“You want to take a shot?” asks Jadakiss. “It’ll take the edge off all of us.” It’s barely early afternoon on a Tuesday but the unopened, black bottle of $200 D’USSÉ XO is too tempting to resist. The three members of The LOX — Jadakiss, Styles P and Sheek Louch — are seated around a table at Roc Nation’s offices in Midtown. The rappers have arrived from D-Block Studios in their native Yonkers and are in various states of existence: Styles P eats a healthy salad, Jadakiss scrolls through his Instagram feed while intermittently sipping Canada Dry ginger ale and Sheek Louch is upright and energetic. The latter pours each of us a solid shot — it goes down smooth with notes of blackberry and walnut — and it’s enough to break the ice. “Let’s go guys. It’s gonna make the interview that much better. Watch.”
There’s a lot for The LOX to drink to. The trio just inked a deal with Jay Z’s aforementioned management company. Later this week, they headline a show at Highline Ballroom and release their new album, Filthy America…It’s Beautiful (December 16th, Def Jam), which is their first studio project in 16 years. As such, they’re on a press blitzkrieg. Surprisingly, the most common question is the one no has bothered to ask them: “No one asks how we feel!” says Styles. So, how do they feel? Styles P is “sore” from a rigorous workout (specifically, burpees) and Sheek Louch is “pretty aight but ready to rock.” Visibly less animated than the other two, Jadakiss says that he’s “aight” because he’s not as high as he’d prefer. “I ain’t smoke as much as I’m supposed to.”
Jason “Jadakiss” Phillips, David “Styles P” Styles, and Sean “Sheek Louch” Jacobs have been friends since childhood. They remember hanging out in Ms. Roberts’ Sequential I Algebra class in high school, playing football and attending college together. Jadakiss and Sheek went to Westchester Community College, majoring in Business Management and Radio Production, respectively. Jadakiss rags that Styles P was “a few blocks up” at the county jail. “I started at the County College and ended in the county jail,” Styles laughs. He was enrolled at the same college but then charged with possession of a weapon and 13 armed robberies.
The LOX had rap aspirations but collectively arrived after Mary J. Blige passed their demo to Puff Daddy, who signed the group to Bad Boy Records in 1995 and featured them on his anthemic “It’s All About the Benjamins” in 1997. Following the untimely death of The Notorious B.I.G., the three distinct voices added imperative street cred to Bad Boy. They released the platinum debut, Money, Power & Respect, and subsequently appeared on hits for Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and Ma$e. Following a highly-publicized falling out over contract disputes, which spawned the viral “Free The Lox” campaign, they joined Ruff Ryders in 1999 and released the gold album We Are the Streets. While a hiatus usually marks fissures in a group, The LOX spent considerable time allowing members to release extensive solo material on their D-Block record label and invest in ventures outside of music, like their rapidly expanding Juices For Life juice bars that has locations in The Bronx and Brooklyn.
Roc Nation’s muscle — which includes a deal with TIDAL — was a huge draw for The LOX who want to continue to expand as entrepreneurs. “It’s a partnership and an outlet to build a brand bigger than our control,” says Jadakiss. “We felt that we took it where we could take it. Now we needed, you know, some other outlets and strength to help us take it to the next level.” The rappers reveal that they’ve been courted for years by different record labels and artists to sign. “The dopest artists wanted to sign The LOX,” says Sheek. “This is the dopest situation. Not just music. We can branch out into sports, you name it.” “More music. More touring. More merch,” says Jadakiss on what he wants that next chapter to include. “Liquor deals. Sneakers. Voiceover deals. [Video] gaming stuff. More Juice Bars.”
That first signs of the future are seen in Filthy America…It’s Beautiful. The trio taps familiar names like producers legends DJ Premier and Pete Rock and longtime collaborator Dame Grease but there’s wild cards thrown in too. Newcomer Fetty Wap adds his sing-song flow to “The Agreement” while hip-hop’s happiest guy alive, Gucci Mane, brings Yonkers to the trap with “Secure the Bag.”
The features sprung about organically after the tracks were completed. “When we finished with them, [we knew] Fetty would sound good on ‘The Agreement’ and Gucci would sound good on ‘Secure the Bag,’” explains Jadakiss. “It wasn’t like we sat down and said, ‘Yo. We about to make a song for Fetty Wap. Those two sounded good for them. If Adele had sounded right, we would’ve called Adele.” Gucci sent his version while on house arrest following his recent return from jail.
With three very distinct rappers on the same album, there was no case of warring egos or creative differences; The LOX says that the creation of Filthy America…It’s Beautiful was seamless. Sometimes they would write verses together, other times separately.
“We got a camaraderie,” explains Jadakiss. With a career spanning nearly 20 years, what’s always stayed the same is that The LOX are real friends. Not fake, industry friends. Not friends because they’re on the same record label. They actually like each other — and moreover, they’ve grown together. They’re older now, self-professed “family men” with wives, kids and dogs. Still, their love for hip-hop and each other remains. “That’s something we built over the years. A chemistry you can’t pinpoint.”