Was there ever any question that Def Jam Recordings would be the #1 most important hip-hop record label of all time???

Before record labels were considered “the enemy” their brands actually meant something.  Artists dreamed of being on the same label as the MCs they grew up idolizing and some labels had such credibility fans would buy the record just because it was on that label.

We decided to look at the 20 most important hip-hop record labels of all time as determined by a host of factors including credibility, sales, enduring legacy and cultural impact.  And, the labels are:

#1  Def Jam Recordings

Def Jam Recordings is famous purely for the impact its music has had on pop culture.  There were no beefs with other labels, no violence, no deaths of its major artists and no super high profile executives.  With Def Jam, it was the label and the brand that it represented that brought shine to its executives.  Founded in 1984 by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin in Rubin’s NYU dorm room, Def Jam had a 15-year run before it was merged with Island Records in 1999 to form the Island Def Jam Music Group.  Island Def Jam continues to this day but it is a very different entity than the Def Jam Recordings presided over by Russell Simmons, who walked away with a cool $100 Million after the merger.  During its 15 years as a standalone record label, Def Jam produced so many artists critical to the advancement of hip-hop that no one can be singled out as the signature artist of the label.  The label also created several cultural milestones–it broke the color barrier in hip-hop with The Beastie Boys, created the first hip-hop ballad (I Need Love) and expanded hip-hop’s reach to TV (Def Comedy Jam), film (How to be a Player) and fashion (through Simmons’ Phat Farm).  Equally important to its enduring legacy is the executive team that the company groomed.  Many of Def Jam’s former employees are among the most powerful people in the music industry today, including Lyor Cohen (Chairman and CEO of Warner Music Group, North America), Julie Greenwald (President, Atlantic Records), Kevin Liles (Manager of Trey Songz) and Chris Lighty (Manager of 50 Cent, Nas, LL Cool J, Missy Elliot and many others).  Perhaps most importantly, the success of Def Jam, and particularly Russell Simmons, would serve to inspire an entire generation of aspiring moguls that they could build an empire through hip-hop.

I Can’t Live Without My Radio – LL Cool J

I Need Love – LL Cool J

(You Gotta Fight) For Your Right (To Party) – The Beastie Boys

Hold it Now – The Beastie Boys

I’m Bad – LL Cool J

Night of the Living Baseheads – Public Enemy

Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos – Public Enemy

Children’s Story – Slick Rick

The Gas Face – 3rd Bass

Going Back to Cali – LL Cool J

Rampage – EPMD

Jingling Baby – LL Cool J

Mama Said Knock You Out – LL Cool J

Around the Way Girl – LL Cool J

Fight the Power – Public Enemy

Can’t Truss It – Public Enemy

Daddy’s Little Girl – Nikki D

Head Banger – EPMD

Time 4 Sum Aksion – Redman

Slam – Onyx

Back Seat – LL Cool J

Deeper – Boss

All I Need – Method Man

Do You See – Warren G

I Shot Ya – LL Cool J

Get Me Home – Foxy Brown

Whateva Man – Redman

4, 3, 2, 1 – LL Cool J

Get at Me Dog – DMX

Ruff Ryders’ Anthem – DMX

Previously:  #20 Rakwus Records, #19 Loud Records, #18 Select Records, #17 Rap-A-Lot Records, #16 No Limit Records, #15 Sleeping Bag Records, #14 Uptown Records, #13 Ruffhouse Records, #12 Cold Chillin’ Records, #11 Jive Records, #10 Aftermath Records, #9 Cash Money Records, #8 Roc-A-Fella Records, #7 Ruthless Records, #6 Profile Records, #5 Tommy Boy Records, #4 Sugar Hill Records, #3 Bad Boy Records, #2 Death Row Records

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