Def Jam Recordings is an American record label, focused predominantly on hip hop and urban music, owned by Universal Music Group. In the UK, the label takes on the name Def Jam UK and is operated through Virgin EMI, while in Japan, it is Def Jam Japan operating through Universal Sigma Music. The label distributes various record labels, including Roc-A-Fella Records, Kanye West's GOOD Music, Ludacris' Disturbing Tha Peace, and No ID's ARTium Recordings.
Def Jam was founded by Rick Rubin in his dorm room in Weinstein Hall at New York University and its first release was a single by his punk-rock group Hose. Russell Simmons joined Rubin shortly after they were introduced to each other by Vincent Gallo. The first single released with a Def Jam Recordings logo was T La Rock & Jazzy Jay's "It's Yours." The first releases with Def Jam Recordings catalog numbers were LL Cool J's "I Need a Beat" and the Beastie Boys' "Rock Hard," both in 1984. The singles sold well, eventually leading to a distribution deal with CBS Records (which would later become Sony Music Entertainment) through Columbia Records the following year. This created a short-lived subsidiary label called OBR Records, catered toward R&B artists — the first artist signed to that imprint was Oran "Juice" Jones, who enjoyed success with his hit single "The Rain". Def Jam also signed its first and only thrash metal band, Slayer, in 1986, and the band's debut album was one of only two Def Jam releases to be distributed through Geffen Records, as opposed to Columbia. As the decade drew to a close, the label signed Public Enemy, whose controversial lyrical content garnered the company both critical acclaim and disdain. Lyor Cohen became president of Def Jam in 1988, after winning a power struggle with Rubin, who would shortly thereafter leave the company to form Def American Recordings (now known as American Recordings). Rubin would take Slayer with him to Def American in its initial stages.
By 1992, despite recent multi-platinum selling releases from LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and EPMD, Def Jam ran into severe financial troubles and was faced with folding. However, in 1994, PolyGram purchased Sony's 50% stake in Def Jam Recordings — subsequently bringing the label into its fold. Following PolyGram’s purchase, Def Jam distributed the Violator Records signed artist Warren G's Regulate... G Funk Era album, which went triple platinum and brought much-needed revenue to Def Jam through its distribution deal with Violator.
PolyGram acquired an additional 10% in Def Jam Recordings in 1996, further strengthening its ownership of Def Jam. Shortly thereafter, Rush Associated Labels was renamed Def Jam Music Group. The label remained profitable as its veteran star LL Cool J released his successful album Mr. Smith in 1995. The label later signed Foxy Brown, whose debut album Ill Na Na became a platinum seller in 1997.
In 1998, PolyGram was purchased by Seagram, and merged into Universal Music Group. Following Universal's takeover of PolyGram, it purchased the remaining interest of Def Jam Recordings from Russell Simmons for a reported $100 million. UMG merged Def Jam with Island Records to form The Island Def Jam Music Group. Despite the formation of IDJMG, both Def Jam and Island continue to operate as separate imprints underneath the bigger umbrella.
Lyor Cohen was appointed president of IDJMG, and Kevin Liles succeeded him as president of Def Jam. In 1999, Def Jam created an R&B spin-off label called Def Soul Recordings, which inherited many of Island Records' urban artists (and also some from Mercury Records), including Dru Hill and its lead singer Sisqó, The Isley Brothers and Kelly Price. Def Soul also issued recordings by Musiq, Montell Jordan, Case, 112, Patti LaBelle, and Christina Milian. Island's 4th & B'way Records was also folded into Def Jam.
Also in 1999, the label also began to distribute releases by Murder Inc. Records, run by former Def Jam executive Irv Gotti. Murder Inc.'s roster of artists would include Ja Rule, Ashanti, Lloyd, Vita. The following year, it launched another subsidiary, Def Jam South, which focused on Southern rap and distributed releases from labels such as Disturbing tha Peace, whose artists have included Ludacris, Chingy, and Bobby Valentino. Russell Simmons tapped Texas-born and raised rap legend Scarface (aka Brad Jordan) as the original head of Def Jam South. After about a 4-year run at Def Jam South, Scarface negotiated a release from the company in 2003. The label is currently run by Miami-based DJ Khaled.
In 2001, Lyor Cohen announced Def Jam Germany, the first international Def Jam company. This increased the label's presence around the world. Def Jam Germany signed German rappers Spezializtz, and Philly MC. The label was located in Berlin and opened on May 23, 2000. In addition to signing and marketing local artists, Def Jam Germany also marketed all U.S. signed Def Jam artists in the German territory.
The second international label is a Japanese branch, Def Jam Japan (デフ・ジャム・ジャパン Defu Jamu Japan?), also founded in 2000. Its artist roster has included AI, Teriyaki Boyz, and Nitro Microphone Underground.
In 2003, Def Soul was absorbed into its Def Jam parent. A year later, Murder Inc. became the center of a money laundering investigation involving illegal profits from drug trade, leading to the label's eventual release from its distribution contract by 2005. Roc-A-Fella Records was sold to the company in 2004, by which time it had launched the career of producer-turned-rapper Kanye West.
DMX helped the company to great heights during 1998 and 1999 selling millions of records and revived hardcore hip hop during this time. The same year, Cohen left IDJMG for Warner Music Group, and was replaced by former Arista executive L.A. Reid. An unhappy Liles eventually decided to follow Cohen to Warner. A bidding war for Jay-Z's contract began, and Reid appointed Jay-Z president of Def Jam.
Under Jay-Z's leadership, Def Jam launched the successful careers of contemporary R&B singers Rihanna and Ne-Yo. At the end of 2007, Jay-Z decided not to renew his contract as the President and CEO of Def Jam in order to start his new venture, Roc Nation. Following Jay-Z's departure, L.A. Reid took over leadership of the label, as opposed to hiring a replacement. In June 2008, Shakir Stewart was appointed as Executive Vice President of Def Jam, a position left vacant since December 2007.
Also main producer of distribution Anthony Maddigan which co-operate with MTV Entertainment.
On March 14, 2012, it was announced that former Warner Bros. Records executive Joie Manda would become the first President of Def Jam since Jay-Z. Until March 2013 when he exited his post at Def Jam and it was announced he'd be heading up the urban division of Interscope Records by his former boss, Barry Weiss. The-Dream served as Def Jam's executive vice president between 2012 and 2014. Currently, No I.D. upholds the position of executive vice president after helping to establish GOOD Music with Kanye West; Steve Bartels is the current CEO of Def Jam. On April 1, 2014, it was announced that Island Def Jam will no longer be active following the resigning of CEO Barry Weiss. In a press release serviced by Universal Music Group, the label will now be reorganizing Def Jam Recordings, Island Records and Motown Records all as separate entities.