Three decades ago, Def Jam Records was born in Rick Rubin’s tiny NYU dorm room. “I can’t believe it’s 30 years,” he recently told Rolling Stone, paying a visit to his old Weinstein Residence Hall for a special documentary titled Rick Was Here. “It’s really trippy.” By 2014, the label has gone national, scooping up artists like Young Jeezy and Ludacris when they expanded with Def Jam South, and global – who remembers Def Jamaica? – but last night, they brought it back home with an anniversary Autumn Jam at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Going as far back as EPMD, the lineup mixed classic acts like Onyx and Warren G with new hitmakers such as Jeremih and Rick Ross. Below, trace the label’s history with some of the night’s best performances, and watch the label’s evolution from Erick Sermon to the present.
EPMD, “It’s My Thing”
Though EPMD’s first album, Strictly Business, was released in 1988, the Brentwood duo didn’t sign onto Def Jam until 1990’s Business as Usual. Last night, their performance of “It’s My Thing” brought golden era hip-hop into the present, its funk bass line as heavy anything any newer artists could come up with.
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No one on last night’s bill has had a more unpredictable career that these two. Between their two Blackout! albums, the duo crossed into the pop culture mainstream with their film How High and Fox sitcom Method & Red. Together or apart, they are still at their best onstage, however, and “Errbody Scream” briefly made the arena feel like Tunnel, that legendary Nineties hip-hop club, the crowd doing exactly as told.
Foxy Brown, “Oh Yeah”
Brooklyn’s Foxy Brown, the self-proclaimed “most critically-acclaimed rap bitch in the game,” represented her borough with wild version “Oh Yeah,” even bringing out dancehall artist Spragga Benz – a guy who def remembers Def Jamaica. The entire event may have been aimed toward nostalgia, but Ms. Brown’s performance only reminded us how badly we need her to come up with some new tunes.
Earlier this year, Jennifer Lopez brought out Ja at her homecoming Bronx concert, and last night, the gravel-voiced rapper paid it forward when he “surprised” the audience with an Ashanti reunion. After Ja mowed through solo tracks like “New York,” the pair brought it back to the early Aughts with “Mesmerize” and “Always on Time.”
2 Chainz, “All Me”
Rising to the back of the stage, 2 Chainz fittingly opened his set with a one of his many fantastic guest verses – this from Drake’s “All Me.” Since 2012, the Atlanta hair-weave killer (who first entered Def Jam when his previous group, Playaz Circle, signed to Ludacris’ DTP Def Jam South imprint) has swept in the new generation of the label’s rappers, creating hits of his own and for his peers.