It's regarded by some as one of Hip-Hop's great false starts. But understand this: "Money, Power & Respect" is one of the best debut albums of the 90s.
The first album from The LOX, a hardcore trio of emcees from Yonkers, N.Y., is often thought of as an example of how the industry can mis-market and misrepresent a talented act. Released on Jan. 13, 1998 at the height of the polarizing "Shiny Suit Era," the group's debut bears all the hallmarks of the Jiggy late 90s; lots of flossing, radio ready-hooks, pop samples and mafioso flirtations. The LOX would famously balk at this early image and sound, battling their way off of the chart-topping Bad Boy Records for the upstart Ruff Ryders camp, a label built on a street-oriented approach that would eventually help slam the door on Bad Boy's reign.
But their dramatic label exit shouldn't obscure the fact that this has always been one helluva opening shot. Originally known as the "The Warlocks," the trio of Jadakiss, Styles P and Sheek Louch embraced a name change in 1995, after they landed a record deal with Sean "Puffy" Combs and his then red-hot Bad Boy Records label.
"At that time he was like MJ in his prime," Jada recalled last year. "So it was like, everything he said was golden so we was young hungry whippersnappers coming from Yonkers. He knew a lot about marketing and said 'Warlocks' wasn't marketable and 'LOX' was more marketable."
And in the run-up to their debut album, The LOX had enjoyed some enviable, high profile successes. They'd made an appearance on The Notorious B.I.G.'s blockbuster double album Life After Death; helped pay homage to the fallen legend after his March 1997 murder on the tribute single "We'll Always Love Big Poppa;" guested on Ma$e's hit posse cut "24 Hrs To Live;' and, perhaps most notably, been prominently featured on Puff's smash "It's All About the Benjamins." And in fall of 1997, they'd dropped their own hit single "Money, Power & Respect," with Lil Kim and DMX.
But it was a couple of other tracks that first indicated that the musical marriage between The LOX and Bad Boy would sometimes be uneasy. They'd guested on the hit remix of Mariah Carey's "Honey" in 1997; and the first official single from The LOX was the awkward "If You Think I'm Jiggy" The latter was a slinky radio smash carried by a sample of The World Famous Supreme Team's "Hey D.J.;" the latter a bit of typical Bad Boy fluff, a fairly uninspired interpolation of Rod Stewart's disco hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" It was the label formula that had worked so well for Ma$e's Harlem World and Puffy's own No Way Out; but it wasn't as neat a fit for The LOX, with their street sound and sensibilities.
But make no mistake, even as The LOX would be later reborn far away from the shine of Diddy's suits and the sparkle of Diddy's hooks, "Money, Power & Respect" was always a stellar debut album.
The group's potent chemistry had been obvious since fans heard the track "You'll See" (with a smoking Notorious B.I.G. guest verse) when it hit airwaves in 1996. And Puff's radio aspirations didn't squelch that fire on their debut album -- even if it did perhaps sideline it occasionally, as the sugary ethos of the Bad Boy label couldn't always see beyond the trappings of the period.
Money, Power & Respect is the best example of hardcore East Coast rap that Bad Boy had produced since Biggie's 1994 debut, Ready To Die. The LOX deftly navigate grimy street tales on tracks like "The Heist, Pt. 1" and "Livin' The Life" and highlight their skills on rhyme showcases like the MC Lyte-referencing "Goin' Be Some Shit," and even make flossy tracks like "Can't Stop Won't Stop" work.
And the title track is a bonafide classic, one of the best singles the Bad Boy label ever produced and a star-making turn for DMX, the star of the label that would one day prove a more long-term home for The LOX. Not to mention; Lil Kim delivers one of the most iconic hooks of her career. Money, Power & Respect would eventually be certified platinum by the RIAA.
Fans know what happened next. Frustrated with the label's direction, The LOX would seek to be freed from their Bad Boy contract; leading to an ugly public battle with Combs and fans rocking "Free The LOX" tees at shows. The Yonkers-based Ruff Ryders had worked as management for the trio, and with the Ruff Ryders label riding high following the success of DMX's 1998 debut, the LOX surmised their hometown label would be a better fit for them. In 1999, after lengthy legal maneuvering and bad blood (and a reported chair-throwing), The LOX were Bad Boys no more.
The LOX would continue on Ruff Ryders, and 20 years later, that label (and their own D-Block imprint) is their home and their family. Puff turned out fine. The LOX turned out fine. No harm, no foul. Well, sort of...
Of course, there was that heated 2005 Hot 97 interview, where the trio aired out their former label boss over their publishing grievances. Puff would eventually call in and the two parties went at it over the issue.
"We made one record with you," P famously said in the heated exchange. "Money, Power & Respect. It’s 10 years later and you still got half of our publishing. And you can’t make it justifiable that you deserve half of our publishing."
"Real recognize real," Diddy declared. "Y'all know where the office is at. There's a big sign on it. I'll be there."
Things were eventually settled, with Diddy signing over the group's publishing and everyone moving in a better place.
“What he did for us, he didn’t have to do. What he did for us was splendid. He made it so much easier. He made our business beautiful,” Styles told Angie Martinez in December 2005.
"Once we were able to clean up those issues, everything else was really easy," Jada would state years later. "Because that was really the only issue. Artists, [what] you’re writing is your life. If you’re a writer, no one should really be able to intertwine with that. That’s something that you bring, that’s your talent. You should be able to get everything that you deserve off your writing."
Bad Boy gave them their start, but it eventually stifled them as artists. Still, the potency of Money, Power & Respect should be celebrated, it's one of Hip-Hop's greatest debuts. Even if it sometimes takes a backseat to one of Hip-Hop's greatest label feuds. The music was stellar. And the legacy was only beginning.