Was there ever any question that Def Jam Recordings would be the #1 most important hip-hop record label of all time??? Here’s a 30-song playlist of music from some of the legendary Def Jam artists: LL, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, Redman, Method Man and more.
Before record labels were considered “the enemy” their brands actually meant something. Artists dreamed of being on the same label as the MCs they grew up idolizing and some labels had such credibility fans would buy the record just because it was on that label.
We decided to look at the 20 most important hip-hop record labels of all time as determined by a host of factors including credibility, sales, enduring legacy and cultural impact. And, the labels are:
#1 Def Jam Recordings
Def Jam Recordings is famous purely for the impact its music has had on pop culture. There were no beefs with other labels, no violence, no deaths of its major artists and no super high profile executives. With Def Jam, it was the label and the brand that it represented that brought shine to its executives. Founded in 1984 by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin in Rubin’s NYU dorm room, Def Jam had a 15-year run before it was merged with Island Records in 1999 to form the Island Def Jam Music Group. Island Def Jam continues to this day but it is a very different entity than the Def Jam Recordings presided over by Russell Simmons, who walked away with a cool $100 Million after the merger. During its 15 years as a standalone record label, Def Jam produced so many artists critical to the advancement of hip-hop that no one can be singled out as the signature artist of the label. The label also created several cultural milestones–it broke the color barrier in hip-hop with The Beastie Boys, created the first hip-hop ballad (I Need Love) and expanded hip-hop’s reach to TV (Def Comedy Jam), film (How to be a Player) and fashion (through Simmons’ Phat Farm). Equally important to its enduring legacy is the executive team that the company groomed. Many of Def Jam’s former employees are among the most powerful people in the music industry today, including Lyor Cohen (Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group, North America), Julie Greenwald (President, Atlantic Records), Kevin Liles (Manager of Trey Songz) and Chris Lighty (Manager of 50 Cent, Nas, LL Cool J, Missy Elliot and many others). Perhaps most importantly, the success of Def Jam, and particularly Russell Simmons, would serve to inspire an entire generation of aspiring moguls that they could build an empire through hip-hop. Here’s a playlist celebrating the music of Def Jam. It’s 30 songs strong and features music from LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Redman, Method Man, Onyx, Warren G, Slick Rick, EPMD and many more. Check it out.
Previously: #20 Rakwus Records, #19 Loud Records, #18 Select Records and #17 Fresh Records, #16 Rap-A-Lot Records, #15 Ruffhouse Records, #14 Uptown Records, #13 Cold Chillin’ Records, #12 No Limit Records, #11 Jive Records, #10 Aftermath Entertainment, #9 Roc-A-Fella Records, #8 Cash Money Records, #7 Ruthless Records, #6 Profile Records, #5 Tommy Boy Records, #4 Sugar Hill Records, #3 Bad Boy Records, #2 Death Row Records