Album Review – Def Jam 25

Various Artists

“Def Jam 25: DJ Bring That Back”

(Def Jam)

If there’s one label that fully encapsulates the highs, lows, successes and disappointments of hip-hop’s journey from underground art form to commercial money-making juggernaut, it’s Def Jam Recordings. Founded in 1984 by long-haired music visionary Rick Rubin and rap promoter Russell Simmons, the pair’s love of hip-hop, ear for new talent and savvy business sense led to Def Jam signing some of rap’s most influential artists in its earliest years, with the likes of LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Slick Rick all releasing classics that helped define the culture during the 1980s.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of arguably the most important label in modern black music history, ‘DJ Bring That Back’ trawls through the Def Jam vaults to dust off some sonic memories, whilst also highlighting more recent releases that have enabled the label to remain at the forefront of popular urban music. Highlights include LL Cool J’s boisterous 1984 debut single ‘I Need A Beat’, Slick Rick’s good-natured-yet-cautionary ghetto tale ‘Children’s Story’ and Method Man’s gothic b-boy banger ‘Bring The Pain’. Of the more contemporary material, Kanye West’s stirring ‘Jesus Walks’ recalls a time when the producer-slash-rapper was more interested in his music than throwing award show tantrums, whilst Young Jeezy’s ’Go Crazy’ stands as one of the Southern rapper’s more engaging moments.

Yet whilst ‘DJ Bring That Back’ definitely contains some of Def Jam’s most memorable output, not every artist here is done justice by the track chosen to represent their contribution to the label’s legacy. No disrespect to the larger-than-life Flavor Flav, but his solo cut ‘911 Is A Joke’ from Public Enemy’s 1990 album ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’ is hardly the best example of the Long Island group’s brand of politically-charged musical terrorism. Similarly, the brilliant 3rd Bass are sold short by the inclusion of their ironic Peter Gabriel-sampling stab at commercial appeal ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’, and former label president Jay-Z must be thoroughly disappointed seeing possibly the worst track from his entire discography making the project, the throwaway Jermaine Dupri-produced ‘Money Ain’t A Thang’.

With music from the likes of Ludacris, Onyx, Nice & Smooth and DMX rounding out this two-disc set, ‘DJ Bring That Back’ stands as a fairly comprehensive, if at times uneven overview of a label that has experienced the best and the worst of the hip-hop record business over the years and is still standing tall today.

Ryan Proctor

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