Friday, November 6, 2009

Celebrating 25 Years of Def Jam

2009 marks the 25 year anniversary of the creation of Def Jam Records, undoubtedly the most influential rap label in the history of hip hop. Founded by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, Def Jam in its 25 years has been responsible for, among many other things, (a) bringing rap and hip hop into the mainstream (think Run DMC and Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" and the always enjoyable motion picture "Krush Groove"); (b) providing the platform for the explosive social critique that hip hop is now famous for (think Public Enemy and "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" and "Fear of a Black Planet"); (c) providing the blueprint and model for the young black hip hop CEO and entrepreneur (think Russell Simmons and Phat Farm, Def Comedy Jam and $100 million as a price tag for his sale of Def Jam to Universal); (d) radically changing the music industry, including the label/artist/music making model (think Rubin and Simmons in dorm rooms running the label, think recording studios in basements and bedrooms, think "Hustle & Flow"); (e) crossing hip hop over into a multi racial industry (think Beastie Boys and "Licensed to Ill"); (f) launching the careers of dozens of influential artists and bands.

The gravity of Def Jam's influence cannot be overstated. To wit:

"Def Jam meant to the music industry as much as Stax, Atlantic and Motown meant to their respective music," said rapper Chuck D, whose group Public Enemy is one of the most famous to appear on the label. "It started from the same humble beginnings that all of those other companies started, very small, but very much passionate about the music."

"I think Def Jam has done a whole lot for hip-hop, for music in general. It's just given us a face of hip-hop for us to want to become a part of something," rapper Snoop Dogg said. "Even the rappers from the west[ern U.S.] wanted to be a part of Def Jam. Def Jam was like the Mecca of hip-hop."

"Def Jam is the Motown Records of hip-hop, and that is without question," said writer and pop culture expert Kevin Powell. "You really can't talk about a significant chapter in hip-hop history over the last 25 years without talking about Def Jam."

Speaking during the 2009 VH1 Hip Hop Honors, Island Def Jam Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Antonio "L.A." Reid said he believes that it will continue to live on for years to come. "When Def Jam was founded, it was founded upon an amazing idea," he said. "And it's an amazing idea that's bigger than all of its founders, bigger than all of its presidents, bigger than all of its chairmen and bigger than all of its artists. My guess is that it will be around a lot longer than any of us."


  1. we know what russell simmons is up to these days (politics, entreprenuership, etc.), but what is rick rubin up to now (following his successful collaborations with johnny cash)?

  2. Rick Rubin is still producing.
    He started the whole Rock/Hip Hop mixture (Run DMC/Aerosmith ' walk this way',Linkin Park, etc).
    He received a grammy in 2007 (?) for producer of year for producing with justin timberlake, the dixie chicks,Green Day and U2.
    He was also listed as 1 of TIME's '100 most influential people in the world'.

    PS He's the big hairy bearded guy in Jay Z's '99 problems' video...
    He's still doing huge things, just maybe not in as much of a visual/political manner as Russell Simmons.


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