So if you're really into the record label/label head/sales history part of the hip hop industry, no doubt you've heard the latest buzz about Paul Rosenberg taking over the storied Def Jam record label next year. Paul Rosenberg is the manager for Eminem as well as many other profitable acts in hip hop and rock and is given credit with signing other stellar acts such as 50 Cent, Obie Trice, D-12, and Slaughterhouse.
Its been no secret that Def Jam has lost a lot of it's luster over the past few years and has been in desperate need of a facelift, reconstructuring, new ideas, or just some sort of breath of fresh air. In case you didn't know, Def Jam records (founded in the 80's when hip hop was still getting it's legs by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons) sprang the careers of such legendary acts like Run DMC, T-La Rock, The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and EPMD. So Def Jam was known for bringing the best of the best as far as hip hop was concerned. But, Father Time is undefeated. And after so many years Def Jam has been somewhat maligned for falling victim to a lot of the same bad habits practiced by it's contemporaries that Def Jam used to stand heads and shoulders above. Signing numerous flash in the pan artists that were simply the Flavor of the Month to cash in on short lived trends, dropping artists with little or no reason, not promoting certain artists enough who had paid their dues but were no longer seen as "relevant", and abandoning the idea of artist development. Now the Def Jam label, which was once the most respected label in the world of rap, is home to acts like Desiigner, Lil Durk, Iggy Azalea, Justin Bieber, Gunplay, and a bunch of other acts I frankly have never heard of.
Enter: Paul Rosenberg. The consensus is that he will bring raw, edgy, unadulterated, "rip your face off rap" back to the label and to the mainstream. But is this really so? Can Def Jam be saved? Should Def Jam be saved?
Well, let's start with the latter question, should Def Jam have to be saved? Or any record label for that matter? The simple fact is that technology and the way its advanced the past 20 years have almost made record labels obsolete and unneeded. Record labels' primary job in their hayday was to promote it's artists, make sure people were hearing about releases whether through radio play or video play or just putting up posters and ads, and to distribute the actual physical product to the appropriate outlets- record stores. But seeing as there are no more records stores to ship actual physical product to and music is downloaded and consumed all over the inter-webs now, that task has been outsourced to a computer mouse. A few clicks, and you've got the album or mixtape you're looking for. The internet is also the new landscape for promotional material now, whether it be banners or promo videos for potential buyers to peep out before they decide to spend any money or even download it for free. My point is that record labels as a whole just ain't pulling in the big bucks they used to.
Now speaking to Def Jam directly as a label, for any artist who's really hot and has strong buzz, what would convince him to sign with this label? Especially when he can release his own music independently whenever he feels like it and not have to give another entity and portion of everything he earns? Especially when artists continue to be dropped from a label, or get their projects shelved indefinitely for unknown reasons.
Also, content wise, Paul Rosenberg has a record of signing more hardcore, edgy, and lyrical artists in the past. And that's just not where rap is at anymore unfortunately. And they already have artists like Nas, Common, Redman, Logic, Ghostface Killah, and Jadakiss, and we see how much airtime they're not getting on the radio. It's frankly going to take a conscious effort of both up-and-coming artists, consumers, radio stations, and other record labels outside of Def Jam to make that type of rap popular again. Sure, there are other labels like TDE out there who clearly care about talent, but it's gonna take the cooperation of all the other parties mentioned as well.
We used to look to certain record labels as indicator of what was quality music...anything with a Def Jam, Tommy Boy, Loud, Ruffhouse, Death Row, or Rawkus logo stamped on it, was seen as legit. It was seen as vetted. That was until record labels betrayed us and started putting out trash. Now it's gonna be extremely hard to get that trust back from both fans and artists.