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The 25 Best A&Rs in Hip-Hop History

18. Chris Schwartz and Joe Nicolo

Title(s): Founders of Ruffhouse Records
Artists They Worked With: The Fugees, Cypress Hill, Tim Dog, Kriss Kross, Lauryn Hill

If Chris Schwartz and Joe Nicolo had been based in New York or Los Angeles, they might have ruled the music industry. But if they hadn’t been based in Philadelphia, they might not have enjoyed the unique “just-off-the-radar but close-enough-to-strike” position that enabled them to dominate the world of hip-hop without few people outside of the industry knowing their names.

They made their hip-hop bones in the mid 1980s, as the manager and recording engineer respectively for pioneer Schoolly D. Their label partnership, Ruffhouse Records, began in 1989 with the signing of Cypress Hill, the embarkation point for a string of impressive signings and hits from Tim Dog, Kriss Kross, and The Fugees which included the solo careers of Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean.

One more historical oddity: Ruffhouse was also the first home to DMX before he became a star on Def Jam.

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