Before the rise of Def Jam as hip-hop's definitive record label, there was Profile. The label helped shepherd some of hip-hop's early shifts in sound and style. A new two-CD anthology chronicles the label's 15-year history and legacy. And Oliver Wang has our review.

OLIVER WANG, BYLINE: Profile never meant to get into the rap game. When Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki started the label in 1981, they thought they'd be releasing dance singles, a plan that quickly soured in the punishing heat of the anti-disco era.

However, hip-hop was just beginning its ride and Profile gambled on a New York rap duo named Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.


WANG: In 1982, an aspiring entrepreneur named Russell Simmons was shopping a demo of his younger brother's rap group. One of the people he approached was Robbins, who liked what he heard and signed the group, a trio out of Hollis, Queens named Run D.M.C.


WANG: To most ears today, Run D.M.C. is old school, but in the early 1980s, hip-hop was anything but well defined. All of it was new school and Profile helped lead the class, releasing records by artists as diverse as the pioneering female duo, Sweet Tee and DJ Jazzy Joyce.


WANG: The dance hall influenced Asher D.


WANG: And the genre bending rap-rock collaboration of Run D.M.C. and Aerosmith.


WANG: Profile can even boast one of the greatest one hit wonders in pop history, now a staple of corporate parties and Gen-X weddings, Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's "It Takes Two."


WANG: Even Profile's relatively minor releases would later become major influences. The 1986 single, "Drag Rap" by The Showboys, found new life a decade later, as producers like Mannie Fresh began sampling the record's frenetic drum programming to create the New Orleans style known as bounce.


WANG: The 1990s saw Profile's influence begin to fade, eclipsed by Def Jam, Death Row and other labels. By 1996, it ceased recording new acts. What Profile left behind, however, was a catalog that helped usher hip-hop from what was once dismissed as a short-lived gimmick to the mainstay of global culture we know today.


BLOCK: Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, is a professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach and writes the music blog, Soul Side.

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