Much to probably Mos Def’s chagrin, Lyor “The Original Tall Israeli” Cohen is largely responsible for how and what we listen to music today. From Jay-Z all the way down to Jon Bon Jovi, because of his reign of terror runs at various music labels, most recently Warner Music Group, each time you sing your favorite song in the shower he’s probably getting a check from it.
In other words, he’s truly running this rap shit.
However, it was his tenure at Def Jam that really made him stand above the rest. After flopping about throughout during the West Coast rule of rap of the mid-nineties with horrorcore rap and other cheesy gimmicks, Lyor was instrumental in the Chicago Bulls-style winning streak Def Jam had in the later years with Roc-A-Fella, Murder Inc, Def Soul and all of their accompanying artists with his trademark asshole nature and vicious work ethic. While other labels were struggling to stay afloat, Cohen kept the Def Jam flag waving high, despite losing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from TVT, which he ultimately ended up shelling out only about a hundred grand for.
Then, when Def Jam was in the midst of its troubles, he bounced from the sinking ship to lead the house Bugs Bunny built. To save face, Def Jam then convinced Jay-Z to swipe the very label that made him out from under his former friends and business partners, Mark Zuckerberg-style, and named him president of the label, a vanity gimmick that I’m still sure even Def Jam isn’t sure why they did that to this day. Then, once Jay was done glorified embezzling running the label further into the ground, they hired LA Reid – a guy who once found success with Arista Records, then ran that company out of business, forcing artists such as Clipse and Big Boi to languish in musical limbo for years – to run Def Jam, and in the four years since he’s handled things he’s only been able to find success with R&B acts, much like how he did at Arista, which would not be a bad thing had Def Jam started as an R&B label, and rarely if at all finding success with the label’s newer hip hop artists, having to rely on the label’s big guns to remain relevant.
A label that was once home to artists like the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Public Enemy now has the likes of XXL’s former “Freshman” Ace Hood and a ten-years-past-his-prime Shyne clogging up their payroll, while signing highly talented yet virtually unmarketable acts like Sheek Louch (sorry, but nobody’s going to buy a Sheek album). When someone as horribly out of place and touch like Shyne is getting multi-million dollar deals for using a criminal history to garner media buzz yet a grizzled, consistent veteran like Ghostface Killah can’t even get a proper promotional budget, somebody’s computers are not computing. Aside from a handful of rap albums doing some modicum of numbers Reid is simply not doing a good job at the house Russell and Rick built, and the sooner he leaves that label (whether amicably or, like one former EIC at this fine company who shall remain nameless, with a security escort) the better.