DMX had a long association with Ruff Ryders Entertainment, which was founded as an artist management firm in the early '80s. They tried to launched DMX in 1992 with the single "Born Loser," distributed by Columbia Records, but it went nowhere. The breakthrough for Ruff Ryders came when their act The Lox signed to Bad Boy Records, which released their debut album Money, Power & Respect in early 1998. DMX features on the title track, and Ruff Ryders producers Swizz Beatz and Dame Grease are all over it.
Later that year, DMX secured a deal with Def Jam and released his debut album, It's Dark And Hell Is Hot, which features "Ruff Ryders' Anthem," a tribute to the collective that makes it clear they are not to be messed with.
"Ruff Ryders' Anthem" was the first hit produced by Swizz Beatz, who went on to become one of the top beatmakers in the game. His tracks include "Check On It
" by Beyoncé and "Fancy
" by Drake.
The video, directed by J. Jesses Smith, was DMX' second, following "Get At Me Dog
." For "Ruff Ryders' Anthem," he wanted to take it to the street - literally. The video was shot outside with Ruff Ryders members and their associates. It's flavored with shots of stunt riders on motorcycles.
After every line, DMX' crew answers, What!, a trademark for the rapper. His songs have a communal vibe with lots of energy.
DMX claimed he wrote the lyric in about 15 minutes after getting the beat from Swizz Beats. After writing it, he wasn't feeling it. "The beat was simple and repetitive," he told GQ. "I had so many other songs with more substance. The song is like ABCs, like elementary."
Swizz convinced him to do it, and he was glad he did. The song ended up becoming one of his signatures and anchoring his debut album, which went to #1 in America and sold over 4 million copies. Remarkably, his next four albums also went to #1.
DMX wrote two other songs on the album the same day he wrote this one: "F--kin' wit' D" and "Let Me Fly."
"Ruff Ryders' Anthem" originally reached #94 on the Hot 100 in February 1999. Following DMX's death from a heart attack on April 9, 2021, the song returned to the tally at #16, becoming the late rapper's highest-charting track.