Posts Tagged ‘Def Jam Recordings’



Adam Yauch was an energetic, intelligent and humorous kid of 20 when I met him almost 30 years ago. Along with Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond, his two band mates in the Beastie Boys, I caught him playing the Roxy on 18th Street in Manhattan. He did a laughably bad parody of rap and hip hop while wearing a doo rag and a sweatsuit. It was their first gig at the old headquarters for hip hop and their ridiculous attire made them look like they did part-time security at a Times Square porn shop. At the time, it did not appear that they would have much future as serious players in the hip hop world. It just goes to show you that greatness can come from inauspicious beginnings. History has proven that I could not have been any more wrong. 

I was a young promotion man with access and taste who loved hip hop. I had arrived at that point in my musical journey by using a path that was paved by James Brown, Sly Stone, Aretha Franklin, Stax, and jazz fusion. Adam Yauch had arrived there byway of the well documented connection between punk and early independent hip hop. That first night we met, Yauch and the other two gave me and their then manager (Russell Simmons) a ride (in a rented limousine) from Manhattan to a party that some successful drug dealers were throwing out in Queens. 
At that time, the region in Manhattan south of 23rd Street was an unsettled wilderness of abandoned factories, apartment buildings, lofts and unrented retail space. The sort of barren, desolate wasteland that provided a perfect setting for creativity to flourish without interference. It was also home to a network of clubs where an eclectic menu of alternative, punk, synth pop, new wave, rap and underground records filled dance floors on a nightly basis. Artists, models, actors, musicians, writers, socialites, music execs and anonymous aspirants of all types blended to make up an exciting world where hustle fueled their desire for fame and turned dreams into reality.
The Beasties were fortunate to have met Russell and his young partner, Rick Rubin when they did. Simmons and Rubin had hit with a few of their independent productions, but had been stiffed by the labels that they’d released the records through. As a result, Rubin approached Simmons about partnering in a label and together they formed Def Jam Recordings. The Beasties were the first act signed, but the first record released was “I Need A Beat” by LL Cool J. 

A little more than six months after the night I met Yauch, I joined Def Jam as their first head of promotion, and I was given two records that featured the young MC that were virtually impossible to get played; “The Party’s Getting Rough” by The Beasties and “Drum Machine” by Yauch. Let’s just say that they had yet to crystalize their blend of humor, shock and frat boy lewdness that would allow their “License To Ill” project to be the first rap album to grace the top of the Billboard Album chart the following year. And that they were recordings that were still too rooted in the punk aesthetic to connect with the core rap audience. Fortunately, neither he nor his band mates were discouraged. They kept scratching and came up with a real rap record called “Hold It Now Hit It” produced by Rubin. 
Simmons was imbued with the spirit of P. T. Barnum, and Rubin was a young mystic who tapped into the deep dark pools of misogyny, sexism and ill male behavior that wrestling and heavy metal depended on to drive sales. He blessed his young charges with the benefit of his knowledge. They took it to heart and went on tour to support their record with chicks who appeared on stage in cages, and danced in leather bikinis with big ’80s style “Working Girl” hair. Their was a good deal of suggestive writhing to the beat and they presaged the booty music and dirty south based videos that would become popular in the next decade. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the inflatable penis shaped balloon that they used as a prop.
In response to these hijinks, there was tremendous controversy and outrage from just about every responsible adult corner. There were threats to keep the band from performing in England, voices in the Black American music community accused the band of reverse minstrelsy, feminists found their whole act to be reprehensible, but kids dug it. Black ones, white ones, females; all kinds. They represented youthful rebellion like no other band of their era. 
The decadence and excess led to a dark period that led to the band nearly breaking up and leaving Def Jam after one album. It is still the biggest seller in the label’s history. Out of that, something more important than sales happened: Led by Yauch, The Beastie Boys became a voice for tolerance, anti-discrimination, religious freedom and progressive causes of all types. They became the conscience of hip hop.
The last five times that I saw the formerly raucous college party band perform were all for humanitarian or progressive causes. In ’97 and ’98, I went to the Tibetan Freedom Festivals that were held in New York and DC. At the invitation of The Beasties, the worlds of hip hop, alternative, and cool were brought together in football stadiums to bring attention to the struggle of the Tibetan people to remove the oppressive foot of the People’s Republic Of China from their necks. I ran into Adam while he was skateboarding a block away from the old Roxy and he connected me with a contact to get VIP treatment.
The Foo Fighters showed up, Sonic Youth rocked, Radiohead, Tribe, De La, Herbie Hancock, Beck, Wyclef, R.E.M. U2, Gang Star and many, many others did their thing. Backstage was heat; Minnie Driver, Ben Harper, Laura Dern, Guy Oseary and a new couple out for their first public date; Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston all took in the music and good vibes. The former sweat suit wearers were using their power and influence to bring the international creative community together to raise their voices to fight injustice.
In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, when outright racist propaganda disguised as patriotism filled the news cycle, the Beasties decided to protest the coming war by throwing a show in New York’s Hammerstein Ball Room that featured a joint performance by Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe and Bono. The headliners who’d used an inflatable penis as a prop had raised a middle finger to the unholy alliance of Bush, big oil and the military industrial complex and foresaw the fallacy of the decade long mistake that lay ahead of us all.
In 2002, I went to Las Vegas to the House of Blues to see the Boys who became men, perform at a benefit to raise money for the family of their slain mentor and our old friend, Jam Master Jay. I went backstage to say what up to the crew and was received warmly. The jokesters lent their weight to an effort to ease the pain of our extended family members and set an example of how to turn your sorrow into action for the rest of us.
In 2008, they came to Charlotte, NC to play for Rock The Vote and help Barack Obama become elected president of the US, and in the process, swing the previously red state into the blue. Oh we had a time that night. I spoke with them all, but had a lengthy private chat with Yauch about his film directing and a potential project that we could work on together. We weren’t able to agree on terms, but if we had, I’m sure it would have been dope. Adam had a totally different take on the project than I did, but his ol skool flava was still apparent.
He came a long way from that first night in ’84. And in the wake of his untimely death, it has dawned on me that they became the most successful artists that I have ever worked with and represented the golden age of our thing to all corners of the globe. I am proud to have known them all and especially proud to have known Yauch, he showed us all how you can positively use power, even if at first, it doesn’t seem like you deserve it. RIP

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Hip Hop, the New York based culture that began in the 70s, gathered steam and creative potency in the ’80s and became the dominant popular culture of the 90s, and beyond; provided economic opportunity to those with entrepreneurial spirits in its early days. It gave us Rap Music-the voice of the voiceless that infused the moribund, early 80s record business with a dose of the beauty of the streets.

On the whole, poor, working and middle class Black people along with Jews with vision, combined to create a new industry that would shape all that it touched, and resulted in playing a huge role in Barack Obama being elected to the US Presidency.

Several recent developments have given me reason to look back on where we were then, and how we’ve gotten to where we are: Jay Electronica, the lyricist to beat in the current game, has teamed up with Mobb Deep to give us the heat rock, “Call of Duty”. The intro features an excerpt from a speech by Winston Churchill that’s used to good effect, Jay shouts the recently departed Steve Jobs out and makes a plea for international unity in his guise as the “Chosen One”. This is Jay Elect’s strongest effort since his “Exhibit C” shook things up, started a bidding war and landed him on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint.




Speaking of Jay-Z; he and protégée, Kanye West’s “Watch The Throne” project has had much-needed new life breathed into it by using the recently freed, T.I. on a guest collabo on their “Niggas In Paris”. Def Jam will have great fun using this one to set up the Watch The Throne Tour.

While en route to Memphis University’s Midnight Madness jump off for the 2011-2012 basketball season, Def Jam hustler Rick Ross has experienced two seizures, and been admitted to a Birmingham Alabama area hospital for the second time. Details are murky.

Jive Records was finally laid to rest by RCA; the last brand standing. Corporate maneuvering has resulted in the old home to Whodini, Blastmaster KRS-1 and Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince finally being put out to pasture along with Arista, and J Records, the two labels started by Clive Davis.

Jive’s greatest Hip Hop signing, and former RUSH Productions management client, A Tribe Called Quest were the subjects of a Sony distributed documentary that played better theaters everywhere over the summer. I served as the music supervisor on the project. The film, “Beats Rhymes And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called” will be released on DVD on 10/18. Coincidentally, this year is the 20th anniversary of the release of, “The Low End Theory” project, the game changer that set the Native Tongue movement off for real.


All of this Def Jam/RUSh related energy has made me look back. I met the late George Jackson, the Hollywood film producer who hailed from Harlem when I was the National Director of Promotion for Def Jam, the tiny independent that was partially based in the college dormitory room of co-founder, Rick Rubin. The other base of operations for the little label that could, was the office of RUSH, the production and management firm that Russell Simmons headed.

At that time, Jackson and his producing partner, Doug McHenry were producing,”Krush Grove” the fictionalized disaster that was loosely based on Def Jam.. We had plenty of opportunity to get to know each other. Jackson & McHenry enlisted me to convince Simmons that a then little known Blair Underwood would be ideal to play the starring role in the film. Jackson remembered that I had decent film instincts, solid music chops and mad contact when 5 years later, he was looking for a soundtrack home for another project of theirs.

This is the twentieth anniversary of the release of the film “New Jack City” the crack epic with the tight screenplay penned by the noted journalist and author, Barry Michael Cooper. Blaxploitation scion, Mario Van Peebles directed and Jackson and McHenry produced

The film made stars of Ice-T, Chris Rock and Wesley Snipes. The soundtrack made an overnight success of racially mixed new jack swingers, Color Me Badd by introducing their smash, “I Wanna Sex You Up” to a hungry film going and record buying consumer base, and Giant/Warner Brothers Records became players in the early 90s Black Music business. I had a large hand in curating the soundtrack, and you can read a more detailed account written by Tamika Anderson in the current issue of Juicy Magazine that’s on newsstands now.




Last night, Rubin and Simmons held a joint lecture at the New York Public Library to publicize the release of a somewhat historically truncated coffee table book that’s been curated by the label’s former publicist, Bill Adler and it’s art department head, Cey “City” Adams. The recently released book takes a look at the first 25 years of the label in this, the 27th year of it’s existence.

Tweeting live from the event was Andre “Dr. Jeckyl” Harrell, the former head honcho of Motown founder of Uptown Records, mentor to Diddy, Mary J.Blige, Heavy D and Al B.Sure, former VP of RUSH Nd the progenitor of the world view know as Ghetto Fabulous. It was in his capacity as an executive at RUSh, that he convinced Russell Simmons to hire me as the first employee of the label that initially recorded The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.

During Rick and Russell’s talk, Harrell began to Tweet about the late Sylvia Robinson, who along with her husband Joe, founded Hip Hop’s first dominant label, Sugar Hill Records, and how he’d inadvertently crashed his car while we were riding down the tree-lined street where the Robinson’s lived, when I pointed out the home of my former boss. Harrell was a kid from the Boogie Down and was overcome with excitement when he got his first glimpse of how much comfort a Hip Hop mogul’s money could by.





Sylvia and Joe’s oldest son, Joey, picked me off of one of the basketball courts in Soul City, and gave me my first shot in the record business by making me the head of college radio promotion for the label. I spoke with him on Monday, and conveyed my condolences on his mother’s passing.

Mrs. Robinson’s funeral was last Tuesday in Soul City. She was brought to the Community Baptist mega church, in my old neighborhood, by a horse-drawn carriage, reaffirming for one last time that there was truth in the title of her last hit as an artist; “It’s Good To Be The Queen”. RIP

I met Harrell in the VIP of the Roxy, the Money Making Manhattan based, roller skating disco that turned into Hip Hop central every Friday night in the mid 80s. It is the place where I first met Rick Rubin, Kurtis Blow, Rev. Run, saw Madonna perform to a track in a half empty club, and heard the Zululu overlord, Afrikaa Bambatta spin breaks, beats and classics for Hip Hop’s first crossover audience. Russell “Rush” Simmons woke Harrell from a sound sleep so that we he could be introduced.

A friend from Soul City was the son of one of the earliest Black card holders in one of the stage hand union’s for film. As a result, he was grandfathered in, and was working on Hollywood film sets in the early 80s. He’d been working on “Beat Street”, Hollywood’s earliest attempt to cash in on the Hip Hop heat that was based on the goings on at the Roxy.

My man had a lot of access, and had copped a couple of tickets to a break dancing and rapping contest that Coca Cola was sponsoring at Radio City. He came by my crib, scooped me, and we hopped on a bus and the A Train to mid-town. Inside the hall, a trio of overweight MCs called the Disco 3 won the rap contest. They would eventually rename themselves the Fat Boys, and would be positioned by Russell Simmons in conversations as the Monkees to Run/DMC, his little brother’s more serious band, who he viewed as Hip Hop’s Beatles.

The evening of the contest was a beautiful Spring New York evening. It was 1983 and the night that I met Russell Simmons, the man who along with Joey Robinson would be most responsible for my being embraced by the Hip Hop community. It is ironic that Joey’s mother, whose creative success inspired an industry was laid to rest the same week that DJ Double R and Rush were reminiscing about the label that picked up the baton that Sugar Hill passed on, and took it to a place that Jay-Z and Kanye are still running with. I love Hip Hop. This was a week that reminded me.

Shouts to Rush, Dr. Jeckyl, The Beasties, James Todd Smith, Glen E., Heidi Smith, The Ab, Tokyo Rose, Barry Weiss, Karen Durant, Chrissy Murray, Nelson George, Joey Robinson, Iris Perkins, Leslie, Sharon and Ruby, Flash, Master Gee and…The Wirk

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