Def Jam Recordings. Reading that name alone conjures up memories of the early days of hip-hop. The record label for astounding artistes such as Public Enemy, LL Cool Jay, Beastie Boys, Kanye West and Jay-Z, Def Jam is to hip-hop what Motown did to R&B and Soul. Founded in 1984 by the dynamic duo of Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, the label rose to become the most sought after label for hip-hop artistes to sign to. It is a bona fide chapter of music history.
That’s what made the announcement of the label opening up its Southeast Asian chapter surprising. For those uninitiated, on 17 September, Adam Granite, Universal Music Group’s (UMG) Executive Vice President, Market Development, formally announced that legendary Malaysian hip-hop label Kartel Records and Universal Music Sdn Bhd have locked arms to form a new entity: Def Jam Malaysia and Def Jam Singapore.
“For the last 20 years, a lot of sweat, blood and tears have gone into building what we can now call the ASEAN hip-hop industry. Def Jam South-East Asia represents the next chapter in my illustrious career and I am truly blessed to be part of this brand that has contributed so much and helped shaped the culture,” quips Joe Flizzow, a Malaysian hip-hop legend, and founder of Kartel Records.
For Joe himself, starting his career underground and independently, and now to be able to say that he is now a part of Def Jam is a blessing. “It's time to create history”, said Joe proudly, pointing out to his fellow rappers who were took this journey with him.
Although still in its initial stage, Def Jam Malaysia and Def Jam Singapore has a spectrum-blasting array of talent in its inaugural stable: Joe Flizzow, SonaOne, AbubakarXLI, Caprice & the Badboii collective from Malaysia and ALIF, Fariz Jabba and Yung Raja from Singapore. And Universal Music Group’s (UMG) Executive Vice President, Market Development, Adam Granite said, this musical firepower will only expand over time.
For most of these artistes, being in the Def Jam staple is a dream come true. “Def Jam has been around since before I was born. It’s a staple in the culture. It’s the first label to have done what it did and I really look forward to take the region to another level,” said SonaOne, the talented composer and rapper from Malaysia.
Ensuring the credibility and integrity of the newly incepted Def Jam Malaysia and Def Jam Singapore, its organizational structure will see the Joe, the Kartel vanguard taking up key regional leadership role as the Managing Director.
“We are going to find new talent as well. Apart from taking the talent that you’ve seen today to the next level, we also want to sign the next kid that’s going to blow up,” added Joe, outlining his vision for Def Jam in Southeast Asia.
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Is this a marriage of convenience while hip-hop is in demand here in the region or is it for the long haul? When asked about this, Joe took his time to come up with a well-structured answer. “We knew Universal has big plans for hip-hop in Asia. We approached Universal, wanting to work together, not knowing that they have plans on doing Def Jam. So we were excited when it was revealed to us (about Def Jam). To have the infrastructure of a giant like Universal is great,” said Joe. “Whilst being able to apply the same practices like an independent label is great. The hip-hop community is very small, it’s a grassroots community. I think its going to be a positive thing for Malaysian hip-hop and things can only get bigger,” added Joe.
South-East Asian hip-hop itself is not an overnight phenomenon. It’s the sum total of all the struggles its artistes have had to overcome and all the accolades they’ve amassed to validate the craft. The creation of Def Jam Malaysia and Def Jam Singapore is a powerful acknowledgment of that. For that, we wish all the success to Joe Flizzow and his new endeavor.