Russell Simmons Crowns Def Jam’s Greatest Album & His Favorite Artist (Video)
Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin began releasing Def Jam Records singles in 1984. Started in a New York University dorm room (occupied by Rubin), the company would expand to become a reported $115 million property by the late 1990s. From original flagship artist LL Cool J, Def Jam would play a critical role in the careers of Beastie Boys, Jay Z, Redman, Method Man, Public Enemy, DMX, Rick Ross, and countless others.
In the 1980s, Simmons and Rubin would separate. Russell, a top Hip-Hop executive since the early 1980s (and brother to Run-D.M.C.’s Rev Run) would remain at the New York City-based label. Rubin would launch Def American Records (l/k/a American Records) where he would focus on production in Metal, Country, Punk, Rock & Roll, and some Hip-Hop.
In a newly-published video interview with DJ Vlad of Vlad TV, Russell Simmons is asked about Rick Rubin’s 1988 departure. “We should have made the next Run-D.M.C. album,” Simmons says, presumably referring to 1990’s Back From Hell. Rubin would work with the Profile Records Hip-Hop hit-makers on ’88’s Top 10 Tougher Than Leather.
“[Rick Rubin] wasn’t really ready to make the next Public Enemy album, ’cause they didn’t really want nobody near them.” Rubin produced parts of 1987’s P.E. debut, Yo! Bum Rush The Show. “[Public Enemy was] like, ‘Get the fuck away from us, all of you niggas.’ And they made…[It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back] was the greatest record Def Jam ever made.” Released June 28, 1988, Russell Simmons praises the platinum album. Rick Rubin was listed as executive producer, in one of his final Def Jam Records credits. “That’s the best record [of my time at] Def Jam Records. That album is great.” Simmons continues, praising P.E.’s third LP, and first Top 10. “[Fear Of A Black Planet] was great too. Public Enemy made the records that defined Def Jam, in my opinion.”
Rush believes that the Long Island, New York outfit made Rap’s benchmark album, on his label and beyond. “The only thing that fucks with [It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back] is Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. It’s in the same category. That’s [Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad], they made it.” The Bomb Squad, a Long Island production unit including Chuck D, Hank Shocklee, Keith Shocklee, Eric “Vietnam” Sadler, Gary “G-Wiz”, and Bill Stephney, among others. In addition to groundbreaking work with P.E., they produced Cube’s solo debut, as well as later hits for Run-D.M.C., Slick Rick, 3rd Bass, Eric B. & Rakim, and Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” “[They are] the niggas that made Def Jam, more than anybody: the Bomb Squad, because they didn’t make Rock & Roll or Rap or mix it, they said, ‘Fuck that. We gonna make some new shit.’ The Beastie Boys had that in [Paul’s Boutique] too, which kinda would’ve really fit on Def Jam.” 1989’s sophomore Beastie Boys album, Paul’s Boutique, marked the New York City trio’s separation from the label, management, and Licensed To Ill mentor/producer. The group would sign with Capitol Records, relocate to California, and work extensively with Dust Brothers and Mario C.
Getting back to P.E., Simmons believes that Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and Terminator X along with their producers set a tone for Beastie Boys, Ice Cube, as well as other late 1980s sonic pioneers. “That was a very innovative, alternative, Hip-Hop thing what Public Enemy did. That was Def Jam. To me, those are the things that defined the musicality that had Def Jam being a unique, special brand. The second Beastie Boys album is that too—and so is [Licensed To Ill] obviously, but [Paul’s Boutique] even more—and [It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back] even more.”
Notably, the Beastie Boys’ 1986 debut Licensed To Ill is Def Jam Records’ all-time best-selling Hip-Hop album, the sole diamond certified 1980s Hip-Hop release (with more than 10 million units sold).
Later in the interview, Vlad asks Russell about former Def Jam artists speaking out against the label, and mentions the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy’s Chuck D specifically. “Everybody gets mad; artists always get mad. It’s always the record company’s fault.” Simmons laughing recalls Greg Nice’s “DWYCK” lyrics, who was apparently a disgruntled Def Jam act (as Nice & Smooth) at the time in 1992. “I ain’t never had a Rap beef. And I ain’t scared of nobody on the planet. I’m serious.” Russell, who would remain a board member with the label following its 1999 sale to Polygram/Seagram, stands by his relationships in the 2010s. “Everybody who’s ever said something bad about me, ask them right now if I didn’t make their friendship again. Anybody. Anybody.” Specifically, Simmons mentioned Public Enemy’s front man who he would work with from 1987’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show to 1998’s He Got Game soundtrack. Following the Spike Lee soundtrack, Public Enemy would become one of the early platinum Hip-Hop acts to go independent. “Chuck D, that’s my nigga,” touts Simmons. “That’s my favorite Def Jam artist, ever. He’s not mad at me right now. We’re very close. We were at the March together,” he says of the 20th anniversary Million Man March in October of last year. “[Chuck D] made the [original] Million Man March possible.”
Simmons also quotes a “Welcome To The Terrordome” lyric that he believes embodies Chuck D’s greatness as an MC and songwriter:
“I rope-a-dope the evil with righteous / Bobbing and weaving and let the good get even.”
Less than one year ago, Public Enemy released its 13th studio album, Man Plans God Laughs on Spit Digital. The Bomb Squad’s G-Wiz was among producers.