Rappers and hip-hop artists of a certain type value lyricism (“bars”) over pretty much everything else.
As a purist, I appreciate that, but I think it ignores a vital yet rare skill that only some MCs possess, even those that can fill notebooks: the ability to write and deliver a great chorus.
MC’s that can craft an intricate hook hold a higher spot in my personal rankings and the LOX have some of the best rap choruses in hip-hop history.
Although they are lyrical legends and underground kings, I maintain that this aspect to Sheek Louch, Jadakiss, and Styles P is actually criminally underrated and slept-on. Most people don’t seem to realize that the LOX’s choruses are just as clever and lyrically densely packed as other rappers’ verses, and just how difficult of a task that is, particularly over a twenty-five year career.
So I decided to highlight my favorites.
This is far from a comprehensive list. I’ve only featured hooks that are impressive, either from a lyrical or style standpoint. “If You Think I’m Jiggy” did not make it. They have some iconic hooks that aren’t very complex (Sheek Louch’s appearance on DMX’s breakout single, “Get At Me Dog”) or are delivered by someone else (Lil’ Kim on “Money, Power & Respect”), so those were also excluded.
Let’s get into it…
The LOX’s catchy chorus creation began immediately, on the first actual song on their Bad Boy debut, Money, Power & Respect, “Livin’ the Life”:
“Livin’ the life, either you rise or fall/It’s a two-way street be large or small/Livin’ the life, either you die or ball/It’s a two-way street be rich or poor/Livin’ the life, either you rise or fall/It’s a two-way street be large or small/Livin’ the life, either you die or ball/It’s a two-way street be rich or poor”
The continued on their second release, We Are the Streets, on several tracks, like the Kasino-featured “Can I Live,” where Jadakiss and Styles P do their patented call and response work:
“Can I Live?/Hell yeah but you still gon’ die/C’mon, n—a, you a thug/But I’m still gon’ cry/And you done learned off experience/I’m still gon’ ride/They kill me, you gon kill them?/I still got pride“
On “Breathe Easy,” it’s Louch and ‘Kiss go in-and-out on the hook:
“We gonna R-U-double-F-R-Y-D-E/Revolver, semi-automatic and a P.G.
Hooptie getaway driver, Breathe Easy/Explain things further, murder or get murdered”
While they continued to rip their three Trinity EPs and mixtapes (we’ll get to them later), their next official album did not come for another sixteen years but Filthy America…It’s Beautiful again featured more complex hooks than most rappers could even imagine, particularly Sheek’s effort on the retrospective on their careers, “What Else You Need to Know”:
“I’m a G on these streets, the hammer gon’ blow/The hood fuckin’ with us, but what else you need to know?/I was gonna pull over, she was tellin’ me to go/I ain’t even wanna fuck her, but what else you need to know?/If my n—as lookin’ for you, ain’t nowhere that you can go/Got shooters in every hood, what else you need to know?/Houses, cars, weed, a lot of dough/L-O-X, n—a, but what else you need to know?”
The next track, “The Family,” also features an underrated Styles P hook:
“You could make it or spend it, you could spend it or make it/You could take it or give it, you could give it or take it/All my n—as loyal so all my n—as is sacred/It’s all about the family, put it over the paper”
Fortunately, we only had to wait less than four years for their fourth LP, Living Off Xperience that featured some absolute bangers, including “Move” with Styles on the hook:
“All this drip, all this money, all these jewels/All my n—as got these bitches like ‘Oooh’/Watch what you say when we kick it/’Cause the shooter lookin’ at you like food/You’ve been on the ‘Gram or Twitter on some bitch shit talkin’ about your mood/But we don’t give a fuck, my n—a/Comin’ through, fuckboys better move”
That album’s lead single, “Loyalty and Love,” sees Styles indulging in two things that are part of many LOX hooks – repetition and love for his crew:
“Loyalty and love/I ride with the homie to get buzzed/I ride with the homie to get plugged/Loyalty and love/I ride with the homie to go to war /I ride with the homie, I bring the gloves/Loyalty and love/I ride with the homie to the grave/I ride with the homie to the judge/Loyalty and love/Homies is family, but not blood/We came up together out the mud”
Of course, most of The LOX’s music has come in forms other than their official albums and some of their best hooks came this way too. Their efforts on compilations is nothing short of remarkable; many of those songs could’ve been contender for the best song on an LP.
Their performance on the Ruff Ryders compilations are ridiculous. On the first, Ryde or Die Vol. 1, Jada and S.P. bring one of their best hooks to their back-and-forth classic, “Dope Money,” featuring repetition and floating opposites that would make Toby Zeigler proud:
“From dope money to rap money, back to dope money/From loaded guns to empty ones, over dope money/We got the car house and the smoke, with the dope money/All my n—as’ll die, over dope money/Bust your nine n—as, side by side n—as/If we get the RICO law, we gon’ run and hide, n—a/Death is the only thing that might divide n—as/So don’t fuck around with them Ryde or Die n—as”
It continued on the subsequent Double-R compilations.
On the second, Styles’s solo, “Holiday,” featured Jadakiss harmonizing his partner’s nickname on the chorus:
“Hol-i-day/I gotta make it Heaven for going through Hell/Hol-i-day/And I don’t care if I sell, y’all know what I see/Hol-i-day/I use my left hand when I’m loadin’ the shlls/Hol-i-day/’Cause I know it ain’t right, that’s why I’m blowin’ the ‘L”
Jadakiss, Sheek, and Styles kick off the fourth entry in the series, the aptly titled “Ruff Ryders 4 Life,” that again uses staccato repetition to its advantage:
“My yak, my cups, my n—-s, my ice, Ruff Ryder for life/My dutch, my haze, my spot, my light, Ruff Ryder for life/My money, my house, my Car, my Ice, Ruff Ryder for life/My n—-s, ryde or die, side by side by side, you know why?, Ruff Ryder for life”
Ruff Ryders were far from the only beneficiaries of The LOX bringing album-level performance to compilations. Jada’s hook on “Who Did You Expect” off DJ Clue’s Backstage is more akin to a short, tough verse:
Who did you expect?/What?/L-O-X to the death/And we go hard, dog, every time, nothing less/Catch us at the dice game, blowin’ a thou’/Never goin’ to trial/coppin’ out, holdin’ it down/We could get it on/In any way, shape or form/Any day of the week/Styles, Jada, and Sheek/It ain’t hot ‘less we on it ’cause we are the heat/We Are the Streets/And we makin’ it hard to eat”
While Jadakiss was not present on the Foxy Brown-featured “My N—-z” on Kid Capri’s Soundtrack to the Streets, Sheek and Styles were and the latter brought it on the chorus:
“From the top of New York, where they be poppin’ they corks/To the bottom of the slums, where they be poppin’ they guns/N—as that rock whips and get plenty of ones/N—as goin’ hand to hand and havin’ to run/The n—as that had cake and got sent up state/For the mother who lost a child and had to set up a wake/For those who want out the ghetto, but don’t know how to skate/Guess you gotta live the life and just keep the faith”
Even on compilations that did not get much attention, they were still there, still bringing it like on “In Too Deep” on the weird 2000 Death Row release, Too Gangsta for Radio:
“If you a player in the game and you in too deep/And you get knocked, yo, please don’t snitch/That’s my word/Take your time like ya man do in front of the judge/Ayo, dog, don’t be no bitch/Dog, ya heard?/’Cause if we all get knocked then we all get locked/Word is bond, won’t be no clique/That’s for real/Ayo, sex, money, murder, music, and drugs/Big chains and plenty of whips/That’s all we know”
Jadakiss doesn’t provide a verse on “Dirty Ryders” from the Training Day soundtrack, but he brings yet another hook that would’ve been more than sufficient as a verse:
“Training day/You could hear the sirens/All the cops crooked like who you people jivin’/Head shots/Shoot between the eyes/And bullets in the dome like all you cowards dyin’/Knife work/Stab you in the heart and the throat/And we don’t leave till you gargle or choke/And we black mob/L-O-X guerilla n—as/Show you how to kill a n—a, you ain’t got to feel a n—a”
Sheek and Jadakiss again tag team a chorus on the title track of DJ Kay Slay’s 2003 album The Streetsweeper:
“We gon’ keep flippin’ our cars/Weighin’ the odds/Bustin’ our guns/Raisin’ our sons/Bringin’ the storm/Changin’ the norm/N—as is ass/Let’s get it on/Walk wit’ me!”
By that same year, 2003, The LOX had begun to branch out, building their own extended crew and record label, proclaiming “D-Block!” everywhere they went, including on the J-Hood-featured track of the same name from DJ Envy’s The Desert Storm Mixtape: Blok Party, Vol. 1:
“I’ma give you all of the bullets, all of the blade/D-Block ’til we all in a cage or all in a grave/My gangstas (gangstas) my n—as (n—as)/Our weed smoke, our liquor/Can’t find a crew or a clique that could rhyme sicker/D-Block!/It go down, I’m bustin my nine witcha/D-Block!/I get knocked I’m doin my time witcha/D-Block! For life my n—a, I grind witcha”
A full ten years later, they still had the goods as SP and ‘Kiss went back and forth like they’ve done countless times on the title track to Funkmaster Flex’s 2013 effort, Who You Mad At? Me or Yourself?
“N—a, who you mad at, me or yourself?/Sixteen in the ratchet, tucked in the belt/N—a, who you mad at, me or yourself?/Shoulda went and got a job if you needed the help/N—a, who you mad at, me or yourself?/We’re just dope boy, D-boy acquiring wealth/N—a, who you mad at? Nigga, who you mad at?/N—a, who you mad at?/Me or yourself?”
More than official compilations, no platform was better to Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, and Styles P than mixtapes. Even before their Bad Boy debut dropped, they were ripping DJ Clue tapes, like on “Chest 2 Chest,” where again they proclaim having each other’s backs on the hook:
“L-O-X/Chest to chest, back to back/Glock for glock, mack for mack/Dope and crack is what we sling/Do things you talk about/Player, fuck around and catch a slug in your mouth”
In later years, they’d be reppin’ D-Block but the message on Styles’s hook for “D-Block N—az” remained consistent:
“D-Block n—as will shoot/D-Block n—as will stab/D-Block n—as in the struggle and the grind, tryin’ to get they cash/If you fuck with D-Block we’ll split your mass”
As it did when Jadakiss provided another chant-like hook on “Fuego” for an Alchemist mixtape:
“What up? All y’all could get touched/D-Block, n—a, what [D-BLOCK!]/Parking lot or in front of the store/Ask yourself, who want war? [What up?]”
Speaking of D-Block, in later years, they worked to put on their new artists like Snyp Life, S.I., and especially J-Hood, as Sheek and Jadakiss pop up on “The Difference Is…” with Sheek on the hook:
“You runnin’ your mouth, we run in your house/The difference is, I’m a motherfuckin’ gangsta, n—a/You goin’ on trips, we makin’ them flips/The difference is, I’m a motherfuckin’ gangsta, n—a/You got bitches, but we makin ’em strip/The difference is, I’m a motherfuckin’ gangsta, n—a/You got guns, but we shot at n—as/The difference is, I’m a motherfuckin’ gangsta, n—a”
Like Wu-Tang, Griselda, and other crews that feature both group and solo offerings, the LOX brought their hook skills to their own individual projects as well, like “Lick Shots,” “Shots Fired,” and so many others. Of course, the most well-known of all of these, “Mighty D-Block (2 Guns Up),” began on a DJ Green Lantern mixtape but was eventually featured on Sheek’s debut, Walk Witt Me, with Jadakiss employing the cadence of soldiers in boot camp:
“Everywhere we go, people wanna know/Who we are, so we tell them/This is D-Block, mighty, mighty D-Block”
It doesn’t even have to be their own song. The LOX have brought their stellar hooks as featured guests on other artists’ songs. One of the most notable is Jadakiss on “Last Day” from The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death:
“Can I live ’til my last day?/Hittin’ honies that be na-sty/Gettin’ money in the fast way/And I only care halfway/But I still can’t let you pass me”
Another early LOX feature with a ‘Kiss hook came on Rufus Blaq’s “Artifacts of Life” from his album Credentials:
“We on some life shit/N—as on the right shift/My whole camp keep it tightness with vice grips/And I ain’t going out ’till God hit the light switch/’Cause when I’m gone I ain’t going out like this”
There’s also Styles’s uses of numbers on “Ready for War” from Drag-On’s Opposite of H2O:
“17 shots in a clip, 28 grams in an ounce, everybody bounce/20 inch shoes on a truck, 36 O’s in a key, everybody re-/Murder One felons with the glocks, 24 hours on the block, bodies gettin’ dropped/5000 n—-s actin live, 5000 n—-s gotta die, everybody better ride”
In 2006, Fabolous enlisted his own friends to tout their two crews – D-Block and Street Family – on his lyrical fest, “The Hitmen,” again with Jada on the hook:
“Keys, pounds, ounces, grams/D-Block and Street Fitttttt-am/Jewlery, guns, cars, land/D-Block and Street Fitttttt-am/Keys, pounds, ounces, grams/D-Block and Street Fitttttt-am/Robberies, heists, scams/D-Block and Street Fitttttt-am”
This is only a sampling. There are literally dozens more I could have included, but those featured above are the ones that I still rewind and repeat over and over, years after they were released.
That’s the mark of a great hook.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Connect on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.