Hip Hop Review: Def Jam Recordings Celebrating 30th Anniversary

Def Jam

The house that Rick Ruben and Russell Simmons built in 1984 is celebrating its 30th anniversary in style this month.

The prominent Hip-Hop label announced a concert at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center that will feature current artists such as Rick Ross, Jhene Aiko, Fabolous, Jeremih and 2 Chainz, as well as former stars including Foxy Brown, Ja Rule, Ashanti, DMX, Method Man and Red Man.

Record producer and former co-president of Columbia Records, Rick Rubin, founded Def Jam three decades ago in his Weinstein Hall dorm room at New York University. Business mogul and entrepreneur Russell Simmons joined Rubin as the label’s co-founder after the two were introduced to each other by a mutual friend.

Queens native, rapper and actor LL Cool J was signed by Def Jam in 1984. His “I Need A Beat” and Beastie Boys” “Rock Hard” were the first official releases with Def Jam. Because of LL’s single which sold over 100,000 copies and Beastie Boys’ hit single, those successes led Def Jam to a distribution deal with CBS Records, which would later become Sony Music Entertainment.

Despite having multi-platinum success, Def Jam had financial issues and was about to fold in 1992. Polygram purchased Sony’s 50% stake in Def Jam Records in 1994. Following that purchase, Def Jam distributed Violator Records and signed West coast rapper Warren G and his album, ‘Regulate…G Funk Era’ went triple platinum.

Brooklyn’s own Foxy Brown was the first female signed to Def Jam in 1996 and her debut, ‘Ill Na Na’ became a platinum seller a year later.

PolyGram was purchased by Seagram in 1998; creating Universal Music Group (UMG). UMG soon purchased the remaining interest of Def Jam Recordings from Russell Simmons for a reported $100 million. UMG merged with Def Jam with Island Records to form The Island Def Jam Music Group. Both labels (Def Jam and Island) still operated as separate entities despite the merger.

Lyor Cohen was appointed president of IDMG and Kevin Liles took over as president of Def Jam in 1999. That same year, the label began to distribute Murder Inc. Records which was spearheaded by former Def Jam executive Irv Gotti. Murder Inc was also the home of Ja Rule, Ashanti and Lloyd. Ludacris, Chingy and Bobby Valentino inked deals with Def Jam in the early 2000’s.

Around this time, New York rappers DMX and Jay-Z were also powerful Def Jam artists and sellers. Jay-Z was appointed president of Def Jam in 2004 by L.A. Reid, which was followed by him and his former business partner Damon Dash selling their Roc-A-Fellas Records to the company in 2005. Under Jay-Z’s leadership, Def Jam launched the careers of Rihanna, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross and Ne-Yo.

Currently NO I.D. serves as Def Jam’s executive vice president and Steve Bartels is the current CEO. Today, Def Jam Recordings distributes various record labels including Roc-A-Fella, Good Music, and Disturbing Tha Peace. Happy 30th anniversary Def Jam. Hip Hop lives on!

BY DONOVAN MOORE