In Celebration of Def Jam’s 30th anniversary, the Cornell University Hip Hop Collection offers this look at 1984-85: Def Jam’s ground-breaking first year. This period can be thought of as the label’s “year of independence.” It was during this time that an ambitious, talented, and music-loving NYU student named Rick Rubin produced his first rap record, T. La Rock & Jazzy Jay’s “It’s Yours,” for the label he’d founded two years earlier. “It’s Yours” led Rick to Russell Simmons, a veteran rap record producer, promoter, and artist manager then just 26 years old. The pair quickly partnered up and, between the fall of 1984 and the fall of 1985, produced and marketed seven singles, including LL Cool J’s first recording and the first credible rap record by a former hardcore band called the Beastie Boys.
In October of 1985, Def Jam signed a distribution deal with Columbia Records, one of the music industry’s most venerable and powerful record labels, thus ending Def Jam’s year of independence and launching them to the prominence they’ve enjoyed ever since.