Def Jam Joins Columbia Records

On October 9, 1985 Columbia Records sent out a press release announcing their deal to distribute Def Jam’s records. At about the same time, they serviced a press photo comprising two images, both of them shot at the party held to celebrate the deal.

In the bottom photo, second from the right is Steve Ralbovsky, Columbia’s “East Coast A&R Director of Talent Acquisitions.” Ralbovsky was the guy who brought the Def Jam deal to Columbia. Here’s how he remembered the key moment in Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label:

At that time, Columbia Records had no hip-hop whatsoever and were looking for a way to get into young, urban music….Russell came to Columbia’s offices and started laying it all out for them; the different names of the groups, the different artists. It just had a flavor. It was the unveiling of this subculture that was received with these big smiles and laughs and head-shaking. Like, ‘Oh, my god! There’s this whole other world out there!’”

By October of 1985, when a two-page spread about Russell, headlined “King Rap,” ran in NY Talk magazine, Run-DMC had played Live Aid, the news was already out about Def Jam’s recent hook-up with Columbia Records, and ”Krush Groove,” was about to premiere. And even so, Russell was pissed off. The majority of his interview with writer Winston C. Robinson Jr. is taken up by his pungent complaints about the compromises he’d had to make during the production of “Krush Groove.”

Although this exhibition is focused on Def Jam during its first year of existence, the photo of Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin below was shot by an unknown photographer sometime in the winter of 1987/1988. Few photographs of the two founders together are known before this date.

By the time this photo was snapped—during the production of “Tougher Than Leather”—the relationship between Russell and Rick was starting to fray. By the end of ’88, after the release of “Tougher Than Leather”—a movie that failed to set the world on fire although it was directed by Rick, produced by Russ, and starred Run-DMC—Rick and Russell had decided that they could no longer work together. Russell held on to Def Jam. Rick moved to Los Angeles and started over again, not quite from scratch.

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