Hard to believe that Def Jam Records has been around for 25 years! I remember the first time I heard of Def Jam, it was when I discovered The Beastie Boys classic debut “Licensed To Ill” a release that managed to bring hip-hop, punk, rock and mainstream audiences together with the universal call to “Fight for Your Right to Party!” Something any 13 year old (my age in 1986) can stand behind, even though I really didn’t know what “partying” was yet.
The label was started by the now-infamous record producer Rick Rubin in his dorm room at NYU and its first release was a single by his punk group Hose. Shortly after that, Vincent Gallo introduced Rubin to Russell Simmons. The label would then focus more on hip-hop and urban music but would also count thrash-metal band Slayer among its ranks, proving its diversity and desire to bring the rock and hip-hop communities together. Throughout the late 80s and early to mid 90s, Def Jam would dominate the pop charts with ground breaking releases by Public Enemy, LL Cool J and EPMD and then into the new millennium with chart-toppers Rihanna, Jay Z and Kanye West.
Rubin left the label in 1988 to form Def American Recordings (bringing Slayer with him) which would eventually evolve into American Recordings. American gained notoriety for the Rubin-produced, career-reviving Johnny Cash recordings that would define the latter part of the country legend’s lifetime. Russell Simmons has since become the third richest man in the hip-hop community with an estimated worth of $340 million.
Tomorrow night in Seattle, Experience Music Project presents “Def Jam25: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label,” a lecture and book event celebrating the pioneering hip hop label. The Def Jam25 lecture series will be conducted by the co-authors of “DEFinition: the Art and Design of Hip-Hop,” and Def Jam Recordings founding staff members, journalist and biographer Bill Adler and creative director Cey Adams. This is a great opportunity to get the inside stories behind possibly the greatest hip-hop label ever and a chance to see how they rose from humble beginnings to the top of the heap. Tickets are still available right over here so get yours before they’re gone.