where all of the children were demanding rats from their shopping-weary parents? Thought so.

20. THE INTERVIEW, PT. 2 (INTERLUDE)
Skit...

21. WE'LL ALWAYS LOVE BIG POPPA
Although in theory, The Lox hadn't been signed to Bad Boy long enough to cultivate much of a relationship with the late Notorious B.I.G., they still manage a loving homage to the man many consider to be one of the greatest rappers in history. (You'll note that Pastor Mase never paid his respects to the man in song form. Hmm...) It's kind of difficult to critique a song such as this, so I'll just say that tacking it on to the end of Money, Power, & Respect (after it had already appeared on the We'll Always Love Big Poppa maxi-single) was kind of weird, but I guess it solved the issue of how to end an album that was in danger of crashing into a brick wall of complacency. (Besides, Puffy put his “I'll Be Missing You”, also from that same mini-album, onto No Way Out, so there is some precedent here.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Lox's Money, Power, & Respect aims for the middle ground between The Notorious B.I.G.'s drug dealing theatrics and Ma$e's pop leanings (which were all a product of Puffy's imagination anyway), and ends up disappointing both audiences. The radio-friendly efforts all sound completely foreign to Jadakiss, Styles, and Sheek, who are all game enough to play along (to their credit), but tracks such as “If You Think I'm Jiggy” and “So Right” have the adverse effect of making their actual street songs sound less authentic, too. All three emcees are decent enough (they all have room for improvement, which is how you're supposed to sound on a debut album), and they fare much better as a cohesive unit than when they are singled out on Money, Power, & Respect, but Puff Daddy, with his focus on business before music, failed to include anything entertaining on here. As such, the album is difficult to listen to today: never have the individual topics of money, power, and respect come across as so goddamn unappealing.

BUY OR BURN? Burn this if you absolutely have to. Bad Boy's salad days had already come and gone at this point, and seeing Puffy grasp at straws to continue his run is embarrassing at best. I actually give The Lox a pass on here, because they clearly had no input on the overall direction of Money, Power, & Respect, but my goodwill only extends to one more project by this collective that hasn't fully realized its potential.

BEST TRACKS: “Goin' Be Some Shit”; “The Heist Part 1”

-Max

8 comments:

  1. djbosscrewwreckaJune 28, 2011

    I don’t buy into this argument of giving slack to artists who put out jiggy, commercial crap because their label / producer / whoever forced them to do it. It implies that artists don’t know what to expect when they sign with a big commercial label and then this label goes on to pressure them to make commercial music. And it implies that they aren’t aware that they’re gonna be putting out pop shit as the price of more exposure and more money in their pockets.
    It also disrespects the integrity of any artist who doesn’t go for the money and is therefore “confined to underground obscurity”.
    Wack is wack. Selling out is selling out. It applies equally to everyone.
    This isn’t a specific rant against The Lox (although they are a good example because some of their less commercial solo stuff is quality), but a rant against the leeway that is given to some artists.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree, but I'm not specifically giving them slack just because they made the mistake of signing with Puff Daddy. The Lox actually show just the tiniest hint of promise on here, which is why I gave them a pass. You're right, though: they should have expected the treatment they received and the input that was provided by the label.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This shit is a buy to me. I still bang this album till this day.

    I WANNA THANK YOU, THE HEIST, PT. 1, NOT TO BE FUCKED WITH, ALL FOR THE LOVE, WE'LL ALWAYS LOVE BIG POPPA are all standout tracks.

    We Are The Streets, now that album sucked balls minus one or two tracks.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You know, I always find it ironic that Sheek Louch said that he would rather be jerked by Puff on the song "Goin' Be Some Shit", when they didn't want to be jerked by Puff at all in the future.

    Still; good review Max! Spot on as always!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm convinced Max is legally deaf.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Unlike Max, I think everything Kanye West has done has been a pile of critical-darling dog poo. I think dope shit like Pieces of a Man-era AZ is actually dope. And I love golden era Bad Boy, shiny suits and all, just like Kanye does, so swallow that irony.

    Max, you try to enforce a false rock-music dichotomy (of 'hardcore' vs. 'commercial') onto hip-hop, which means you fundamentally misunderstand the rap game. Commercial and hardcore are incidental qualities that exist in tandem on most rap records, and Puffy did more than anyone in the 90's to combine the two on the same tracks - so no, his signing of the Lox wasn't unusual, it was brilliant. For a brief time in the late 90s, you could hear true street music stylized to sound like it would take over every club and radio in the world. It was an exciting time. The Lox themselves reflected on their time with Bad Boy saying "it was like playing for the Chicago Bulls", and they probably wouldn't have defected to Ruff Ryders if BIG hadn't died, but curmudgeons like Max just want to knock it because it was popular. You should learn to appreciate golden eras for what they are, dun.

    Oh yeah, anyone reading this who missed the aforementioned time period, you should buy this album.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Gotta agree with anti max - the LOX themselves are even thinking of signing with Bad Boy again so what does that tell you. That 2nd LOXalbum on Ruff Ryder's was garbage. Seriously, it just seems as if Puffy is the anti Christ of hip hop to you. Even on songs that are hit, you never give puffy his due saying "he didn't wreck the song" completely. It just seems as if all of hip hops sins are placed on Puffy, when there's a lot of blame to go around.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Max, what is your opinion on Jadakiss as an MC? I think he's awesome in guest spots (especially Ghostface's 'Run', which Jada completely rips) and The Champ Is Here mix tapes but not so much albums as he tries for too many demographics leaving the experience muddled. I'm interested in your opinion of the guy however

    ReplyDelete