Eve Talks Looking Back on Her Early Rap Days in 'Ruff Ryders Chronicles' (Exclusive)

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Eve is ready to look back on her early years in the music industry on Ruff Ryders Chronicles. The five-part BET series kicked off last week, recounting the rise of the legendary Ruff Ryders Entertainment in the late '90s and 2000s. The label was founded by siblings Joaquin "Waah" Dean, Darin "Dee" Dean and Chivon Dean, built around Yonkers, New York, rappers DMX and The Lox, and later included Jadakiss, Drag-On, Jin, producer Swizz Beatz and the Ruff Ryders' First Lady herself, Eve.

"I was the most protected female on the planet at that time," the rapper, actress and host of The Talk tells ET's Kevin Frazier. "I was Baby Sis, but not like, coddled. Baby Sis in a way that you were gonna protect, she hustles with us."

"That time in music history was just phenomenal… I don't think there will ever be another movement that way, ever."

Eve signed to the Ruff Ryders label after a brief stint with Dr. Dre and Aftermath, and recalls her once-in-a-lifetime introduction into the rap game came after a chance encounter with rapper Mase when she was working as a stripper -- or, as she jokes, "the laziest stripper on the planet."

"It was a slow night and this guy comes walking in, and one of the girls who I hung out with was like, 'Yo that's that new kid, he just got signed to Puff,'" she remembers. "I go over there and I'm kinda just like, 'Yeah, what's up, you want a dance?'... He just laughed, actually, and he was like, 'What do you wanna do with your life?' And I was like, 'You don't know me, don't be asking about me!' Long story short, he literally was like 'You're not supposed to be here. What is it that you wanna do?' I told him I wanna be a rapper, and he was like, 'Get dressed, let's go ride around the city and listen to some beats.'"

"We literally just rolled around the city until the sun came up. He listened to me rap. I never saw him again from that night until I got signed to Ruff Ryders... and he would come up to the studio almost every day while I was doing my first album, and just was such a supportive person. He opened up a church in Atlanta years after, and I was always telling people he was supposed to do that, he knows some things, and that he sent me a message that I needed to hear at that time. It was incredible."

The up-and-coming rapper released her debut album, Let There Be Eve…Ruff Ryders' First Lady, in September 1999. The album was a "diary" of sorts for her, chronicling her life to that point, with every song penned by Eve herself. It was ultimately certified double platinum off of hits like "Gotta Man" and "Love Is Blind," which she wrote when she was just 16 about a childhood friend in an abusive relationship. 

Eve quickly became one of the biggest members of the Ruff Ryders' collective during the group's glory days, though, as the "adopted daughter from Philly," she remembers the strong protective energy the group had toward her.

"Anytime I tried to go out, I was told to stay in the room," she recalls. "But when I did go out, listen, it was nuts. It was nuts. It was on another level. I've never ever seen another club in that way, with people partying and people just having fun."

"It wasn't just about the bottle poppin' and all that. I don't even think we were really into that, it was really more about just celebrating how excited we were to be in that time... We were a movement, and we knew it, and we were a family."

Her biggest mainstream crossover came with her GRAMMY-winning 2001 Gwen Stefani collab, "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," which, along with lead single "Who's That Girl?," helped propel her sophomore album, Scorpion, to platinum status and a GRAMMY nomination of its own.

"She gave me an audience I didn't have. And vice versa, I gave her an audience she didn't have," Eve notes of collaborating with the No Doubt lead singer. "I've always been a huge No Doubt fan, a huge Gwen fan, and we were the same label and I was like, 'Why not make this happen?'"

"As much as she was a girly girl like I was, she was a tomboy like I was. So I recognized that in her, I knew it was gonna work."

The pair have stayed in touch over the years, touring together and recently performing their second collab, "Rich Girl," on The Voice in celebration of the 15th anniversary of Stefani's album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. "We try to text, we try to email. But when we see each other, it's all love. It's all giggles and squeezes."

As for the Ruff Ryders, Eve has nothing but fond memories of her time with the label, with which she released three of her four major studio albums before embarking on an acting career and joining The Talk as a host in 2017. And Ruff Ryders Chronicles has come along at a perfect time, as producer Swizz Beatz has joined forces with Timbaland to produce the Verzuz webseries, which features two popular artists "battling" each other online as they play their biggest hits and engage with fans in real time.

Swizz has even recruited some of his fellow Ruff Ryders to take part in the nostalgic challenge, with Jadakiss squaring off against Fabolous and DMX taking on Snoop Dogg in a showdown for the ages.

"There's no mistake that he is doing what he's doing," Eve raves of her friend and former collaborator. "Music is his lifeblood, it's his soul, which is why Verzuz is so huge. You know what I mean? There's no mistakes."

"They protected me," she says of the group. "They wanted me to not just be the cute, sexy girl, they wanted me to be amazing lyrically… I was very, very lucky."

These days, Eve is quarantining in London with husband Maximillion Cooper and their familiy, and preparing to return to work on the upcoming season of The Talk. "We're all in a situation now where we are figuring it out, like we always do," she said of reuniting with her co-hosts for new episodes of the roundtable show. "I'm excited, 'cause I don't even know what's happening yet. Because we have been on hiatus, we've kind of been checking in, but no one knows anything, so it's gonna be huge. It always is -- we do that very well."

As for what she'd tell her younger self -- the struggling stripper hoping to make it in the rap game -- of her more than two-decade career, Eve has nothing but gratitude.

"There are days I wake up and I'm like, 'I live in London!'" she admits. "I would tell [my younger self] don't be scared of how big you want to dream. Don't think that you can't have this much… Trust your instincts, you actually have good instincts. That took me a lot of years to come back to."

Ruff Ryders Chronicles airs Wednesdays on BET.

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