Displays of the Double-R emblem engulfed the streets of downtown Brooklyn last Friday night as throngs of fans queued in front of Barclays Center for the sold-out Ruff Ryders and Friends Reunion Tour. It was a far cry from the fantastical first night of the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour that happened almost a year ago on the same stage, where floor-length mink coats and glistening jewels marked the night. There was no glitz, glam, or gimmicks — just rap.
The Yonkers record label and collective founded by Joaquin “Waah” Dean, Darin “Dee” Dean, and Chivon Dean in 1988 sparked the careers of some of hip-hop’s most prolific forces: DMX, Jadakiss, Styles P, Swizz Beatz, and more. Ruff Ryders produced voices that have resonated through time, positioning their place in the pantheon of rap and in the music catalogs of fans forever.
Friday night, a new roster of Ruff Ryders signees — Lil Waah, Quadir Lateef, Drew James, Brillo — opened the show, offering a peek at a new era for the label. But to the crowd, it seemed they were merely pedestals to raise up the old, familiar stars.
Rapper Drag-On kicked off the main event. Then Cassidy took the opportunity not to wax nostalgic on the Ruff Ryders’ powerhouse days, but instead to appease all the old hip-hop purists in the audience by criticizing the new era of rap. “I never chose to listen to Yachty and Lil Uzi. Let’s take it back to Jeezy, Weezy, and Lil Boosie,” he rapped. “These lil’ newbies make me feel a lil’ woozy. I usually be wanting to hurl, cuz Young M.A. the only one punching, but she still punch like a girl.”
Despite Cassidy’s sentiments, the women were the stars of the show.
Eve, first lady of Ruff Ryders, popped out with a familiar and reassuring fervor. The “Brick House Stallion” was back in full effect. Though it seems she’s been far away from the music scene, living her best life with her continued acting career and millionaire husband — founder of the Gumball 3000 brand, Maximillion Cooper — she didn’t miss a beat onstage. Eve had one of the more solid performances of the night. She ran through her most-recognized singles — “Who’s That Girl,” “Let Me Blow Ya Mind,” “What Ya Want,” “Tambourine” — and even recited her verse from Missy Elliott’s “Hot Boyz (Remix).” She followed up with a nostalgic return to her best-known song, “Love Is Blind.” My photographer told me Eve had been preparing backstage for her appearance hours before the show. This wasn’t just a quick stop in from her new life; Eve came to do her job and do it well.
Swizz Beatz came out as the showman he’s always proven himself to be, with a ringmaster’s energy and a street legend’s swagger. He brought out Fat Joe and Remy Ma — who won the crowd with her a cappella rap battle–esque verse. The LOX glided through their hits. Other brief appearances added excitement to the lulls and hiccups between sets: Akon, French Montana, Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s Lil’ Cease, and M.O.P.
Headliner DMX made an entrance that wasn’t as grand as one might expect for the occasion. If you blinked, you might’ve missed him glide onstage in a black leather jacket and shades shortly after an unidentified authority on the mic yelled, “The Dog said everybody get the fuck off the stage! If you are not part of his show, get off the stage!”
Concerns for DMX’s health emerged after a clip from his performance circulated on social media. At one point in the clip, DMX breaks into the chorus of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Some found the song choice to be strange and out of context, but it’s not — DMX sampled the song in his 1998 track “I Can Feel It,” off It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.
The comedic outbursts, slurred soliloquies, sweat, prayers, and growls may have perplexed a newer audience, but that unpredictability has been a part of the rapper’s persona for years. Dark Man X is a mercurial presence, quick-witted and intense, with an inveterate rawness matched by no other rap superstar.
The 46-year-old veteran has battled it all: drug addiction, twelve felonies, incarceration, divorce, bankruptcy, conquering the music industry’s highest peaks, and navigating its lowest pits. With seven studio albums spanning three decades, DMX has sold over 74 million albums worldwide. His first and sophomore efforts — which went quadruple platinum — both debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 in 1998, making him the first rapper in history to release two number one albums in the same year. He’s earned three Grammy nominations, five MTV Video Music Award nominations, and two American Music Awards, and launched a successful acting career, appearing in more than fifteen feature films and even more television shows.
Despite the gripes from fellow Ruff Ryder Cassidy and many other hip-hop traditionalists, DMX quelled concerns for the deemed downfall of his era of artists: “There are still some good rappers left, trust me, because I know them.”
Onstage, he went from, “I’ve been around the world. I’ve fucked a lot of bitches. And I don’t say that to brag. I say it to say it. But when I’m onstage with a room full of people who love me, it’s better than the best pussy I’ve ever gotten in my life,” to, minutes later, telling the crowd, “I pray that I can touch one person in the name of Jesus.”
Sometimes he displayed the demeanor of a stand-up comedian. “Who’s fucking with my mic?” he asked the sound guy, who denied any foul play. “ ‘It ain’t me?’ Oh, he’s copping out!” The crowd responded with jeers.
“New York is the best place in the fucking world,” he declared.
But it wasn’t his behavior that was concerning at the reunion tour. His show last year in New York at the B.B. King Blues Club was reminiscent of his glory days (shirt off and all). DMX took it easy this night, granted, but it wasn’t that he put on a terrible show at Barclays; he didn’t. It was the audience who seemed restless after the show started an hour late (which often happens with rap concerts, anyway) and a two-hour-long lineup kept them waiting for DMX. By the time the show’s star hit the stage, the crowd was visibly fatigued. Some cleared out before X even finished his set — an older crowd probably opting out of the parking and traffic frenzy that would ensue after the concert’s end.
He went through his chart toppers — “Get at Me Dog,” “What’s My Name?,” “Where the Hood At,” What These Bitches Want,” “Who We Be,” “Get It On the Floor,” “Money, Power & Respect,” “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” and the timeless club favorite “Party Up.” He walked into the crowd for “How’s It Goin’ Down,” and smiled as women recited his lyrics verbatim.
A ladies’ man who’s paraded his real-life infidelities for the public through his music, DMX shared another reality with the audience. “My best friend is still my best friend,” he said, pointing to his ex-wife, Tashera Simmons, who walked onstage and embraced him. The former partners of more than twenty years exchanged sincerities with a heartfelt hug.
“Don’t expect me to be your fucking role model,” DMX declared. “I’m not who you wanna be, but I’m one you should listen to. You can count on me for the truth. Uncut.”
As he transitioned into his somber hit “Slippin’,” he raised a lighter in the air, and the audience followed suit, illuminating the dark arena. DMX made a request: “Turn the house lights off.” But they remained on. “Aiight,” he said. “Ima find you later.”
You can see more photos from the evening here.