The late 1990s were a strange time for hip-hop. Fans may still have been swooning from the almost obligatory success of early albums like Biggie's 'Ready to Die,' but a surge in pop music was changing the momentum for many rap artists.

Instead of focus turning to the roughneck likes of Snoop and Dre, Justin Timberlake now hogged the spotlight. Britney Spears was America's newest sweetheart. Then there was a precocious, young record label executive named Sean Combs, otherwise known as Puff Daddy, who was about to lead a new brand of champagne-soaked rap into the next millennium.

Of course, every leader must absorb his or her share of lumps, which is where the LOX eventually entered the picture. The thick-skinned rap trio -- Jadakiss, Sheek Louch and Styles P -- hailing from Yonkers, N.Y., had released their explosive debut, 'Money, Power & Respect,' for Combs' Bad Boy Records on Jan. 13, 1998, stirring the consciousness of street kids everywhere as 'N Sync saturated the airwaves. But who knew that a year later the LOX would want out of their Bad Boy contract, citing the need for a "rougher label" and sending the message that, when it comes to the music, they were nobody's puppet.

The group's second effort, 'We Are The Streets,' released on Ruff Ryders/Interscope, was indeed vitriolic, but never carved itself the indelible niche of 'Money, Power & Respect.' Even amongst other powerhouse LPs of '98 -- DMX's 'It's Dark & Hell Is Hot,' Juvenile's '400 Degreez' -- the debut became a classic on the basis of its intense, East Coast spitfire ('Bitches of Eastwick,' 'If You Think I'm Jiggy') and polished, nightlife grooves ('Money, Power & Respect,' 'Can't Stop, Won't Stop') -- a winning combo at the time. And for their efforts, the LOX quickly found themselves at the No. 1 spot on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Album chart, with the title track also scoring big on the Hot 100 and Rap Singles charts.

True, they never reached the heights of, say, Big Pun (1998's 'Capital Punishment' -- No. 1 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Album chart; 33 week run), but the LOX gained a certain respect with this debut effort. And as the boys wait patiently for the next opportunity (last year's reports mentioned a Bad Boy resigning, a leap into Cash Money), listeners can revisit 'Money, Power & Respect' at their leisure, remembering that even 15 years later, the album carries a momentum all its own.

Watch the LOX's 'Money, Power & Respect' Video Feat. Lil' Kim & DMX