Today is a very special day in Def Jam History. In fact, it might thee most important day in all of Def Jam History. January 28th, marks the release of Def Jam’s first Rap record back in 1984. 30 years ago to the date it all started! T La Rock and Jazzy Jay released “It’s Yours”, the first record ever released with the Def Jam logo slapped on it though it was released through producer Arthur Baker’s independent label Partytime, which was the hip hop division of his dance music label Streetwise Records. The record was released prior to Rick Rubin joining forces with Russell Simmons and releasing LL Cool J’s “I Need A Beat” which some thought was the first Def Jam release.
Check out an excerpt about the release and making of “It’s Yours” from the Def Jam book:
Rick Rubin: The experience that I had going to hip-hop clubs, which was the greatest experience, wasn’t being equaled by the records I could buy. No one was really making down-and-dirty hip-hop records. There were only three 12-inch singles released every week. I bought them all. Maybe once in a while there’d be a couple of good ones. They’d be good dance records–a band making music and guys rapping–but they wouldn’t be good hip-hop records. Where was the DJ–the thing that makes it special?!
The first good hip-hop recording I heard was “Sucker M.C.’s” by Run-DMC and that was late. A lot of what we’re talking about came earlier. [Run-DMC was managed by Russell Simmons, whose younger brother is Joseph "Run" Simmons. "Sucker M.C.'s" was released by Profile Records in the spring of 1983, nearly four years after the release of "Rapper's Delight," the first big rap hit.] “Sucker M.C.’s” was the first track I had heard that reflected what goes on in the club. So that was the idea: to create records that made me feel what I felt when I went to a club and heard incredible DJs cutting it up and great MCs rocking the crowd. I didn’t know anything about the record business. I just thought that people made music ’cause they liked music. My favorite rap group was the Treacherous Three. They played at Negril, and that’s where I met Kool Moe Dee. I invited him over to my dorm room for a meeting.
Moe was going to college on Long Island at the time. He was older than I was, but we were both college kids, getting together to talk about music and whatever. They’d made three or four singles on Enjoy that were good, but their first one on Sugar Hill wasn’t. So I said, “I’ve seen you live. You’re amazing, but we can make better records than the ones you made on Enjoy. I know it!”
[Enjoy Records was owned and operated by Bobby Robinson, a legendary figure based in Harlem. During the sixties, Enjoy issued records by figures as various as Elmore James, King Curtis, and Gladys Knight. Beginning in 1979 the label put out titles by artists including Spoonie Gee (Bobby's Nephew), the Treacherous Three, and the Funky 4+1.]
Moe’s like, “I’m under contract, but talk to Special K [his partner in the Treacherous Three] because he’s got a brother who raps and isn’t under contract.” I met with Special K, and we hung out a lot and ended up becoming friends. And he’s like, “I wrote this song and my brother T La Rock can perform it.”
T La Rock: My younger brother, Kevin–stage name Special K–and I put our heads together and began writing a song called “It’s Yours.” But since K and Kool Moe Dee were under contract to Sugar Hill and not allowed to record for another label, he asked me if I would be willing to cut it. [Sugar Hill Records, based in Englewood, New Jersey, and owned and operated by the husband-and-wife team of Joe and Sylvia Robinson (no relation to Bobby), was the first great rap record label. Its artist included the Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The Funky 4+1, the Treacherous Three, Spoonie Gee, and Sequence.] At first I said no. I was deejaying and rapping, and also had a day job at Leroy Pharmacy in Manhattan. I just wanted to do hip-hop on the side.
My brother convinced me to reconsider. He took me to meet Rick in his dorm room at NYU. My first impression of Rick? [Laughs] He just did not look hip-hop at all. He had a hippie type of look to him. But when we started conversing, he seemed to know what he was talking about. I liked him and decided to go ahead and record the song. My friend, DJ Louie Lou, and I would go down to Rick’s dorm and practice using his Roland 808 drum machine until we completed the first demo. One night an argument broke out between my brother and Louie Lou. Louie wanted to take the demo home with him to practice his scratch technique, and K wanted me to take the tape so I could practice my rhymes. This episode was pretty hard on me since Louie was my best friend and K is my flesh and blood. In this case, blood proved thicker than water. After these events, Rick brought in Jazzy Jay to replace Louie.
We cut “It’s Yours” at Power Play Studios in Queens. I believe some of the Beasties were there–I can’t remember which members. They actually ended up in the crowd participation part of the record.
Adam Horovitz: I just know we drove to some crazy studio in some crazy borough. Somewhere you had to go in a car–which was not something I did very often [laughs].
T La Rock: I was wondering, “Why are we recording in Queens? I’m from the Bronx and Rick’s from Manhattan.” But it was my first record–first everything–so I just went ahead.
Rick Rubin: Power Play was where we had recorded the Hose record, and it was really cheap. It was $45 an hour, and we made “It’s Yours” in, like, three hours.
T La Rock: I remember the Beasties’ jaws dropping when I rapped one of my favorite verses:
Sounds plus rhythm done up with finesse/ Is equivalent to the adjective best/Now it’s time to introduce/ Neo rhymes combined with a group with juice/ Dance to the musical tune/ On the microphone I’m gonna make you swoon/ T-L-A-R-O-C-K/ Usually the reason for a very nice day/ I came here to represent the ultimate act/ Which only occurs when the party is packed/ So full of endurance for your insurance/ Everything’s fixed, just listen to the mix.
Adam Horovitz: It was a crazy night. That was the first time I ever drank Brass Monkey. Jazzy Jay is the coolest–he’s the great DJ who brought the Monkey. [Brass Monkey was a premixed cocktail--part beer, part orange juice--manufactured by the Heublein Company, who doesn't make it any more.]
Rick Rubin: Of all the DJs, Jay was my favorite, from both technical and taste standpoints. Sometimes Bambaataa played stuff that was more out there, which was cool, but it just felt like every record Jay picked was good. The way he cut ‘em up, and just the way he worked the night, felt the best of anybody.
Adam Horovitz: Me and Dave Scilken were just really fucked up, wearing headphones and going, “Ho-oh!” on the background track. It was awesome.
T La Rock [laughing]: That was actually a little scary because Jay was hittin’ the sauce. Believe it or not, I didn’t drink any because I was laying down vocals and wanted to be on my A game. So, I didn’t have no liquor, but believe I drank a small can of Colt 45.
Adam Horovitz: There were women there! Not girls, but, like, ladies. You know, when you’re fifteen and she’s twenty, you’re like, “This is awesome! [Laughs] It was pretty cool.
T La Rock: There were only a few girls and guys there, but the engineer put an effect on the record to make it sound like there were a whole bunch of people.
Rick Rubin: I was gonna put out “It’s Yours” the same way I put out the Hose records—through the 99 label. 99 Records was my hangout. I spent hours there every day. Ed Bahlman was the owner of the 99 store and label. He had the Bush Tetras, Liquid Liquid, Glenn Branca, ESG. It was a super-cool label. Ed really mentored me throughout the record-making process. He tld me, “OK, here are your recording-studio options, here’s where you can have your record pressed, and here’s where you can have your labels made.” I made a thousand copies of a Hose record, and he distributed them for me. But then Special K introduced me to Arthur Baker. They’d meet on the set of Beat Street. I played the record for Arthur. He said he loved it and to put it out through Party Time, the rap imprint of his Sstreetwise label. I said, “Well, it has to have my logo, the Def Jam logo, on it, too.” And he was cool with that. [Arthur Baker had produced Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" for the Tommy Boy label in 1982. It was worth noting that Jazzy Jay also takes credit for introducing Rick to Arthur. As a key member of Bambaataa's crew, Jay knew Arthur going back to the time of "Planet Rock". And, like Special K with the Treacherous Three, Jazzy recorded for the Beat Street soundtrack, which was produced by Arthur.]
T La Rock: After we completed the recording, I put it in the back of my mind and returned to work. ["It's Yours" was recorded in 1983 and released in 1984.] A couple of months later, I was in the back room of the pharmacy where I worked, writing up an order and listening to the radio. All I heard was “…the number-one requested song of the day.” I’m thinking they’re going to say Run-DMC or somebody like that, but “It’s Yours” came on. I was totally shocked, just blown away. I dragged my friend Ken from behind the counter–he was the lead pharmacist –and called the manager over, and we were all in a huddle listening to it. After work, as soon as I hit my neighborhood, everyone was running up to me.
For the first two months, I kept my job at the pharmacy and performed at clubs like the Roxy, the Fun House, and Roseland. But it got to the point where I could no longer do both. Shows were pouring in from everywhere, from as close as Philly to as far away as Florida and California. Every weekend we were doing two or three shows–and a show in the middle of the week. I was making anywhere from $600 to $800 per show—a lot of money back then for a young adult.
Read more stories like this one in the Def Jam book out now on Rizzoli.
Click play on the video above to listen to T La Rock’s “It’s Yours”.
the label to T La Rock’s “It’s Yours” vinyl.