Thursday, October 15, 2009

Motown vs. Def Jam: Who had a better first 25 years?

Posted By on Thu, Oct 15, 2009 at 1:50 PM

Tuesday night during VH1's Hip-Hop Honors, Def Jam, the legendary hip-hop label and event honoree, was referred to as the Motown of Hip-Hop.

A fitting description considering that both labels have been the face of black music for the last 50 years, placing it squarely in the forefront of American culture. Both championing the cause that 'our music and our sound,' can be financially viable.

After watching the history of Def Jam play out on stage Tuesday, I started to wonder which label had a stronger first 25 years? Not just who had the bigger impact, but which one was still the most relevant and successful after a quarter-century in business.

Both had to overcome unique issues, whether it was Motown having to solve the dilemma of the black artist in America and dealing with overt racism and discrimination in integrating the mainstream music industry. Or Def Jam's less difficult fight to prove that what they were selling was actually music and not just noise.

But no one could deny that either label had talent. Just look at the rosters.

From 1959 to 1983, it's hard to argue that anyone had a deeper stable of artists than Motown.

Def Jam started in 1984 and to it's current status today, is a encyclopedia of mainstream hip-hop success.

So which label did a better job of building and expanding on its initial brand? I'd have to go Def Jam.

They've proven to be extremely adaptable to the music landscape and truly have a vision to impact more than music but culture.

Timing is everything though. Def Jam's history seems to coincide with drastic changes to how we traditionally communicated and conducted business. The '90s alone provided them more avenues to build their brand beyond just television, radio and tours, which Motown had to at their disposal decades ago.

Motown never had to the opportunity to legitimately brand themselves internationally or launch clothing lines, video games, etc.

Def Jam made an effort to make sure Def Jam wasn't just a bunch of rebellious, New York people making noise. Instead of making artists come to them, Def Jam launched ventures like Def Jam South and more recently Def Jam Germany to say, we are the gold seal of hip-hop. We encompass all that is the music and culture under the Def Jam umbrella.

You could easily argue there is no Def Jam without Motown, because it's true. Def Jam doesn't exist without the model Motown created for what successful independent turned major labels should do but that doesn't mean they haven't taken that blueprint for success and made renovations for the better.

What do you think?

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