Various : Def Jam 1985-2001: The History Of Hip-Hop Vol. 1

Excellent overview of one of the most influential labels in hip-hop...

Nostalgia be damned: anyone who sits on a goldmine in a capitalistic world and doesn’t exploit it is a fool. And far be it for the folks at Def Jam to be stupid or suffer fools gladly. With a back catalogue to rival any other in hip-hop, the label who celebrated their tenth anniversary in 1995 with a slew of re-releases and compilations can now update things for new found fans ensnared in the intervening years.

Which is why, strange as it may seem, you can have DMX‘s ‘Party Up’ and Ja Rule’s ‘Holla Holla’ sharing CD space with Public Enemy‘s ‘Fight The Power’ and EPMD’s ‘Crossover’. As far as the arrogant ‘History Of Hip-Hop’ title goes, Def Jam can claim to have been instrumental in the development of hip-hop beyond an underground ethos, even though its artists rarely had to compromise themselves – and also due to its unflinching ears to the streets, both uptown and downtown NYC and in the tri-State area.

As Def Jam has expanded, and founders Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin have either resigned or taken a backseat, commercial concerns have become as important as the sheer revolutionary spirit of innovation that spurred the earlier records into being. It’s still easy, though, to take the Methodman/Redman combination on ‘Da Rockwilder’, and Jay Z (with Amil and Ja Rule) and his contribution, as being as attuned to the barometer of the times as LL Cool J was on the still sparse and devastating ‘I Can’t Live Without My Radio’.

And if there are ommisions aplenty, that even two more 15 song volumes couldn’t contain – it remains difficult to knock the cuts showcased here.

Dele Fadele