The upshot of that nasty Ruffhouse Records divorce is that the Philadelphia suburbs are now home to two major-label affiliates with serious hip-hop credentials.
Ruffhouse cofounder and promotional whiz Chris Schwartz- whom insiders expected to strike a deal with Ruffhouse parent Sony- has instead launched a partnership with Warner Brothers. RuffNation, based in Bryn Mawr, plans releases by New York rappers Liz Liete and Doc Holiday and comic D.L. Hugley this summer, and local rockers Tidewater Grain next year. Schwartz and the former Ruffhouse administrative team headed by Kevon Glickman are also launching the indie label RuffLife, plus film production and music publishing arms.
Schwartz, on vacation in Tennessee, says he went to Warners “because of their long tradition as an artist-driven label. And they gave me the tools to create a medium-sized, all-purpose international entertainment company.” Starting over with a new label, he says with typical humility, is not a real risk because “I’m the best in the world at what I do, regardless of where I am.”
Ruffhouse’s other founder, producer Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo, continues to run the Studio 4 recording facility that shared space with Ruffhouse in Conshohocken. And he’s starting up the hip-hop focused Judgement Records, a joint venture with RCA, which recently lost the Wu-Tang Clan’s Loud imprint to Sony. From Ruffhouse, Nicolo brings the aging kiddie duo Kriss Kross, plus street-promo expert Rose Mann-Pierce, who discovered the Fugees.
The Butcher is mum about signing plans, but confirms that he’s talking with the rhythm-and-blues/ jazz outfit Philosopher Kings and nerd-rockers They Might Be Giants. And in the fall, Judgement will release Illadelphia
: City of Brotherly Thugs, a hip-hop compilation with tracks by Malay Sparks and Sed Sinatra, among others, that he says will attest to “the rebirth of hip-hop in Philadelphia.”
And what about the other artists under contract to Ruffhouse- acts such as Kool Keith, whose wacked-out Black Elvis/ Lost In Space is due Aug. 10, and Philly mix masters King Britt and Josh Wink, whose Ovum dance imprint was affiliated with the now-defunct label, not to mention Lauryn Hill, the Fugees and Cypress Hill?
They’re still on Ruffhouse/Columbia, just not in Conshohocken. Schwartz and Nicolo, who each have a quarter stake in the venture, will help administer the division, though the duo’s relationship since its March split is, in Nicolo’s words, “pretty much nonexistent We don’t speak.”
Nicolo is philosophical about the demise of the 60-million-selling label, which came just after Hill snagged five Grammys and shortly before the label’s 10-year anniversary with Columbia was celebrated with a greatest-hits CD.
“Ruffhouse dissolved just when it was at its peak,” says Nicolo. “But it happened because we both wanted to do our own thing. I’m sure with the 10 years schooling he and I got at Columbia [we’re] going to be like Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons,” the Def Jam founders who remained successful after their split-up. “I think both labels will flourish.”
In The Mix by Dan DeLuca
From the Sunday, July 18th, 1999 edition of The Philadelphia Inquirer