Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Def Jam, Inc., by Stacey Gueraseva

This book was obtained from the Alachua Public Library, was on 9 CDs, and was published in 2005. It was narrated by Kevin R. Free.

Yes, this is the story of Hip-Hop, as it was nurtured by a record company started by a 19 year-old white Jewish college student and a black rap impresario. Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons were out promoting the urban beats before radio would have them, so they took the music of young artists in the embryonic hip-hop movement and brought it straight to the streets.

Part music history, part guerrilla marketing primer, this is a fascinating look at a music genre in which I have previously had little interest. It still doesn't speak to me, although it was hard to listen to this story without beginning to care about the players.

Hip-hop, it appears, was a multi-racial movement from it's beginning. And Def Jam promoted black and white artists. It's all-time biggest star, as I learned later, was actually the Beastie Boys, which I always thought was a punk rock group. They were frequently eclipsed by other acts, like LL Cool J, Run DMC, Public Enemy, and other black stars, but for sheer longevity and raw numbers, the Beasties have outsold them all.

The violence associated with black rappers is only a small part of this story, as was the east-west rivalry that sometimes lead to bloodshed. As an outcast industry, hip-hop was originally shunned by black radio stations that were run by Motown era conservatives that wrinkled their noses at the new upstarts. If they got airplay at all, it was usually late at night. This outsider position made it a magnet for outlaw elements.

This was an eye-opener, and I did enjoy it, although I thought it ended a bit abruptly. I give it 3 stars.

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