Jay-Z is one of the greatest lyricists in rap history, but questions loom as to whether or not the multi-platinum semi-retired Brooklyn emcee is capable of running hip-hop’s most legendary record label as a vigilant decision-maker instead of an on-court player.
Following the official announcement of Jay-Z’s appointment as president of Def Jam Records, the hip-hop world seemed taken aback by the news, though reports were wildly circulated in the past months. Perhaps the fanfare was caused because few hip-hop stars have been able to crossover successfully to the music industry’s executive realm. Jay-Z, born Shawn Carter, may be the first of his caliber to attempt the feat on such a level.
Sean “P. Diddy” Combs is one rival, though his status as an emcee is not that of the self-proclaimed “god MC.” And even the seemingly unstoppable intern-turned-rapper-turned-entrepreneur was unable to sustain the 90’s potency of his Bad Boy Entertainment label, he still maintained by diversifying into fashion (Sean John), acting, running marathons and numerous business ventures. Jay, along with Dame Dash and Kareem "Biggs" Burke, has followed suit with his own Rocawear line, liquor, Nets NBA team, new film company and a host of other properties.
Not surprising, Jay-Z steps into his new presidential shoes with a few setbacks admitted New Jersey rapper Joe Budden. “This whole year, Def Jam has been one big soap opera as far as people who hold extremely important positions coming and going,” Budden said to AllHipHop.com. Budden who recently signed with Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella. And he refers to the several executives from Def Jam and their parent label, Universal Records, who have departed in the last year, including Jay-Z’s former associates Kevin Lyles and Lyor Cohen. “Not only is the label in limbo phase, so are the artists. And in the end, the fans are the ones [who] suffer the most. God willing, Jay will handle his,” Budden continued.
While some appear eager to see Jay-Z possibly usher in a new era of authentic hip-hop, others critique that Hov is just another name to add to the Def Jam brand. And some question what will become of Jay-Z’s friend and former business partner, Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash, who is reportedly furnishing a label called Roc 4 Life. Not too soon before Jay was named president, Island Def Jam purchased Roc-A-Fella Records from Jay-Z and his partners, Dash and Biggs for $10 million dollars.
St. Louis rapper and emerging mogul Nelly, who is under the Universal Records umbrella with Derrty/Fo Reel Entertainment, said Jay-Z is coming from a different perspective that artists can relate to and therefore respect.
"I see it as a young black brother getting a chance, moving up,” Nelly told AllHipHop.com. “I think it needs to be more presidents like that coming from experiences like [Jay-Z’s], getting a chance to see it from a whole ‘nother level, from a whole ‘nother era, from a whole ‘nother view."
With artists like Ja Rule and LL Cool J now under Jay-Z’s helm, there have been some grumblings, however many have been publicly supportive of the promotion. Will Jay-Z instinctively favor his own Roc-A-Fella artists like Kanye West, Memphis Bleek and Beanie Sigel.” "We are a big part of what’s to come with Jay,” the Roc’s Young Gunz boasted. “Young Gunz taking over.”
In an interview prior to Jay’s appointment, Atlanta rapper and Def Jam artist Ludacris said Jay-Z is perfectly capable of running the record label, as long as he keeps rapping behind him.
“It’s cool if he stays true as far as retiring. Because I know as [an] artist and a CEO it is difficult [to separate business with artistry],” Luda expressed. “Being that Jay-Z was in the industry so long, I’m pretty sure that he has a lot of wisdom and experience, and I know that [he] would know what to do if he was appointed that position.”
The news of Jay-Z’s “promotion” comes only months after he released his final solo record, The Black Album, and announced his official retirement from the rap game. In a now foreboding interview on Late Show with Carson Daly in early November, Jay-Z expressed his desire to “put the focus back on artistry, put the music first.”
Similarly, Lyor Cohen, the former Island Def Jam chairman, stressed the magnitude of Jay-Z’s arrival to the record company that Cohen helped revitalize during his tenure. "Jay taking on the responsibility of Def Jam is critical to me and the entire hip-hop community,” Cohen told AllHipHop.com. “Def Jam is the number one brand in hip-hop and needs to be in capable hands.”
For the time being, most people are just happy and will eagerly wait to see what happens hereon.
"We all have watched him grow from a hustler to a business man, and this is good for music as a whole. This is a guy who loves all kinds of music and I’m sure that’s gonna show that with some of the artists he puts the machine behind," said VA rapper Skillz. "He understands the streets and the corporate side of this game so I know we gonna see a whole new Def Jam. I’m excited to see what he has in store."
Universal purchased Def Jam from hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons in 1999 for over $100 million dollars and merged it with Island, forming the Island/Def Jam Music Group. Jay-Z will continue to run Roc-A-Fella Records as part of his deal and will report directly to Island Def Jam Music Group CEO Antonio “LA” Reid.
Jay-Z’s appointment is effective January 3, 2005.