“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” by DMX

For readers who don’t know, Ruff Ryders is actually a record label. They were one of the biggest players in the game as far as hip-hop music was concerned around the turn of the century. And in addition to DMX most notably, the label featured Swizz Beatz, Eve, The LOX and Drag-On on their roster. And this song (“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”), as the title indicates, is to serve as an anthem for said clique.

The Lyrics of “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”

But the Ruff Ryders, as presented in this track, are more of a gang than a musical collective. For instance, DMX never goes as far as to namedrop any of the aforementioned artists. 

Verse 1

In fact the lyrics of the first verse read a lot like other songs the rapper has released which are dedicated to the wildness of his street crew. They are presented as the quintessential “New York n*g*as”, the types who’ll resort to bloody violence if tested.

Verse 2

And that motif continues into the second verse. But this time around, at least at the beginning of the passage, DMX makes more direct allusions to him and his initiating gun violence. 

Also he lets it be known that they are in fact akin to armed robbers. And ultimately all of this is not to imply that X is a criminal, per se.  Rather it’s more like he’s a thug. Simply put, he is an individual who was fashioned by the mean streets of New York, embraced such a lifestyle and behaves accordingly.

Verse 3

The third verse commences with the rapper actually addressing an opp, i.e. someone he has gotten into beef with. This person is presented as the type of individual who just keeps prodding X until he responds. 

And basically, the vocalist proceeds to shoot him dead. 

Moreover, the stanza overall is meant to serve as a message to potential upstarts. Or more generally, we can say that it is intended to illustrate that DMX and by extension his homeys are really about that life. And he concludes the verse by espousing staying focused on sex and crime but also implying that his own primary concern at the moment is his musical career.

The Chorus of “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”

Meanwhile the chorus of the song was obviously inspired by the basic fire safety technique known as ‘stop, drop and roll’. But DMX modifies it to rather read “stop, drop, shut em’ down, open up shop”. 

Lyrics of "Ruff Ryders' Anthem"

It is not abundantly clear what he means. But all lyrics considered, this may be a summation of the Ruff Ryders’ robbery/murdering technique.

For instance “stop” and “drop” would be the commands placed upon victims – at gunpoint of course. Then ‘shutting them down’ would refer to dealing them some type of permanent damage, such as taking all of their loot or shooting them. 

And finally, ‘opening up shop’ would represent the Ruff Ryders using the thieves’ booty to further their own economic goals or perhaps taking over an opps’ territory once they are definitively dealt with. Or something like that. Indeed “that’s how [the] Ruff Ryders roll”. 

So at the end of the day regardless of how one interprets the above, it is intended to point to the crew’s dominance on the streets. And in all, considering the outro of the song for instance, DMX does come off as if he wants his rivals in particular to hear this song. 

Verily rap music is a genre where performers are compelled, as a self-defense mechanism if you will, to let the streets know just how violent they can be.

Finally…

So conclusively this song may serve as an anthem to Ruff Ryders Entertainment, which is how it is commonly interpreted, even though there aren’t any actual references to the label outside of its name being used. 

More pointedly, the lyrics come off as being about the clique DMX personally belongs to. Or rather, it can be deduced that all of the Ruff Ryder artists are wild like him.

But we can end by saying that as depicted, the Ruff Ryders are an entity – a group of robbers – which exists outside of the record label.  And we know this because even some years after the label itself has by and large gone defunct, the Ruff Ryders themselves, i.e. the motorcycle crew displayed in the video, remain by DMX’s side.

Facts about “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”

“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” barely made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at number 33 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart. But beyond its chart showing it is considered to be a classic in the world of rap music. For instance, in 2008, VH1 ranked it amongst the 100 Greatest Hip Hop Songs ever.

As for the unconventional sound of the instrumental, that is something which its creators also noticed. For instance, Swizz Beatz, who produced the track, said that he was “just bugging out”, i.e. joking around, when he put it together. 

He was trying to create what in his opinion was a synthesis of the New York and Atlanta sounds at the time. And DMX also proceeded to reject it, claiming it was “rock and roll” and “not ‘hood enough”. In other words, in his opinion it didn’t sound like a rap beat. 

However, he was ultimately talked into doing it anyway by Ruff Ryders’ co-founders Joaquin and Darrin Dean, who also happen to be Swizz Beatz uncles, as well as Swizz himself. And X proceeded to write the associated rap “in about 15 minutes”. And the track went on to become Swizz Beatz’ “first major hit”.

Besides Swizz , the music video to this track also featured a couple of other Ruff Ryder acts at the time, Eve and The Lox. And another 1990s’ rap crew, Onyx, also made an appearance.

Additionally this track was remixed by DJ Clue in 1999. And that time around in addition to Eve and Lox members Styles P and Jadakiss another Ruff Ryder artist, Drag-On, joined DMX in rendering the vocals.

Ruff Ryder's Anthem

When did DMX release “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem”?

This track originally came out on 5 May 1998 as the third single from DMX’s classic debut effort, “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot” (1998). One of the labels behind the track is of course Ruff Ryders Entertainment. And the other is a more-tenured company in the world of hip-hop, Def Jam Records.

Writing Credits

“Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” was written by DMX in association with Swizz Beatz.

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