Ruff Ryder CEO Waah Dean talks DMX and the future of the label

Exclusive: Now that the final DMX release is out, Dean talks about his memories of the late rapper and the future of the company

When DMX passed last month, he’d already completed what was planned to be, if not his comeback album, then his reintroduction to hip-hop fans. Unfortunately, he would not be here to see the response to his efforts. Exodus was released on May 28 with a host of features from Jay-Z to the LOX, to Nas and Alicia Keys and has so far, received mostly positive reviews.

Read More: DMX thanks ‘God for every moment’ in final recorded interview

The album, his first since 2012’s Undisputed, was also a reunion of sorts as longtime collaborator Swizz Beatz executive produced the album and it was released on Def Jam.

But DMX was also closely associated with Ruff Ryders Entertainment, founded by Joaquin “Waah” Dean, Darrin “Dee” Dean, and Chivon Dean, three siblings who grew up in Yonkers, N.Y. Swizz Beatz, born Kaseem Dean, is their nephew. The Ruff Ryders crew showed up en masse to send DMX off in April, riding from Yonkers to Brooklyn, New York for a public tribute to the iconic rap star at Barclays Center.

Waah Dean DMX Ruff Ryders
Joaquin “Waah” Dean, CEO of Ruff Ryders (Credit: Getty Images)

We recently caught up with Ruff Ryders CEO Waah Dean to talk to him about DMX’s latest release and the future of the Ruff Ryders. (Interview has been edited for length and clarity).

theGrio: Our condolences on your loss. How did you feel about what is now the last album DMX recorded?

Waah Dean: This was an album he was really passionate about and his first album that he had a lot of features on. He never has artists on his album like that. He knew that he was 50 so this album is grown and sexy. He did the album with Nas, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys – all these people on this album. He seen something that we didn’t see because he did multiple albums. He was in a real good comfort zone before he put this album out.

It’s just unfortunate that this thing happened. Even though he’s physically not here, he’s here with us through spirit. I think this album is really an album of celebration of someone who never gave up, no matter how rough his life was for him. He had the good, the bad, and the ugly but he always came back to God as his Savior. He told me he wasn’t going to promote the album and he kept his word, but he still promoted the album.

It’s just a shame the way it was done. We have to take care of his family, the estate, and make sure his kids benefit from this situation more than anybody else.

Read More: DMX’s fiance opens up about her relationship with the rap star

TG: Swizz is your nephew and he and DMX had a great personal and professional relationship. How did that play out on Exodus?

WD: Swizz did most of the album. He worked with X along with us and they had a special relationship since they were kids. And they never disconnected. Big up to nephew, he went in there and really pulled it together along with the team. Swizz came in at 12 and he wanted to get in the game. DMX was my main artist but Swizz wanted to get in the game and he was persistent about it.

He did a lot of things that we didn’t know because he and X were running the streets and we were running the streets too, so we didn’t have time to monitor them. They always used to get in trouble and we’d get them out of trouble, and then there was trouble we never knew they got into, that they told us about later.

It was part of the journey. We were able to give them an outlet and a family structure to have a platform to start their careers in. Swizz and X were like peas in a pod. They did everything together. But I think it worked out pretty well.

DMX performs at Masters Of Ceremony 2019 at Barclays Center on June 28, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

TG: What is going on with Ruff Ryders these days?

WD: We have a lifestyle organization that actually represents bike culture. We have thousands of members worldwide as a community-based organization for over 25 years. Giving back, that’s what we do under the radar. Ruff Ryders lifestyle gave birth to Ruff Ryders Entertainment and Ruff Ryders Records. That started as a street team of bikers on the “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot” album and from there, we basically recruited all the greatest bike stunters across the country, we opened up our membership and it’s been growing ever since.

What we’re doing in 2021, we have multiple brands that have entities including Powerhouse Recording Studios where DMX did most of his albums in Yonkers, New York. We have Ruff Ryders radio and we have Young Ryders. They’re the next generation of Ruff Ryders out here doing the millennial way of things. We have multiple other entities under the umbrella.

Laquan Smith - Front Row - September 2019 - New York Fashion Week: The Shows
Ruff Ryders CEO Joaquin “Waah” Dean (C) attends the Laquan Smith front row during New York Fashion Week on September 08, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)

TG: Where do you see Ruff Ryders heading next?

WD: For the last two years, my sister has done Ruff Ryders to the Rescue Foundation. We pretty much started a few curriculums. We got one curriculum that we jump-started in Mt. Vernon, New York, Newburgh, and Rochester. It’s a four-point system that we work within each community. It’s a 24-hour watch. We come out and mediate our own hood in the community to make sure it’s safe.

We’re doing blueprint cities first, then we’ll launch it in communities around the country. We have a mentoring program for the youth in phase two, then we have an entrepreneurial music program to teach kids how to become their own CEO’s and then, we’ll have another liaison program to raise money to teach youth how to start their own business. Then, we’ll be putting out music independently and on a major label.

Read More: Jay-Z talks boycotting Grammys to support DMX: ‘It was big love’

TG: What is Ryde 4 Lyfe all about?

WD: The Ryde 4 Lyfe program is basically to ride for a cause, to come together once a month to unify like we did at the DMX funeral. So we’re going to keep his legacy alive and honor him while we’re promoting him and promoting a cause like cancer awareness [and more]. We just did a partnership with Philonese and Keeta Floyd for the one-year anniversary of George Floyd‘s death. He and DMX were both people from the community – different circumstances but the same environment.

We’re honoring them on June 5 in Houston. Ruff Ryders in the future is about how we embrace the youth, how we get back to the community. We’re already in the communities every day, so we’re just going to take more responsibility since the pandemic and the economic crisis. People need information and we’re going to give them what they need. It’s a work in progress.

Tragedy opened up our eyes. When we did that X tribute we had 30, 40 cities and countries riding at the same time. We realized it was time to get back in and do our part.

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