Def Jam: how a new British imprint of the iconic rap label poached Stormzy

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Only 6% of music industry execs are Black. That system fails artists, say the founders of 0207 Def Jam, whose uniquely diverse boardroom aims to change the culture – for good

Rick Rubin’s initial ambitions for Def Jam were modest. In 1984, it was simply a means for him to release music by his punk rock band, Hose. Its first office was his New York University dorm room. “We never had any aspirations other than playing in small clubs,” he says. “That was the ceiling for the hardcore punk scene at that time. It was really more about being a part of something: a community of outsiders making music, mainly for ourselves and each other.”

Thirty-seven years later, the most iconic label in hip-hop is part of Universal Music, and commands a vast legacy. It united the nascent NYC rap scene with Public Enemy and Beastie Boys, while Walk This Way, Run-DMC’s collaboration with Aerosmith, helped open a door to hip-hop for white audiences. A slump in sales left it $19m in debt by 1992, but the multi-platinum success of Warren G’s 1994 debut, Regulate … G Funk Era, restored the label’s fortunes. Kanye West, DMX and Jay-Z took it to superstardom – the latter spending three years as president from 2004 to 2007, signing Rihanna and Ne-Yo. A year later, Def Jam signed Justin Bieber. Its reputation was recently tainted after a series of women accused co-founder Russell Simmons of sexual assault, which he denies. But Def Jam endures; Snoop Dogg recently signed on as a creative consultant.

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