Def Jam Celebrates 25 Years of Beats & Rhymes

By Nic Brown So here they are, after 25 whole years. From 1984 to 2009. From the minivan to the hybrid. From the peak of Michael to the death of Michael. From the microwave-sized Apple Macintosh, to a laptop that can fit in small backpacks. From wax, to plastic, to wax again, then onto the

By Nic Brown

So here they are, after 25 whole years. From 1984 to 2009. From the minivan to the hybrid. From the peak of Michael to the death of Michael. From the microwave-sized Apple Macintosh, to a laptop that can fit in small backpacks. From wax, to plastic, to wax again, then onto the aforementioned computers, and onto gadgets smaller than a deck of cards. From skinny jeans to… skinny jeans. Most importantly: from a college dorm room in New York, to the ears of generations to come.
Def Jam Records. One of the 1st record labels dedicated entirely to Hip Hop. (And unquestionably, the only major one still in business.) The record label that pressed up and sold LL Cool J’s 1st single. Ever. The record label that brought together 2 brothers in leather and a washed-up 70s rock group to create one of the biggest hits ever for both acts. The record label that heard a debut album from, and then agreed to a distribution deal with some guy named Jay-Z. The record label that signs the checks for Kanye West’s ego. The record company behind Slick Rick, Public Enemy, EPMD, Method Man and Redman, DMX, Ludacris, Scarface… Oh, and they’re still one of the most vital labels in urban music today.
Yes, Def Jam Records has been around the block. Matter of fact, they’ve been around it about once a year for 25 years, and their impact hasn’t been forgotten.
The most national recognition of Def Jam’s 25th would most likely be this year’s annual “Hip Hop Honors”, which aired on October 13th. (Presented, as always, on VH1, and hosted by Tracy Morgan.) Def Jam was given unanimous props from its early years to the present day, with performances from, acknowledgements of, and tributes to its founders Rick Rubin (producer) and mogul Russell Simmons, and pretty much every artist who’s ever been a member of the Def Jam roster. A roster that speaks—loudly—for itself.
All aforementioned artists and more received their “honors,” and/or graced the stage with their classic cuts. Among other performances, Public Enemy took to the stage to knock out their legendary “Rebel Without A Pause.” Though PE’s original message may be a bit astray for co-founding sideman Flavor Flav (now the longtime center of questionable affection on his Flavor of Love reality show on the same network), the sentiment was as potent as ever. The highlight of the evening was almost unanimously the homage performance of LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells,” carried out by 3 of the “def”-est there are: Black Thought (of The Roots, currently Def Jam artists), Eminem, and DJ Jazzy Jeff—whom, if you didn’t know before his show-stealing scratch solo (shame on you), is much, much more than that re-occurring character on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Def Jam also has their own Run DMC to thank, for long ago securing one aspect of their current homage. Adidas—who Run-DMC simultaneously endorsed and immortalized in their 1986 song “My Adidas,” is currently selling limited edition shoes, t-shirts, and more importantly—shoes, baring tributes in various incarnations of the iconic Def Jam tone-arm logo, as well as nods towards a bevy of it’s artists via various album art and logo references.
25 years is a long time in general. Let alone in the music business. Let alone in the black music business. So after all the confetti falls to the dance floor, the turntables stop, and Adidas’ stock goes back to normal before the kick-copping fest of the holidays, the question remains: what does the next 25 years hold for Hip-Hop? One can only hope that enough passion for the art form remains to generate any sort of company similar to Def Jam. Because 25 years is a long, long time.

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