On its silver anniversary, Boardroom celebrates how the title track from The Lox’s debut set a standard for cashing in without selling out.
It didn’t matter if you were a grown man, little boy, or boss lady. When Lil’ Kim came in on “Money, Power & Respect,” you felt something. Scared, startled, or inspired? Well, that choice was yours.
Making Max Weber’s strategy of social climbing a profane proclamation, the OG Queen Bee blessed Bad Boy’s brashest outfit, The Lox, with their first hit single.
Merging Manhattan high-rise ambitions with the gully grind of Yonkers youth, the title track off their debut album was a call to action for all listeners — and a lesson in economics besides.
Since arriving 25 years ago on Jan. 13, 1998, the Money, Power & Respect LP has proved Platinum in sales but remained especially relevant thanks to the gravity of its title track.
Doing over 22 million streams on Spotify alone, the namesake single has lived up to every element of its chorus by bringing nuance to each noun back then and all the way to today.
Boardroom breaks down how the track came to be and how the trio keeps earning today.
Throughout the ’90s, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs rose from the ranks of Uptown understudy to the most powerful man in hip-hop.
From Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear” to the introduction of The Notorious BIG, Bad Boy couldn’t be stopped. The glossy promoter and producer had the acumen for polishing the hardest rocks and turning music into movies.
Before Bad Boy, a young Mason Betha was Murda Mase until P. Diddy made him pretty. Junior M.A.F.I.A. was cool, but Lil’ Kim couldn’t miss when it came to charting as a solo star, going double-platinum with her Hard Core debut.
However, while Puff had a talent roster that could cover magazines and illuminate music videos, he couldn’t lose the streets.
Enter The Lox.
Emerging from the underground, the Yonkers-bred kids made their big debut in 1994 by appearing on a Main Source album just like Nas had three years before. Though a half-hour from Harlem as far as borough boundaries were concerned, the group got the ear of an up-and-coming Combs — but not in the way one might have assumed.
While working for Andre Harrell at Uptown Records, Puffy produced Mary J. Blige’s triple-platinum debut, What’s The 411? Ironically enough, the Queen of Hip-hop Soul had all the intel on The Lox when she was only a princess, tipping off Puff and passing him a demo.
Expanding his empire to all audiences across New York, the trio composed of Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, and Styles P went from Jaz-O proteges to Bad Boy artists. Playing within such a hit-making system meant more exposure, but also angled them toward a more massive audience. So, just how could The Lox cross over without selling out?
At the time, stacked ’70s samples and reworked hits from the ’80s would go crazy on the charts. However, it was up to The Lox to keep the label gully and relevant at ground level while still doing numbers.
Early on, this two-lane approach came via co-starring credits.
In 1997 alone, The Lox would appear on Biggie’s Life After Death, Puff’s No Way Out, and Ma$e’s Harlem World. Each album went No. 1 on the Billboard charts, bringing the blossoming act plenty of paid exposure on respective Diamond, 7x Platinum, and 4x Platinum projects.
From boomboxes to Bose headphones, The Lox where everywhere rap was all at once. They laced deep-cut classics while still appearing on music videos vetted by BET, VH1, and MTV.
They were bound to blow up.
Bad Boy Baptism
Selling rap records in the 1990s was hard for some people.
Not Puff Daddy.
In the early ’90s, Puff proved an observer of the game even if he wasn’t the silent type. Noticing how Coolio cut through commercial radio by rapping over oldies on “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage,” the Bad Boy blueprint was born. By introducing an otherworldly MC like Biggie Smalls over an R&B favorite like “Juicy Fruit,” a sugary single could entice listeners of all spice levels.
As illustrated by Bad Boy’s 1997 numbers alone, the formula flourished.
When it came time for The Lox to debut, similar standards were in place.
Aside from appearing on the aforementioned label launches, The Lox got their biggest pop push by appearing on the remix to the Mariah Carey hit “Honey.”
Pulling in production from Puffy, Stevie J, and Q-Tip, the song sold by the boatload worldwide — and advertised Jada, Sheek, and Styles P’s faces thanks to a Paul Hunter visual.
After spinning hits with Mimi and deep cuts with Frank White, the world would go on to hear The Lox as a standalone outfit through their first single, “If You Think I’m Jiggy.” Local legend Dame Grease got the green light from Puff to interpolate a Rod Stewart song into the project, literally taking The Lox from the underground to the club as the track’s accompanying music video showcases.
But while the song had high expectations, it missed the mark where recent single success was concerned.
Peaking at No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first formal foray from The Lox didn’t earn anything near the crossover cream of outputs likened to Kim, Ma$e, or even Puff as a solo act.
A loss proved a lesson when it came to selling song two: “Money, Power & Respect.”
Serving as the title track for their debut, Bad Boy’s in-house production crew, The Hitmen, lived up to their name by chopping up a Dexter Wansel record from the ’70s. It’s the type of song you’d only know if you grew up in a musical household or spent hours digging in the crates. Such was the case for producers Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie and Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence.
At the time, the founding fathers of The Hitmen had “Hypnotize” and “Been Around the World” under their belts and atop the charts. Because of this, to say nothing of having Puff Daddy as a boss, they were as busy as could be.
“I totally forgot about the track after a while because I was doing so many different things,” Lawrence told Complex’s Shawn Setaro in 2018.
Traveling coast to coast for studio sessions, Lawrence remained in the air as the Wansel sample floated around engineers at Daddy’s House studios, eventually landing in the lap of The Lox. Unbeknownst to the beatmaker, Bad Boy was making the unused loop bigger and better by bringing in a rising rapper from Yonkers and a known name from their label.
“As I walk into Daddy’s House, I hear the track for the first time with the vocals: DMX and Lil’ Kim on the chorus,” Lawrence continued. “I get excited.”
From there, Lawrence leaned in on the double hi-hat drums and amplified Kim’s Tony Montana impression on the intro. (A Scarface salute was not necessarily novel at the time, but it hit harder because it was coming from a powerful woman at the peak of her game.)
While Puff felt iffy about the chorus, he trusted the talent around him and let it fly.
With the album rollout already underway, Bad Boy stamped Money, Power & Respect‘s title track as a single, bringing in Diane Martin to direct the video.
By that time, Martin had worked with everyone from Amy Grant to Mobb Deep. While she was likely less expensive at the time than Hype Williams or Paul Hunter, she was also accomplished and familiar with the Bad Boy Family, having worked with the heavily featured Method Man and Mariah Carey.
Blessed by bars, cursed by expletives, “Money, Power & Respect” was a hit no matter how hard it sounded or how much editing it took.
While the song could be too crude for radio or too hot for TV, it caught on where it counted. Hip-hop bible The Source placed it on the second installment of their sought-after compilation, giving The Lox single the critical and commercial recognition it warranted.
Just as importantly, it was an absolute banger at NYC club Tunnel — rap’s Rucker Park where crowd-moving credibility was concerned.
“The Lox were highly anticipated,” New York hip-hop DJ Cipha Sounds told Complex in 2013 when discussing both the club and the record. “They dropped ‘If You Think I’m Jiggy’ and everybody was like, ‘Hmmm.’ This is the record that came out afterwards and saved them. It also basically solidified DMX.”
Solidified is probably the perfect word.
While the barking rapper was bubbling, it was “Money, Power & Respect” that served as lighter fluid for the fire to follow. Infamously, DMX would release two No. 1 albums in 1998 alone, his first year as an artist backed by Def Jam. Both projects would go on to sell a combined seven million units.
It all came off the heels of “Money, Power & Respect” being his first feature on a single.
Despite the colossal credibility of the song, Money, Power & Respect the album wouldn’t yield another single. The title track was enough to push the project to sell a million. However, going just 1x Platinum was a brick by Bad Boy expectations.
By the summer of 1999, The Lox looked to flee from their label, wanting to align with a more aggressive outfit from an image perspective. Campaigning on stage with “Let The LOX Go” t-shirts and taking their frustrations to the press, they eventually aligned with DMX and Swizz Beatz as new members of the Ruff Ryders.
Bringing in beats from Swizzy, Timbaland, and DJ Premier, the Yonkers trio toughened up their sound. Still, they struggled to sell.
To some, The Lox lost out on money all while trying to retain power and respect.
In the end, they’d achieve all three.
Over the course of the new millennium, The Lox outlasted both of their early-stage record labels in the long run.
Though solo projects from Jadakiss, Styles P, or Sheek Louch never matched the Platinum plaques of their highest-profile peers, each rapper’s resume is revered by bar-spitters of all eras. Building a brand of tough, technical, New York-centric street rap, each artist has served as the ultimate co-sign for credibility when it comes to leveling up by engaging with the underground.
From Ja Rule to Rick Ross, Jennifer Lopez to French Montana, any artist in need of concrete grit on an album cut or radio single ponies up for a Lox feature.
While the rap game has been good to all three, Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, and Styles P have each expanded to business beyond wax.
Both Kiss and P have New York eating right, bringing juice bars to the city as a means of investing literally and figuratively in the health of their neighbors. Sheek has opened up gas stations and car washes in Yonkers.
Most famously, The Lox washed Dipset in the most memorable of Verzuz battles at home in Madison Square Garden.
In 2023 a quarter-century on from its original release, “Money, Power & Respect” endures as the most successful Lox single of all time. It’s emblematic of each member’s ambition, still showing up strongest when aligning artistry with strategy and sheer force.
The Hitmen’s booming beat and Lil’ Kim’s rallying cry all set the stage for letting The Lox do what they do best: rap at a redoubtable level and introduce the world to other talents that do the same.
The Lox may not own the island where real estate stacks up, but their cachet in culture proves priceless. A full 25 years after their debut, they’re still getting calls from KITH and going on tours around the world.
Money, power, and respect ultimately earned this trio the keys to the city — and a well-lived hip-hop life that keeps rolling on.
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