Living Off Xperience (released August 28, 2020)
If you’re like me, you’ve been eating up BET’s Chronicles series, which has spent the last few weeks showcasing the rise of the Ruff Ryders collective, one of the most game-changing crews in rap history.
The Ruff Ryders’ rise to glory epitomized the phrase “timing is everything.” In an era where listeners were starting to become bored with the shiny, overproduced, bling-ish sounds of the day, Double R burst onto the pavements with motorcycles, pitbulls and unbridled ferocity – loud, gritty and politically incorrect.
To paraphrase the LOX in 2000, they were the streets.
Styles P, Sheek Louch and Jadakiss literally shed their infamous “shiny suits” to become three of the faces of that movement, rewriting the rules of hip-hop for the new millennium.
Twenty years later, we’re in a much different space. Hip-hop is no longer a counter-culture movement, it’s as mainstream as Britney Spears was in 2000. And for the most part – at least in mainstream, anyway – rap again has moved away from its gritty roots.
And once again, the LOX are back to provide an alternative.
Though Kiss, Sheek and P have been an undivided unit since the mid 90s and have dozens of solo records between them, Living Off Xperience is only their fourth collective LP – and just their second since their Ruff Ryders debut in 2000. Make no mistake, though, this isn’t a reunion album. Both Jada and Styles have already dropped two of the best LPs of the year and the trio never stopped collaborating. That chemistry is still evident here, providing fresh meat for streets starving for unfiltered hip-hop.
The LOX’s best attribute is that they’re three distinct MCs with their own styles (no pun intended) that mesh seamlessly together. Album opener “Gave it to ‘Em” tells that story best: David Styles’ slides through with impeccable wordplay (“I ain’t the killer type, I’m the villa type/Black tuxedo in the Porsche, that’s vanilla white/I can’t even pillow fight, guns in the pillow case/Trying to count the old bills, the s*** got the lil’ face”); Jadakiss’ unmatched flow makes for a catchy hook; and the vastly underrated Sheek Louch comes through with his brand of bully bars (“Big man with the muscles acting hard, put the razor to ’em/Silverback, brains on the wall, I gorilla glue ’em”).
Whether it’s Ghost dropping endless quotables on “Move” (“Probably go to hell, got a black Jessica Biel, you lookin’ at a Sinner”); Al-Qaida Jada providing deep introspection on “Testify” (“All the drugs I sold, all the harm I caused/All the casualties is what the drama caused/And the consequences is what they come and brought/Gotta roll me one to try to calm my thoughts”) or Donnie G’s biting humor on “Loyalty and Love” (“You was on some thug s***, today you all positive/Motivation quotes and s***, early morning post and s***/Rise like a propeller, who the f*** is you, Mandela?) every component of this three headed monster carries his weight.
And as you’d expect, Living Off Xperience shines brightest when the mood is the darkest. “Bout S***” features the long-awaited return of DMX and it easily lives up to expectations. Scram Jones’ haunting boom-bap will have your parting like it’s 1999. But there’s way more than nostalgia here. “Think of the LOX” pairs the trio with two-thirds of their heirs apparent Griselda over production from the legendary Large Professor. While I wouldn’t call it a passing-of-the-torch moment – the LOX certainly don’t show any signs of slowing down just yet – it’s the ultimate cosign for the next trio in line for the East Coast throne. My only wish is that Conway was able to join the party and that Westside Gunn delivered a verse along with his hook. But don’t worry, Benny has no problem holding his own while trading bars with three rap titans.
Though individually the LOX have had success with radio-friendly tracks, as a collective their mainstream-leaning efforts tend to be the weakest parts of their albums. That continues to be their Achilles heel here. I’m a fan of the upbeat soul on “Miss You,” but T-Pain doing his overbearing T-Pain thing on the hook is a major sound clash. Jeremih is even worse on “Do To Me” and I’m not sure how this guy keeps getting bookings – he’s like 3 for 300 on producing solid hooks these days.
Songs like “Commitment” and “Dirty Dirty” are equally frustrating – the concepts are strong and the bars are solid but the tracks are hindered by shaky hooks of the former or out-of-place production on the latter.
When the LOX are hugging the block – spitting the OG wisdom of “My America” or celebrating their legacies on “Loyalty & Love,” they’re a well-oiled machine. Although a few creative missteps create some unevenness at certain points, Living Off Xperience is still one of the stronger offerings in the LOX’s catalog.
Living Off Xperience certainly won’t recreate the paradigm shift the Ruff Ryders triggered in the late 90s. Instead, it serves to solidify their legacy as hip-hop pioneers.
Times may change but D-Block is as mighty as ever.
Best tracks: “Think of the LOX,” “Bout S***,” “Loyalty & Love”
3.5 stars out of 5