Ruffhouse Records: From the streets of Philly to the top of 90’s Hip Hop

Ruffhouse label co-owner-turned-author Chris Schwartz comes clean in a new memoir.

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Last Saturday on Greenfield Avenue in Ardmore, a handful of friends and family gathered at World Wide Stereo to see and hear Chris Schwartz introduce his newest project. The man legendarily behind some of the 20th Century’s most iconic hip hop artists – The Fugees and soloists Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill, Cypress Hill, Schoolly D, Kris Kross – wasn’t there to drop knowledge on an upcoming rap artist or a new trap track. Schwartz was there to introduce an even fresher topic: himself.

Chris Scrwartz hanging out at the Ruffhouse offices, circa 1999.

Schwartz is the newly-minted author of the just-released “Ruffhouse: From the Streets of Philly to the Top of the ’90s Hip-Hop Charts.” The book is a work of truly stunning revelation. Not just because it details the inner sanctum of a world (the recording industry) whose hidden machinations have changed little between the old days and the present (e.g., the covert manner in which Universal hid the soul-crushing damages of its massive 2008 fire from the artists who lost all their master tapes). But, how tortured minds could triumph over adversity to find themselves and their lives calling. And making, then losing, a lot of money doing so – Ruffhouse Records sold more than 120 million records worldwide, generating over a billion dollars in sales in its time in the sun in partnership with Sony.

You want to hear about the drugs, sex, and gossip – especially connected to the locals in the “Ruffhouse: From the Streets of Philly to the Top of the ’90s Hip-Hop Charts.” They’re here, and there’s plenty of salacious, woozy messiness to go around:

• Lines of cocaine snorted in odd locations – check.

• Countless deeply interpersonal relationships shattered by ego, money, and drugs – check.

• Spending $2.4 million on a video shoot or dropping $5 million of his money on the (way ahead of its time) street team rap-murder-mystery “Snipes” – check.

• Having lunch with Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean at Spaghetti Warehouse – check.

Schwartz is a quickly paced and colorful writer who knows how to keep the action coming and the anecdotes tightly packed and crisply compacted for maximum drama. Even as Schwartz portrays the meteoric rise of his label with biz partner Joe Nicolo and its crushing finale, you never get anything close to wallowing. It doesn’t even read like a Dickensian cautionary tale. Like a hard, crazy car crash, you’re moving too fast and too frantically to feel the impact. You just know that it’s bad and that luckily everyone (most) survived, intact.

That “intact” part of Schwartz’s tale – a youth spent being harangued, bullied and harassed from within his own family, several generations worth of mental illness, the insecurities of the artist and entrepreneur even at their most successful – that’s the tough and tender meat of “Ruffhouse: From the Streets of Philly to the Top of the ’90s Hip-Hop Charts.”

Sure, how stoned Cypress Hill really was, and how Kris Kross came to wear those pants backward is in the book – but you can get that info on any MTV Where are They Now episode or YouTube mini-doc. If you want motion and emotion, find this book now.

Images: Courtesy of Chris Schwartz.

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