Def Jam Recordings

Founder(s): President(s): Parent Label: Year(s):
Russell Simmons L.A. Reid Island Def Jam Music Group/UMG [1983 - ]
Rick Rubin

Distributing Label: Island Def Jam/Universal Music Group

Def Jam was founded by punk-rock fan, Rick Rubin in his New York University dorm room with Russell 'Rush' Simmons bringing in his growing stable of established artists under his Rush Management. The label became home to some of the greatest rappers ever assembled, LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, DMX, Jay-Z. Def Jam played a major role in forging hip-hop into boundless limits of commercial success from the early stages to today's global dominance. Def Jam is a powerhouse in the music industry, and stalwart for the culture of hip-hop and urban representation. The empire it stands as today came from a vision from Russell and Rick who only wanted the best for a culture they were raised on. Def jam is and always was more than a record label, it is a home for hip-hop.

Frederick Jay Rubin found hip-hop through Mr. Magic's WBLS radio show. First and foremost Rick is a fan of the Dead Kennedy, Blag Flag, AC/DC ilk. This changed when he caught wind of Run DMC's "It's Like That" when it dropped in 1983. The long-haired punk rock Jew was suddenly taken in by the seduction of hip-hop's own King of rock Rick considered hip-hop as 'black punk'. A further education of black punk music was given to Rubin during '83 when he shared a room with future Beastie Boys' Adam Horowitz. Russell on the other hand took hip-hop by both hands, growing into a man around local Seven Immortal gang, he found his way out by riding coat-tails and promoting of aspiring stage talents. He was booking shows for Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore, DJ Hollywood and Lovebug Starski before gaining representation of Kurtis Blow, a cross-marketable Harlem emcee. He then harboured the exuberance of hip-hop's finest group, Run DMC led by his younger brother Joseph Simmons. From shows to management - Rush Management that is, it was all levels of induction into bringing hip-hop into the world of industry and finance. The next step for Simmons to open his own recording label was inevitable. With our without anyone who crossed his path, Russell had the overdrive to excel either way.

Rubin befriended DJ Jazzy Jay a true hip-hop elite and member of Bambaataa's Zulu Nation who schooled Rubin on the art and techniques of DJing to hip-hop. The pair produced a track, "It's Yours" for Treacherous Three's Kool Moe Dee. Due to their contract with Sugar Hill they could not take part in the project. However, Treach's Special K's brother, T-La Rock took the track and rapped over it, making it his own featuring backing vocals of Rubin's Room- mate, Horowitz. This move began the legacy of what is Def Jam Recordings, despite it being released through Party Time. "It's Yours" was overheard in a club by Russell Simmons who was amazed to hear of such a track pass by him and his management grip. He was more taken aback when he met Rick Rubin through Jazzy Jay in the club, a white guy producing such a slamming hip-hop joint. Their next meeting was to be in Rick's dorm, a littered, teenagers bedroom. Russell set up his drum machine and smacked out several beats. The pair spoke of a disgruntled common ground in fighting for decent support by record companies. A bright idea and $4,000 each, they forged initiative and drive and came up with a joint venture, Def Jam Records. This was the summer of 1984, far past hip-hop's seeding but right on time to reap the rewards of a burgeoning commercial growth.

After hearing the "It's Yours" record, young James Todd Smith mailed a demo tape of his raw rapping to the address on the back sleeve. Along with Rick's phone number, he called Rick over and over to request a spot on the Def Jam roster. Eventually after Adam Horowitz alerted Rick to the tape, Rick responded and invited the now self-proclaimed LL Cool J to the studio/dorm at University Place for a recording. The first release on Def Jam was LL Cool J’s “I Need A Beat” a record that swayed Russell Simmons into believing in the 16 year old upstart from Queens. The 12 inch record was given to DJ Red Alert and radio jocks at KISS FM and Mr. Magic's Rap Attack. It crossed to the west coast on Greg Mack's KDAY. LL blew up, he was the hottest kid on rotation. Simmons pushed his records through his widening circles of influence and with his word, every following Def Jam artist became a solid bet for ratings.

After LL's break came The Beastie Boys' “Rock Hard,” in late 1984. The single sold well, eventually leading to a distribution deal with CBS Records' (which would later become Sony Music Entertainment) Columbia Records the following year. The first full-length album released by Def Jam Recordings was LL Cool J’s Radio in December of 1985. The following year, Def Jam created a short-lived subsidiary label called OBR Records, catered toward R&B artists—the first artist signed to that imprint was Oran "Juice" Jones, who enjoyed success with his hit single “The Rain.” As the decade drew to a close, the label signed Public Enemy, whose controversial lyrical content garnered the company both critical acclaim and disdain.

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