Def Jam's dancehall links

Def Jam: The J'can connection

By Kevin Jackson
Observer writer

Friday, November 29, 2019

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Iconic hip hop label Def Jam Recordings, which is owned by Universal Music Group, celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.

Founded by Americans Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, the label is best known for launching the careers of pioneer rapper's like L L Cool J and The Beastie Boys, and making hip hop a multi-billion dollar force.

The company has also been associated with reggae and dancehall.

In the mid 1990s, Capleton was signed to the label. Two albums were released, Prophecy (which peaked at number 65 on Billboard's R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart in 1995) and I-Testament, released in 1997.

Capleton enjoyed a surge of popularity thanks to the Billboard-charting hits Tour, (number 57 on the Hot 100 Chart), Wings of The Morning (number 79 on the Hot 100 Chart) and Heathen Rage (number 79 on the R&B Hip Hop Songs Chart).

In 2001, Def Jam released the single Oh Yeah by Foxy Brown featuring Spragga Benz. It peaked at number 63 on the R&B Hip Hop Songs Chart; four years later, Brown released Come Fly With Me, a collaboration with Sizzla, which reached number 45.

In 2003, Red Star Presents Def Jamaica, a 15-song compilation album, was released by Def Jam. The set saw dancehall and reggae acts collaborating with American hip hop acts signed to Def Jam at the time.

Music executive Cristy Barber and then general manager for Def Jam, Randy Acker, were executive producers for the project.

“I was working at Tuff Gong International at the time and we were in the same building with the Polygram staff, which also had Island and Def Jam, so we often interacted on occasions. When Rihanna came out with Pon De Replay, Def Jam put it out on 7-inch on Tuff Gong because they wanted us to help break the song in the Caribbean,” Barber recalled.

She continued, “There was the Red Star Heineken initiative and Randy Acker, who was the general manager at Def Jam at the time, he came to me and said they had a project that they needed to do through the Def Jam Foundation. I came up with the concept to do a reggae/hip-hop-fused record, Def Jamaica. I found my reggae artistes and we all did collaborations with Def Jam artistes. Both Randy and myself were partners in this.”

Red Star Sounds Presents Def Jamaica featured the likes of Elephant Man, Spragga Benz, Baby Cham, Beenie Man, Sean Paul, Mr Vegas, Vybz Kartel, Wayne Marshall, DYCR, Buju Banton, Damian Marley, Lady Saw, Buccaneer, Wayne Wonder, Lexxus and Tanto Metro and Devonte.

The hip hop acts included Ghostface Killah, Shawna, DMX, Jay-Z, Jungle Brothers, Major Damage, Cam'ron, Method Man, Redman, Juelz Santana and CNN.

Said Barber: “We had the support of the whole entire staff at Def Jam. Anyone who was associated with doing music at Def Jam, got involved with the project. It was a big deal for them and it was something that had never been done before. It was a Heineken Music initiative, and it was great exposure for their initiative.”

To promote the project, major press, including MTV 2 got involved. There was also a mixed hip-hop/dancehall summit in Puerto Rico and a resort take-over in Trelawny.

According to Barber, “During the Def Jamaica period, just the exposure alone to the artistes was amazing. I think it was a great co-sign to have these legends of hip hop wanting to be a part of the project. It was a great time for us and so much exposure for the reggae genre, and not just the artistes who were doing well, but we reminded people about some of the artistes from the '90s that hadn't recorded something in a minute.”

Red Star Sounds Presents Def Jamaica was nominated in 2004 for a Best Reggae Album Grammy Award.

It should have been the genesis of a reggae/dancehall label under the Def Jam banner. However, with change in management at the company, those plans were thwarted.

“It was a bit disappointing that we weren't able to launch the label. At that point, the representatives at the label left for Atlantic Records,” said Barber.

In 2010, Def Jam released the album, Distant Relatives, by rapper Nas and Damian Marley.

Among the acts currently signed to Def Jam are 2 Chainz, BTS, DMX, Jeremih, Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Nas.


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