One of the well-known clichés of the music business is the tension between record labels and their artists. That’s sometimes because while the few successful artists get all the glory, few labels are ever recognized as anything other than a corporate entity. This is even more so in the streaming age.
But a few labels captured the artistic spirit or zeitgeist of their time, names like Detroit’s Motown or Jamaica’s Studio One come readily to mind. Another, of course, was New York’s Def Jam, whose co-founders Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin helped launch modern hip hop to the world in the early 1980s with genre-defining artists including Run DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys.
While Def Jam has long since evolved into a major multinational label brand far from its early days in a dorm at New York University’s Weinstein Hall, it still stays close to its hip hop roots and is now taking that to Johannesburg and Lagos, under the auspices of its parent company Universal Music Group. UMG has been expanding its base across Africa for the last couple of years.
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