Welcome back to the latest edition of Flashback Friday Flop, a weekly feature in which I examine a hip-hop album from years ago that was considered a flop, either critically or commercially or both, when it was released and see if it has gotten better – or worse – over time.
This week: The LOX’s Money, Power & Respect (1998)
Puff Daddy and Bad Boy dominated the music industry in 1997, releasing three albums that year – The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, Puffy’s own No Way Out, and Mase’s Harlem World – that combined to sell twenty-one million copies and gave birth to the Shiny Suit Era.
The following year was one that saw Jay-Z rise to superstardom, Master P continue to dominate in New Orleans, and the introduction of an entire squad of hungry cats to the scene. But Puff still had his own set of young guns. Fresh off appearances on all three of those multiplatinum albums from the previous year – as well as a high-profile guest spot on Mariah’s Carey’s remix to “Honey” -Jadakiss, Sheek, and Styles, collectively known as The LOX, were ready for their turn in 1998.
Their debut, Money, Power & Respect, was released in January of that year, peaking at number three on the Billboard 200 chart and eventually becoming certified platinum. But the trio were not fond of the album and became increasingly unhappy over the next year. They had felt that Bad Boy’s move toward a flossy sound had watered them down and they were embarrassed by the “If You Think I’m Jiggy” video. At the same time, Ruff Ryders, who had managed the group from the beginning, was launching a new label focused on a more hardcore sound that they felt fit their sound better. Add in the death of B.I.G. and Puffy’s notoriously draconian contracts, and The LOX wanted out.
In 1999, as Puff was preparing his sophomore album and Mase was about to retire after dropping his own second disc, the trio launched a campaign with the slogan “Let The LOX Go” emblazoned on t-shirts and bumper stickers. Puff relented and the group got their wish, signing with Ruff Ryders (though their publishing dispute would continue for another half-decade, everyone is now on good terms and they have recorded multiple times together).
In the decade-and-a-half since, The LOX have been associated with gritty street rhymes that are full of vivid imagery and clever wordplay, on both albums and mixtapes, as a group and as solo artists, including being in the center of one of the greatest rap battles in history.
Today, Money, Power & Respect is seen as a weird anomaly, an album that was made when the three were indentured servants, putting on shiny suits and rapping over bouncy samples just to avoid Puff’s wrath. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but they’ve gone to great lengths to disassociate themselves from this period of their career.
How does it sound now?
The first quarter of the album is still strong. “Livin’ the Life” and “Get This $” are the tracks that best combine the sounds of the LOX and the Hitmen featuring Puff’s ad-libs that aren’t too overbearing. The DMX & Lil’ Kim-featured title track still bangs as strong as ever and “If You Think I’m Jiggy” is still catchy as hell, though it is distracting because of how out of place the three sound.
But when the majority of the best cuts come by track six on a twenty-one track album, there is a lot of space still left to cover.
“Let’s Start Rap Over” and “I Wanna Thank You” are admirable, but the beats and hooks are so saccharine that they’re hard to get through and the only thing more annoying than the beat of “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” is the hook, in which a woman a moans, “Come on, yeeeeah,” as Puff responds, “I’m comin’.” Yeesh.
There are some bright spots to be found near the end of the disc. Each of the three get a solo cut, the best of them probably coming from Jadakiss, which is produced by none other than Swizz Beatz. The LOX sound comfortable and energetic over “Everybody Wanna Rat,” produced by frequent Ruff Ryders contributors P.K. and Dame Grease and the final song, “We’ll Always Love Big Poppa,” which originally appeared on the “I’ll Be Missing You” maxi-single, is a heartfelt tribute to their star labelmate.
The overall vibe and tone of the album just doesn’t fit the group, although they do their best to overcome that fact. The lyrics are on point, if less harsh than they would become (Styles isn’t opening any songs here by saying, “I’ll have you kidnapped and raped and thrown off a roof“) but they often don’t mesh with the backdrops or they put the group in the position of trying to rap about things that they don’t know or care about.
In many ways, the Hitmen took a step back on both Money, Power & Respect and Mase’s Double Up from where they were the previous year and change. Before, the rare pop sample was used as the exception – “Feels So Good” was offset by “Take What’s Yours,” “N–z Wanna Act,” and others; “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” was on the same album as “What’s Beef?” and “My Downfall”; even No Way Out mixed “Been Around the World” with “Victory,” “Young G’s,” and “All About the Benjamins” – but they soon began to dominate the sound. It became the rule rather than the exception. And if Mase couldn’t make it work, there was no way, Jada, Sheek, and Styles would be able to thrive in that environment.
While the beats aren’t ideal, the album’s biggest flaw is its length. Like so many hip-hop projects at the time, there are plenty of skippable tracks. There are several songs that should have been scrapped and six interludes. That’s far too much. I love D-Dot, but did we really need another Mad Rapper skit? There were cuts made, but they were the wrong ones. The Kelly Price-featured “So Right” originally also featured Jay-Z, but he was left off the album version and “Can I Live,” a standout cut that was featured on a DJ Clue tape, was left on the cutting room floor for some reason. Eventually, Black Rob, who supplied the hook, added a verse and put it on his own debut, Life Story.
A tighter, trimmed-down version of Money, Power & Respect would have been stronger, but the fact is that The LOX and Bad Boy were heading in different directions. In 1996, when they signed to the label, it still had an element of ruggedness, evidenced by their appearances on various mixtapes, including a few alongside B.I.G. The following year, though, Puff found the formula of pop samples and shiny suits and never looked back.
It’s ironic that their label becoming the biggest thing in hip-hop turned out to be the worst case scenario for the LOX.
Previously in Flashback Friday Flop:
Tha Doggfather | Blood in My Eye | The Best of Both Worlds | Can-I-Bus | Beats, Rhymes and Life | Encore | Immobilarity | 14 Shots to the Dome | Forever | Christmas on Death Row | Double Up | The New Danger | A Better Tomorrow | Back from Hell | For All Seasons | Welcome to: Our House | Blood Money | Til the Casket Drops | Yeezus | Nastradamus | Blunted on Reality
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.