Respecting the Living
Legacy of Def Jam: An Open Letter to the Recording Industry from Russell Simmons
In a recent Newsweek
article by Johnnie Roberts, appropriate questions were raised not only about
the future of Def Jam, but also about the future of the recording industry’s
relationship with the creative genius of hip-hop culture. The enduring legacy
of Def Jam is that from the very beginning we were focused on building stability
for the lives and careers of our artists as well as making hit music that authentically
represented hip-hop culture.
My quotes in the
piece by Roberts were not aimed at disparaging or discounting the value and
potential for L.A. Reid to profitably lead Def Jam. My concerns, however, are
about the future of Def Jam and the industry as a whole as to whether the legacy
that Def Jam established will be maintained to the benefit of the artists and
when LL Cool J first came to Def Jam, he was a runaway at the age of 15. Our
first priority for LL was to work to nurture and sustain him as a gifted and
talented young man. Now over 21 years later LL represents the best of what hip-hop
can do for a young man coming out of struggle. He has become a beacon of light
for families and communities out of the darkness of poverty.
When artists face
trying and difficult life circumstances, will the executives of the industry
today care or give a damn about the actual lives of artists outside the studio?
I told Chuck D
that his mouth was his Uzi and his words of truth were his bullets. We defend
Public Enemy’s rightful place in the genre. I would like to think we helped
Chuck D define his career. During the time Slick Rick was unjustly incarcerated,
Def Jam executives helped lead the national and international campaign with
his devoted wife, Mandy, to secure his freedom from a Florida prison.
Liles, Rev Run and I visited Shyne in prison. Will the new transition team at
Def Jam see Shyne for the potential he has to become a Spiritual Prophet as
he defines himself or will he be reduced to the thug that the street is racing
to define him as. Will Shyne become Tupac (a) or Tupac (b), dead or alive? The
truth is Tupac was worth more alive than dead. But, my guess is there are some
industry executives who are not too sure about that fact.
As we worked to
broker a peace between Ja Rule and 50 Cent, there were some who thought it was
a fruitless exercise and even worked against the national television broadcast
aimed at bringing the parties together for dialogue. Those in opposition felt
that the broadcast might compromise the record selling potential of one or both
of the artists.
We prevailed and the broadcast was well received across the nation. It is important
to me that today Chris Lighty is serving as a good role model who mentors young
men and women whenever he gets a chance.
Irv Gotti came
to my house last Saturday night and when he saw Chris Lighty he gave him a hug.
Irv thanked me for bringing them together and for nurturing their ongoing dialogue.
Yet, the best thanks I can receive is the knowledge that Irv will continue to
be a great teacher and mentor for the young millionaires he is developing.
Almost all of
the artists in hip-hop come from situations of extreme poverty and when money
is put in their pockets, it is also important and responsible to help them erase
the poverty of their mindsets.
No one owes an
artist anything but a fair record deal, marketing and promotions. But Def Jam
always in the past worked hard to offer more. The question that I have for the
industry is what will you do to support the evolution of the collective consciousness
Will you water
the good seeds that have been planted? As you make future decisions, if you
do not have P. Diddy, Master P, or Damon Dash at your table, who will you use
to effectively mentor these up and coming young artists?
If Damon Dash
sells his company, who will be at Vivendi to show Kanye West the ropes? Who
will look after Cam’ron and Beanie Sigel?
How does Vivendi
and the industry in general plan to maximize the gifts of an Irv Gotti?
What about Earl
I am asking these
questions to hopefully further sensitize an industry that is contemplating its
future. I wish nothing but success for L.A. Reid and Def Jam. This generation
of today’s hip-hop artists are some of the most talented ever and most committed
in their giving back to our communities.
They all deserve our best guidance and support.
What will Shyne
come home to?