“…Def Jam, the world’s most important hip-hop destination.”
– Barry Weiss (Chairman and CEO of Universal Republic and Island Def Jam)
As the holiday season rolls around, record labels often scramble to put out albums from the biggest artists on their rosters. With the constant struggle to sell albums these days, it is important that labels go into the fourth quarter of the year full speed ahead to meet quotas and achieve financial success. But what if your label puts out five of its major releases in the summer, and still has a few more highly anticipated albums expected before the end of the year? If you were to ask Joie Manda, president of Def Jam Records, he would probably tell you that that is expected of the historic label. “The Def Jam artist roster has always been synonymous with the greatest in hip-hop, and I intend to carry that tradition into the future,” explained Manda in an official statement in March 2012 when he became Jay-Z’s successor to the Def Jam throne.
Sure Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles, and Jay-Z, all made lasting impacts during their reign’s as Def Jam presidents, but in a time where the entertainment industry has completely changed and become dependent on social media, executives are now dealing with things they’ve never expected. Take Frank Ocean for example. In July, the R&B singer opened up about his love for another man shortly before his debut album Channel Orange was released. In a world where homophobia is such a sensitive topic, Def Jam, as well as many others in the industry, stood next to Mr. Ocean in support.
“Today is a big day for hip-hop, your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear.”
– Russell Simmons (Founder of Def Jam Records on Frank Ocean’s announcement)
Yes, Frank Ocean’s announcement is a major stepping-stone for the entire music industry, but maintaining the well being for an artist and what they do in their personal lives isn’t a major corporations top priority; record sales are.
As the summer comes to an end, no other major hip-hop record label had as big of a summer as Def Jam. What’s special about their summer release strategy was that they catered to different forms of the urban culture: underground, street, and R&B. To date, the five major releases put out by Def Jam have done very well.
Def Jam Summer 2012 Releases & Record Sales
- Big K.R.I.T. – Live from the Underground (As of Aug. 15h 83,000)
- Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (As of Aug. 5th 238,000)
- Nas – Life Is Good (As of Aug. 5th 226,000)
- Rick Ross – God Forgives, I Don’t (As of Aug. 15th 400,000)
- 2 Chainz – Based on a T.R.U. Story (As of Aug. 21st 145,809)
- Kanye West & G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
- Ludacris – Ludaversal
- Ne-Yo – R.E.D.
- Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors
“A lot of people get into the trappings, but it’s really about the music, I’m excited about making it the most forward-thinking, premier record label.”
– Joie Manda (August 2012, Billboard Magazine)
Manda really is a forward thinker. One week prior to the official release date [July 17th] of Channel Orange, Frank Ocean appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and immediately released his album on iTunes after his performance. This move is not uncommon for Def Jam as we have seen it with the release of Jay-Z & Kanye West’s collaboration, Watch The Throne. Whether it is to avoid album leaks, or just great marketing, the method works. As of August 5, 2012, Channel Orange has sold 226,000 copies, with limited singles and videos, & Watch The Throne has sold over 1.5 million copies and grossed $48 million in tour revenue.
A premier record label wouldn’t be anything if it didn’t have a premier artist such as Nas on their roster. In July, Nas released his tenth solo album, Life Is Good, to favorable reviews. The experience Nas brings both physically and literally give listeners something to look forward to and other artists to emulate. Whether Life Is Good sells 1 copy or 1 million copies, Nas continues to keep true to himself, musically, during a time where the formula for making an album is completely structured and governed by record executives.
Ace Hood Album Listening Session – July 2011, NYC
“I step in Def Jam building like I’m the shit / Tell them give me $50 million or I’ma quit”
– Kanye West (“Mercy”)
Great accomplishments for Def Jam are expected. Not only is the roster of talent very impressive, but also is the list of executives:
- Shawn “Pecas” Costner – Sr. Vice President
- Sha Money XL – Sr. Vice President of A&R
- No I.D. – Vice President
- DJ Khaled – President of Def Jam South
- The-Dream – Executive Vice President of Island Def Jam Records
If defense wins championships, then Def Jam is going to continue to win. Each one of the names above brings uniqueness, knowledge, and passion that are needed in order to succeed the music industry. We’ve seen what Sha Money XL did for 50 Cent, No I.D. for Kanye West, and DJ Khaled for Rick Ross. Ultimately, the overall experience the Def Jam executives bring to the table will befit every artist and give them the sense of security and confidence they strive for from those who support them.
“Def Jam on my heals, should I sign to it? / Million dollar advance for me to rhyme fluent”
– Rick Ross (“Rich Forever”)
Another strategy the label has inplimented this year is acquiring talents who have successfully laid their own groundwork. With the Chicago hip hop movement on the rise, Def Jam signed Lil’ Reese & Lil’ Durk to solo deals, 2 Chainz proved that a name change and consistent features will make you a household name, and a cocaine snorting, pill popping wild boy by the name of Gunplay has the potential to successfully step out from the shadows of his mentor Rick Ross.
Manda and his staff have proven that if you allow a major artist on your roster to open up their umbrella that they too will breed other artists to reach the same magnitude they have already achieved. Under Kanye West’s direction, Big Sean is growing into a top artist and someone who Def Jam can count on to create hit records, while Pusha T’s lyrics have become deeper and more powerful then ever. Even Jeremih, an artist who was on the verge of being dropped until 50 Cent rejuvenated his career, is putting out music that people are beginning to appreciate even though his music has been solid all along.
“Let me be clear, Def Jam is on fire.”
– Barry Weiss (Chairman and CEO of Universal Republic and Island Def Jam)
No doubt about it, Def Jam is on fire and consistency is the driving force behind their success. In the last few months, there hasn’t been a week that has gone by where you haven’t seen a new Rick Ross video or heard a new 2 Chainz verse. Rick Ross has never been phased by all the scrutiny and ridicule 50 Cent tried to pin against him, and 2 Chainz never let being in the shadows of Ludacris hold him back; they deserve to have #1 albums and have Def Jam present them with countless opportunities to further their careers and brands.
Within the last two years I have been to the Def Jam offices and fortunate to attend Def Jam events in New York City. Personally, I can tell you that those who work there are ectremely dedicated and connected to artists attached to the label. A strong sense of community can go a long way. Don’t be surprised if you continue to see the hashtag #DefJamBack on your Twitter feed into 2013. With the strategies in place at Def Jam, every artist that steps in to the house that Rick and Russell built will come out winning.
UPDATE: Joie Manda liked my article!!!