The Women of Def Jam

I love ordering music, partly because of how much I learn from it! For example, I was fascinated by The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap and its pretty comprehensive look at the growth and development of the genre. In a similar vein, recently I was able to order The Women of Def Jam, which “features the female artists that dominated hip-hop and R&B from the ’90s to the present day” (from publisher).

If, like me, you’ve only got a vague sense of what Def Jam is, here’s the breakdown I found from The Guardian’s “25 Years of Def Jam” piece back in 2011: “From humble beginnings in student digs, the record label Def Jam is credited with bringing New York’s street culture and music to the masses – and even helping to elect a president… Although not the only label to export the music and culture of inner-city America to the world, Def Jam is the most significant, artistically and commercially. Key signings have altered the art form, among them LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Jay-Z and Kanye West.” There’s a lot more to Def Jam now than hip-hop and rap, but it retains its reputation as helping to promote the cutting edge of the genre, especially at critical points in recent history.

The Women of Def Jam focuses on a specific part of that legacy which is not as evident in the stories told about Def Jam’s origins: what it owes to women. The album announcement in Variety explains that this album was put together for Women’s History Month, not least because “over half of the Def Jam staff are women, including seven women of color in senior executive positions. Two of the three executive leaders are women. Of ten department heads, eight are women” (Tunji Balogun, CEO). It’s an encouraging sign as in some genres of music, including arguably hip-hop and country music, women have had to fight against cultural conceptions of what their role ought to be to find success.

This album celebrates how far we’ve come in that journey by paying homage to the greats. Even for someone like me for whom hip-hop and R&B are not my top genres, this album is star-studded; both household names and lesser-known gems are represented for a voyage of nostalgia, discovery, or both. Explore this blast from the past today!

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