During the turn of the century, three native Yonkers rappers, known as the Warlox before opting for the more marketable name of the L.O.X., released a song titled, “Ryde or Die Bitch” off of their album “We Are the Streets.” With the help of a successful female rapper, Eve, and producer, Timbaland, the song became popular with mainstream audiences. The L.O.X. are best known for their classic “All About the Benjamins” released in 1999, but the song “Ryde or Die Bitch” had its share of commercial success, and it quickly became the hottest song on their album “We Are The Streets.”
The entire song is about the rappers’ desire to have a “ryde or die bitch” in their lives. A “Ryde or Die,” is a term used to describe a woman who will do anything for her man. She is loyal to him at all costs and will put him first by all means. Jadakiss, a member of the L.O.X, gives a perfect example of what is expected from a “Ryde or die bitch” when he raps, “give a nigga up north some ass on a v.i” A “ryde or die bitch” “loves” her man so much that she would not only visit her incarcerated lover, but she would find a way to have sex with him on that visit. Considering that sex during normal prison visits isn’t a typically a thing “ryde or die” bitch would even go to the extremes of marrying her man to afford him conjugal visits.
The L.O.X. may have introduced mainstream hip-hop audiences to the concept of a “ryde or die bitch,” but the idea of a woman sacrificing so much of herself in the name of love is as basic as it gets. It should be of no surprise then when Nas raps about women in “One Love,” it too is also connected to their dedication, or lack thereof, to their incarcerated lover. For any woman with an incarcerated loved one, dedication is so expected that choosing not to visit a jail leaves your love for that person open to questioning. This expectation is amplified when an incarcerated person is a lover, a boyfriend, or a spouse.
The belief that the love or commitment a woman has for her significant other correlates to how much she will sacrifice for him, is not something exclusive to this song. In fact, this belief is deeply woven into the fabric of hip-hop culture and etched into the structure of our community. It is something I have always witnessed in the community I was raised in. Perhaps this is another reason why I simply could not ask my brother about the women’s perspectives in Nas’ “One Love,” when he introduced the song to me. The expectation of my sacrifice was the norm and questioning my role in this narrative would have been received as oppositional.
In hindsight, I realize that the beauty of those old cassette tapes was knowing that you could flip the tape and hear another track. Sometimes you’d find a different song. Sometimes it was the same song but composed differently or it was simply the instrumental version. If it was the instrumental, the actual beat was amplified, and the words were omitted or muted from the song, and it was like listening to a whole different song. Flipping the tape would give you an entirely new experience. Much like the original tracks to “Ryde or die Bitch” and “One Love,” the accompanying voices and perspectives of women impacted by mass incarceration are barely heard—its relegated to the proverbial “B-Side.” All the while, the community’s expectation of our sacrifice keeps us from questioning; keeps us from “flipping the tape.”