You know the little story of Def Jam Recordings, started way back in history by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons. What you may not know, unless you lived outside of New York (like me), is how instrumental it was in bringing hip-hop to the masses. A new glossy coffee-table book, Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label, reveals that aspect of the label's legacy in vivid detail.
I grew up amid the Great Plains, and hip-hop always felt like my ticket out; for a while, it seemed I marched to the beat of a different Def Jam record every week. The smuggled tapes from a friend's older brother, the after-school ritual of Yo! MTV Raps — this was my salvation. Everyone talks about The Beastie Boys (and where would they be without Def Jam?), but the white boys of 3rd Bass were my heroes. Songs from The Cactus Album like "The Gas Face" and "Brooklyn-Queens" were my personal anthems. Or remember the bedtime stories of the eyepatch-wearing Slick Rick? Sick.
Looking back, I'm struck by how often Def Jam tracks were lurking in the background. LL Cool J's "Around the Way Girl" (on cassette single, no less) got me hyped for my first junior-high dance. In college, when I was working a crappy restaurant job, we used to blast DMX's "Ruff Ryder Anthem" as we closed down the kitchen. More recently, Ghostface Killah's FishScale was the killer soundtrack for my daily subway commute in Brooklyn. (Yes, I eventually got a real ticket out.)
Of course, this was also the label that gave us Jay-Z, Kanye West and countless other game-changers. The genius of Def Jam lay in its ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still sell tons of records. Club bangers like Sisqo's "Thong Song" could share shelf space with political flamethrowers like Public Enemy. This Def Jam mix is by no means definitive, but it reflects my experiences with a label that will always be, as Nice & Smooth once put it, for "Hip-Hop Junkies."
What's your experience with Def Jam Recordings? Tell us in the comments section.
Artists In This Mix
3rd Bass • Beanie Sigel • The Beastie Boys • Boss • Cam'ron • Diplomats • DMX • Downtown Science • EPMD • Erick Sermon • Fabolous • Foxy Brown • Freeway • Ghostface Killah • Hollis Crew • Ja Rule • Jay-Z • Kanye West • LL Cool J • Ludacris • Method Man • Montell Jordan • Musiq Soulchild • Nas • Ne-Yo • Nice and Smooth • Nikki D • Onyx • Oran "Juice" Jones • Public Enemy • Redman • Rihanna • The Roots • Scarface • Sisqo • Slick Rick • T-La Rock • The-Dream • Warren G
Derek L. John is a producer for Studio 360 and WNYC