Don't mind us if we choose to "die" on this, Ruff Ryders' latest.

Ruff Ryders
Ruff Ryders Compilation: Ryde or Die Vol.
Interscope Records

There are more "families" in hip-hop these days than in an Aaron Spelling TV series, with crews ranging from New Orleans's Cash Money Millionaires and No Limit Soldiers to New York's Flipmode Squad and Puff Daddy's Bad Boy family to Houston's Wreckshop Crew and South Park Mexican's Dope House clique. None, however, is as hard-core and straight-from-the-streets as NYC's Ruff Ryders. Featuring artists DMX, the Lox, Eve, Drag-On and in-house beat makers Swizz Beatz, Teflon, Mahogany and P. Killer Trackz, the Ruff Ryders are now most notorious for their grimy, ghetto-tinged lyrics and collective in-your-face mentality.

DMX and Eve have been successful at reaching an audience and selling a healthy number of albums, while the Lox and Drag-On are struggling, trying to find the right mix of radio- and TV-friendly hits and keep-it-real, true-to-the-game songs. Add to the aforementioned list new artists Yung Wun and Parlé, and you've got yourself a bona fide lyrical gang of fresh talent that seems destined to hang awhile.

This isn't to say there's anything progressive on the crew's latest, Ruff Ryders Compilation: Ryde or Die Vol. II. Backed by their gifted producers, these street poets mingle with the rappers of other crews to create a, well, rather disappointing collection of tracks. With this many highly skilled emcees on one album, you would expect a lot more.

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The first track, "WWIII," which features guests Snoop Dogg and Scarface, fails to pack the needed punch of an opening song. "Ryde or Die Boyz" is repetitive and mundane, thanks to the uninspired flows of Larsiny and Yung Wun, while "Holiday" is a weak mix of Beatz's ordinarily commendable production and Sheek's average rhyme delivery.

Yet there are some opportunities for the Ruff Ryders and their guests to shine on Vol. II. "2 Tears in a Bucket," spotlighting Redman, Method Man and Sheek (a member of the Lox), is a brilliant intertwining of a head-bobbing beat and some fluid lyricism. At one point, Redman colorfully proclaims: "I avalanche your crew with ten feet of snow / I'm cold blooded / My fam's half Eskimo."

Eve and Jadakiss (also from the Lox) unite for "Got It All," a Caribbean-flavored ditty with a sound tailored for plenty of radio play. Swizz Beatz gets on the mike on "Fright Night" and displays surprisingly decent skills, while superstar Busta Rhymes lends his usual lyrical ferocity. And DMX, backed by a catchy, danceable hook, delivers his stop-what-you're-doing-and-listen-to-me style that hip-hop heads have become accustomed to. Fans can only hope this is simply a tune-up for better things to come.

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