Our books pick: ‘Def Jam Recordings’

The Beastie Boys are among the performers in “Def Jam Recordings.’’

LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Slick Rick, Jay-Z, Ludacris, Kanye West, the Roots, Rihanna. The artists that have graced Def Jam’s roster read like a who’s who of hip-hop and urban pop. All of the above and many more are captured in “Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label.’’

Felipe Dana/associated press

Rihanna has become a Def Jam staple.

The hefty tome is part oral history, part photo collection, and all engrossing. It chronicles the tale of two seemingly unlikely collaborators - Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons - building a groundbreaking, major music industry player out of very humble, and sometimes naive, street corner and dorm-room beginnings.

The book is shot through with loads of archival photos and pictures of memorabilia, but it isn’t simply a pretty coffee table ornament - this is a true biography. Although its unwieldy dimensions aren’t ideal for comfortable reading, the Def Jam story is worth sitting up for. Most of the major figures are on hand and add much more than two cents; from label employees - with extensive contributions by Rubin and Simmons - to the artists, to competitors in the industry, to fans weighing in about what Def Jam has meant over the years as it morphed from shoestring to bling and branched out into the television, fashion, and lifestyle worlds. And this being hip-hop, there are plenty of blunt statements - and few pulled punches - as different people tell the story from their perspective. A handsome addition to any hip-hop fan’s library.

Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.
You're reading  1 of 5 free articles.
Get UNLIMITED access for only 99¢ per week Subscribe Now >
You're reading1 of 5 free articles.Keep scrolling to see more articles recomended for you Subscribe now
We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles.
Continue reading by subscribing to for just 99¢.
 Already a member? Log in Home
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of
Marketing image of