Hip Hop Music. You know it, you love it. You aimlessly dissect what isn’t there for the sake of it. You praise it; you identify with the stories, and match wits with those who you notice a commonality in.
Hip Hop has spawned some of the greatest records because of the drive and hunger of the recording artist, and the drive of a recording artist is intensified by the demand and concentration provided by record labels. It’s a fair argument to assess exactly who has it harder today with so many different avenues to choose from, seeing as how majors labels have (to put it nicely) fallen to their knees, and just about EVERYTHING artistically is based on the work merit of those fortunate enough to endure the independent hustle and for this reason among others, I have nothing but the utmost respect for emcees of this generation for fighting against the current in an oversaturated market, because the fact remains it isn’t easy.
LaFace, Bad Boy, and Def Jam, are just a few shining examples of the necessity of the Hip Hop Record Label and why music would not be the same without their blood, sweat, and tears. Through record labels, individuals have been given the opportunity to record discussions allowing the common listener to receive their insight and gain a sense of clarity in our moments of question, among various other topics that are available for licensing by the RIAA and many different communities and provided us with a lane to create music from artists that I’ve grown to love and respect. Imagine if we didn’t have the almighty “advance” (better known as “backing of record label money”) where would Hip Hop be today? Dull.
Def Jam Music Group was the first record label to give Hip-hop a chance. Conceptualized in the New York University dorm room of a man by the name of Rick Rubin, it later materialized the foundation for a street hustler turned multi-millionaire entrepreneur from Brooklyn, New York by the name of Jay Z and Roc A Fella records, discovered talents such as Chicago’s recording artist Kanye West and consistent Miami hit maker Rick Ross. If there wasn’t a curator for their Def Jam model, we wouldn’t have the post-modern achievement that is Watch the Throne. Whether or not this is Jay-Z and Kanye’s greatest album is debatable but their Watch The Throne Tour compiled easily one of the most spectacular shows I’ve ever had the chance to witness in my lifetime. I wouldn’t be able to name one record but the careers of Jay Z and Kanye West alone surpasses the majority of record labels alone. The Beastie Boys, LLCool J, EPMD, and even their current roster featuring Rick Ross, 2Chainz, Young Jeezy are a few others as well who were great members of the imprint Def Jam.
Death Row. “If you don’t want the owner of your label on your album or in your video or on your tour, come sign with Death Row.” The ever so controversial C.E.O Suge Knight stated at the 1995 Source Awards with members of his entourage menacingly standing behind him. Arguably the most popular Hip Hop record label in the 90’s, they contained a few of the most well known names in music history. Revolutionary Hip Hop Martyr 2Pac who released two albums All Eyez On Me, under his name and his very first posthumous release, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, under the alias Makaveli. Both proved to be most successful and lucrative albums of Mr. Shakur’s career. The self certified King of the West Coast, Snoop Dogg opened the eyes of spectators looking to get a taste in the LBC Doggystyle under Death Row in 1993, and with this epic confessional of attitude and street knowledge, he became the figure head for the music venture symbolizing the streets in the music and unfortunately coming across a few bumps in the road as well. Composer of the Millenium Dr. Dre. And you can’t even think about Death Row without their strong cast support from underrated elements such as Nate Dogg, The Dogg Pound, The Lady Of Rage, and RBX all who one or another came together to help craft one of the most important Hip Hop Records of our generation, The Chronic. These albums are what comes to mind when I think Death Row Records. But as respected as the Death Row movement was, their penchant for attracting enemies via their publicizing of gangsterism ended up overshadowing the work that the artist would contribute and the constant negative press in the media was something that they ended up becoming as Notorious as let’s say… B.I.G?
Which brings me to my next label, Bad Boy Records. I don’t think people should be allowed to say anything negative about Diddy unless they can match his relentless and challenging work ethic. Simply put, you can’t knock his hustle. Aside from being blessed with certain respect for identifying what R&B records should sound like. He presented music with one of the greatest authors to ever bless a microphone: Notorious BIG. Biggie placed his Timberland boot in history with quite possibly the greatest debut hip-hop album, Ready to Die and with straight forward descriptive biographical illustrations such as “Everyday Struggle”, “Juicy”, it provided itself as the blueprint for a jump start east coast hip hop label known as Bad Boy Records. Notorious BIG was Bad Boy’s backbone.
The South played a major part in hip-hop and it was because of Rap A Lot Records. Blame, J. Prince’s expertise in knowing what needs to be said in relation to certain areas in the United States gave him a path to breakthrough with cutting edge material from artist such as Do or Die (Chicago) , Scarface, Geto Boys, Devin the Dude, Yukmouth (WestCoast), Tela and of course, UGK (RIP Pimp C). In other areas of the Southern spectrum record labels, such as C.E.O Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Records was allowed to blossom forming a musical alliance with the ATL bounce that was easily also digestible to the East Coast market, as artist such as Da Brat found themselves surrounded by artist like B.I.G, Lil’ Kim, and a lot of other Bad Boy associated acts. So So Def proved that ATL could make sure their city never slept as well. The often-overlooked contributions of Master P’s 1990 founded No Limit Records also come to mind as his group of rowdy No Limit soldiers placed Louisiana on the map. The most attractive quality that comes to mind with the No Limit is their uncompromising delivery telling their authentic tales of life on the New Orleans streets. It may have been difficult for smoke to get into on various levels, but the Southern drawls and country fried accents of the N’awlins Posse undoubtedly carved their mark in the music industry and also supplying the model for more record labels to come including the undeniably influential Cash Money and now their predecessor Young Money.
I’m not afraid to admit, I’m as East Coast bias as it gets, so it’s imperative that I acknowledge one of my favorite record label, Loud Records. Loud Records released 36 Chambers in 1993 and the rest was history. Loud Records also gave birth to Mobb Deep’s “The Infamous”. Loud might have to be my favorite record label in history. Steve Rifkind is quite the OG to have secured so much talent under one umbrella, Loud Records asserted themselves as the cornerstone of Hip Hop in 1993, when they signed the monumental movement that came to be known as The Wu-Tang Clan and they smashed through the window with the classic LP, 36 Chambers. They also managed to cultivate major acts ranging from the Legendary producer Pete Rock, Corona, Queens veterans The Beatnuts, Brownsvillians M.O.P, revolutionary soul rebels Dead Prez, the Grammy nominated Bronx sensation Big Pun, and Academy Award Winning Three Six Mafia. A small notable to mention, Loud records was actually a subsidiary of the major music group, Columbia Records, the record label that played host to my personal favorite record, Illmatic in 1994. Til this day, no album has been able to make an impact on my life with a display of lyrical vengeance and pure artistry like the entrance of Mr. Jones.