J.J. Fad: The First Ladies Of Ruthless Records
By Kyle Eustice
Not even a mention. Yes, the first ladies of Ruthless Records, who’d signed with the Iabel in 1988 and helped make N.W.A more digestible for the masses, were erased from the iconic imprint’s history.
At the time, label co-founders Eazy-E and Jerry Heller hadn’t released any music under the Ruthless umbrella. But Eazy had a strategic plan to introduce gangsta rap to the mainstream — and that plan was J.J. Fad.
“The label was just starting when we arrived,” J.B. says. “They didn’t have any reputation yet because their music wasn’t out, but they knew exactly what they wanted to bring to the table. They knew they were going to be hardcore. They didn’t know how well mainstream America was going to accept it. That’s why we came out first to kind of establish and legitimize the label.”
Despite J.J. Fad’s pivotal role in paving the way for N.W.A and other gangsta rap pioneers such as 2Pac, Snoop Dogg and Too $hort to attain unimaginable success, they didn’t learn they’d been left out of Straight Outta Compton until they went to see it — but there had been signs.
“I guess we kind of had an idea because we would see some behind the scenes on social media where people would say, ‘Oh so and so is playing me’ and ‘This person’s playing DJ Speed’ and 'This person’s playing Arabian Prince,’ and we’re like, ‘Well, who’s playing us?’” J.B. recalls. “We figured we wouldn’t be in there, but we thought we’d at least get a mention. But we didn’t even get that.”
Sassy C adds, “The way they tried to justify it is they said it wasn’t a ‘factual’ movie. It wasn’t true to the timeline type of thing. It was a rendition and more for entertainment rather than factual.”
Baby D admits it stung a bit, saying, “Without no us, there’d be no them. They can put it how they want to. My feelings was a little hurt but I mean, I kept it moving. It’s no hard feelings. It was just like, ‘Oh really?’ I didn’t go cry or nothing.”
As Sassy C explains it, they were told Eazy-E’s widow, Tomika Wright, was ultimately in control of the narrative. There was a rumor going around that anyone who pushed back against her would be ostracized from the film.
“It was a bunch of controversy,” Sassy C adds. “They pretty much put it on her,” to which J.B. says, “And I totally believe that. I think that’s one of the reasons why Dre came out with [HBO’s] The Defiant Ones and included us in that. I don’t think they had a whole lot of say on what went on in that movie. I also think the way they wanted to appear in that movie, if we would have been a part of it, it would have softened their image. I don’t think they wanted it out there like that.”
For Sassy C, Ruthless deciding early on to put J.J. Fad out first illustrated “the genius” of Eazy-E.
“For him to have thought that far ahead, to put out a group that would put his label on the map in order for his group to come out, it was genius to me,” she says. “I don’t see why it would have made them look soft because it was smart.”
Prior to joining Ruthless Records as a trio, J.J. Fad was a quintet (in fact, their name stood for “Juana, Juanita, Fatima, Anna and Dania” in 1987). But three of the women wound up walking away before “Supersonic” became the bona fide Hip Hop classic it is today.
“It was your typical thing when you’re new to the business and don’t really know how it runs,” J.B. explains. “And you think because you have a record on the radio, you’ll just automatically have all this money.
“Well, there was five of us so no matter what happened, there wasn’t going to be a whole lot of money because we had to split it five ways. The other girls thought we should be making more money and they thought there was stuff going on and there wasn’t, so they decided to leave.”
She continues, “I tried to explain, but I think they had other people in their ear, so they were listening to other people who really didn’t know either. It was upsetting, but there was nothing I could say or do to make them think I was being honest with them."
That’s when Sassy C entered the picture. As a trio backed by DJ Train, the girls were welcomed with open arms into the Ruthless family.
“They took us in and treated us like their little sisters,” J.B. says. “They were our big brothers. They loved us. They made sure we were OK. ‘Are you hungry? Do you need a ride?’ They just really embraced us. It was like a family and we loved it. We lived at the studio because we loved them so much.”
And while Sassy C is well aware the original five created “Supersonic” before she joined, the song didn’t truly blow up until the other girls had left.
“I give all respect to them,” Sassy says. “Had it not been for them, it wouldn’t have been our group. But the world didn’t come to know ‘Supersonic’ until we did it. It was more of a local thing then.”
With J.J. Fad’s 1988 album debut, also titled Supersonic, climbing the Billboard 200 chart and the single leading the charge, the trio hit the road and ended up touring for roughly a year and a half.
“By the time we got back by from tour and was ready to do our next album, Dre was like, ‘I have Mary J. Blige, Eve’ … he had like six projects he had to do. He told us it was going to be a good year and a half before he got to us.
“We were like, ‘Ok we’re going to be forgotten if we wait that long.’ He goes Arabian [Prince] and Yella can produce it and you can do it now or wait for me and do it a year later.’”
Ultimately, they decided to move forward with Arabian Prince and DJ Yella and released the album in December 1990 to little critical acclaim. So, J.B., Sassy and Baby D started their families and took a step back from the music industry.
“We always question — and that’s not to take anything away from Yella or Arabian, they’re amazing — but we always question if we should have waited or if we did the right thing,” J.B. says.
“We just don’t know because the album didn’t do well.”
But fast-forward over 30 years later, their impact on pop culture can’t be denied. Eminem, Fergie, the late MF DOOM, Beastie Boys and Redman are just a few of the artists who have referenced J.J. Fad over the years.
J.J. Fad also has the title of the first female rap group to be nominated for a Grammy Award at a time when the rap categories were new and Hip Hop had a contentious relationship with the Recording Academy (let’s be frank, it sill does). But rather than boycott the awards like Public Enemy and other prolific rap groups were doing, J.J. Fad decided to go, a choice they’ll never regret.
“It was a hard decision but the three of us knew — and you gotta remember, we were teenagers — being nominated for a Grammy and then not going would have been devastating,” J.B. admits. “So we went against the grain, us and Kool Moe Dee, and we said this is an opportunity of a lifetime. We’ll probably never see this opportunity again and we didn’t [laughs].
“I always think back and ask, Should we have stood our ground? Should we have boycotted? But I’m looking at my 19, 20 year old self and putting myself in those shoes and no, I wouldn’t have done anything different.”
Sassy jumps in with, “Our moms went with us and that was priceless. I wouldn’t trade that,” while Baby D concurs, “I would never take that back. That’s a memory that stands forever. Would I do it all over again? Yes I would.”
“We did it our way,” J.B. says with a sense of pride. “We were ourselves. We didn’t try to impress anybody. We didn’t go into it to be rich. We didn’t go into it to be famous. We went into it doing what we loved, being our authentic selves, loving what we do and gaining two wonderful sisters that are my friends for a lifetime. What’s better than that?”