Why Def Jam Should Fire LA Reid: An Op-Ed

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.

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  • stan lee

    this is all very, very true.. def jam used to only consist of platinum artists.. they were on FIRE in the early 2000s..

  • ronnie215


  • http://www.twitter.com/Pierzy Pierzy

    Yet further proof of the misguided thinking of the record industry. Much like losing sports franchises, record labels recycle the same tired names over and over again hoping they strike gold a second time.

    LA Reid is Norv Turner. That may be too harsh to Mr. Turner.

    Why not promote someone from within that has proven him/herself? Oh, wait…it’s the music business. Right.

  • http://www.thesermonsdomain.com Sermon

    HA @ the Sheek comment. So true though.

  • http://www.bboycult.com Don mcCaine

    1. I still think the Shyne deal was for services rendered, not for things to come. Puff is on Universal as well. And Puff & LA were on Arista.

    2. I thought Shakir Stewart (‘member him?) was responsible for a lot the Carter Administration signings. Shouldn’t we be looking at his successor for the fukkups? Scarface was doing a good job @ DJ South, so should we point fingers at Khaled?

    I agree with a lot of the sentiment in this blog, just wanted to throw that out there.


  • huh

    I agree with your thoughts, Meka, but the whole “house that *blank* built” thing has been run into the ground. Same with your constant use of strike throughs, and over abundance of metaphors. This is a editorial, not a lil wayne song.

  • http://artandfleshstudio.com franklanzkie

    First, granted that this is an opinion piece, you shouldve done some fact checking before you even typed this because there isn’t a whole lot factual in this article. A cursory glance at the Island Def Jam wikipedia entry would’ve told you that Cohen gained presidency of Def Jam AFTER a power struggle with Rick Rubin. So basically he was a shyster back then. That “Chicago Bulls-run” that you attribute to Cohen is actually the result of Irv Gotti who was A&R at Def Jam and was instrumental in getting Jay, Dame & Biggs to sign their co-venture deal, brought DMX and Ruff Ryders to Def Jam after Puff strong armed the LOX and Mase from RR and brought Ja Rule to Def Jam after his deal with TVT went south when two of his group members caught prison bids. All Cohen did during this time was sign the fucking checks. This is the main reason why Dame used to rail against Cohen and Kevin Liles: Cohen didnt do any of the work yet was usurping all of the credit. For proof go back and check that scene in Backstage when Dame was letting Kevin Liles have it in the stadium bathroom while he was getting his haircut.

    More facts you missed: Cohen left IDJ in 2004 and the board brought in LA Reid of the same year. Reid was responsible for the full sale of Roc-A-Fella back to IDJ then turned around and made Jay-Z the president of Def Jam and gave him the rights to Roc-A-Fella. Also, as another commenter pointed out, Shakim Stewart was responsible for bringing Fabolous, Rick Ross and Young Jeezy to Def Jam not Reid. Rhianna and Ne-Yo are the only signings that Jay-Z is credited for during his stint as president. Thus again, Reid like Cohen, was just a fuckin check writer.

    Secondly, your piece actually fails to explain why you feel that the Island Def Jam board shouldn’t renew Reid’s contract. Despite him being from my hometown of Cincinnati, I am neither for or against Reid, but clearly this article misses the mark of its’ intended title. You have a lot of nostalgia in here but no facts or true reasons as to why he should be fired. All major labels are hurting in this new era. Very few artists that you actually like want to be major label household known acts anyway so what exactly is the issue? Is it record sales? Again ALL labels are hurting right now. Did he grab a secretary’s ass or something? Did he launder billions? Sure the deal with Shyne is proving to be a bust, but what label chief HASNT made a bad signing? Clive Davis, Sylvia Rhone, Doug Morris, Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin, Dame Dash, Sean Combs LA Reid, Dee & Waa, Jermaine Dupri…..all of these label heads at one time or another throughout their career have made bad deals. One mistake, even one the size of Shyne, doesnt mean a person should lose their job just because you miss the good ole days. And shame on you for basically cursing Sheek’s deal. I’m not the hugest fan, but even I can’t deny that dude has put in a lot of work and effort over these last few years. All of that hard work should be rewarded with the chance to make it on a bigger stage. Are you so far gone from your humble beginnings to have forgotten that?


    • eesco

      I believe this is th perect opportunity for a, ZING!!!!!!!!!

      • eesco

        **the perfect**

  • nickolasreid

    did that really just happen?

  • Exxille

    Man I like Mekas blogs usually but MAAAAN franklanzkie just grandsonned this cat.

    • http://swankanddirect.blogspot.com/ chromeboi

      ^^^ frankie sonned u boy

      so a brethren gotta get fired cos he made a few dud signings? You’ve become an arrogant dude. read your shit before you post it.


  • oskamadison

    I’ve been saying for YEARS that LA shouldn’t have been there to begin with. Point Blank: there’s rap labels and then there’s DEF JAM. A label like that should be grooming people from within to take over, not handing the reins over to an R&B cat. For God’s sake, dude was in The Deele with Babyface, Jheri-curled and glammed out. It’s bad when Redman, who has been there longer than anybody except LL, waits 6 years to drop an album and then gets no promotion. Under Lyor’s watch, Red Gone Wild would have BEEN gold. I’ll give Jay the benefit of the doubt. He knows Hip-Hop and probably wanted to do the right things but his hands were tied, which is probably why he left.

    • zherow

      For the better part, Jay becoming president was a slight at Dame and Cam’ron. Jay didn’t do anything while being the head of Def Jam except splinter his own house and further overshadow his label mates and his clientele. I was against Jay getting that position because, honestly, just because he was on the label didn’t mean he had the business savvy to execute the responsibilities of his office. Seriously, seeing as he is an artist and knows the red tape that artist have to go through, he could have used his position to ease the struggle, but instead, he put all his focus on Kanye, Rihanna, and tried WAY TOO HARD to force Teairra Mari on us. He didn’t promote most of his artist, he caused a lot of strife in his house (Roc-A-Fella, Diplomats & State Property) directly or indirectly and undercut a few artists, mainly Rihanna by putting a verse on HER song at the last minute that she didn’t know about. Sorry, but he should have just stayed the course and left the position alone. Besides, in terms of Ne-Yo and Rihanna, if he didn’t personally sign them, somebody else would have anyway, seeing as neither one of them he had to fight to sign. Jay was just a bad president, nothing else to it. And he left because the board didn’t want to renew his contract as president. Wonder why?

  • sean

    Great blog
    L.A has been wasting defjam money over last few years on bad acts
    the shyne sign just locked his faith
    I never understood why they hired and r&b guy like that to run a hiphop label

  • Worley

    “Then, once Jay was done running the label further into the ground, they hired LA Reid”

    LA was there before Jay. As franklanzkie pointed out, this post is full of half truths. Your grammar is piss poor as well.

    “Aside from a handful of mediocre posts, Meka is simply not doing a good job at the house that Bol built, and the sooner he leaves that site the better.”

  • j

    Can’Em (Don Cannon Voice)… Seriously though all the labels are run by old heads who are out of touch. The MAJOR problem is that after he is fired he will just end up at another label playing a similar role. FML

  • El Tico Loco

    This is what happens when you try to fix something that wasn’t really broke in the first place. The DJ 2000 campaign was a good run and it got me to buy a lot of their music, whatever they did worked, and that was a lot of good successful music. Too many labels now are too concerned with fast money rather than to set standards with their music to eventually lead to legacies and long money. Whatever is behind the scenes I could care, let the TI’s keep the artists in the booth and I’ll swipe my card, maybe that’s the issue too much role crossing.

  • oskamadison

    Sidebar: Don’t you hate when you try to post some well thought out comments and it doesn’t post?

    2nd attempt:

    @franklanzkie: good post. “…Cohen gained presidency of Def Jam AFTER a power struggle with Rick Rubin.” I’ve heard that before and i want to know what kind of juice card did Lyor have to make Rick leave the label that HE (not Russell, contrary to popular belief) started.

    Def Jam has a lot a good talent on the back burner (ie., Ghostface, thr Roots, Chrisette Michelle,etc.) and garbage on its books (paging Ace Hood…). If they trimmed the fat, put all their throughbreds out with some money behind them, they can have another good run. They also need someone at the helm who understands the business, Hip-Hop, Def Jam and its place in Hip-Hop simultaneously.

  • Notorious AGC

    The title should of Read: Why XXL should FIRE Meka: The Dumbass

    Once again the Blog section is more interesting than your blog, and you just got fuckin “owned” by a comment that was way better than your whole blog LOL…

  • JLMF

    Think about Def Jam’s Hip-Hop roster…
    Nas, Kanye West, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Redman, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Fabolous, Ludacris, Juelz Santana, The Roots, Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, Big Boi, Curren$y, Big Krit… could keep goin’ when u consider the artists’ whose labels have distribution deals. My point, u’ve got a hip-hop arsenal @ Def Jam. A varied, diverse line-up. How do u fuck it up? No promotion.

    • oskamadison


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  • Peace

    Nice fact checking history of Def Jam franklanzkie.

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