In early February of 2010 Definitive Jux records announced a massive restructuring that many fans and industry heads have interpreted as the label closing its’ doors. While this reorganization may be one of the many moves in the storied label’s history that will keep it on the cutting edge of the music industry (Def Jux created a thriving online community, distributed music via an iPhone app and created revenue streams from live shows and merchandise way before the rest of Hip-Hop), the statement from CEO/Artist/Creative Mastermind El-P did not seem so optimistic. Whether or not the label releases any more groundbreaking music in the future, the example it set for independent record labels in the last decade is a marvel both artistic and commercial fronts.
Def Jux rose from the ashes of Company Flow (the NYC underground crew comprised of El-P, Mr. Len and Big Jus) and Rawkus Records (the label responsible for bringing NYC’s bourgeoning indie Hip-Hop scene to the masses). Following the release of the undeniable classic “Funcrusher Plus” in 1997, Company Flow broke up with all members similarly disenchanted with the corporate structure of record labels, Rawkus included. In the late 90’s frontman/producer El-P began to recruit talent and build a buzz for his next venture: Definitive Juxtaposition Records. The name itself was a perfect fit for the new aesthetic being pushed by the artists because the label represented the “Juxtaposition” of so many things. Def Jux releases combined hardcore Hip-Hop beats and rhymes with elements from the art world (high and street), science fiction lure, end-of-the-world nihilism, indie rock and themes and concepts that were at once universal and intensely personal.
Def Jux officially opened for business in 2000 and released more groundbreaking, genre bending and ahead-of-it’s-time music in its’ first few years of existence than most labels release in their entire lifetime. Albums by Cannibal Ox, Aesop Rock and El-P’s solo debut are some of the most universally praised and commercially successful indie LP’s of the early 2000’s. As the decade progressed, Def Jux branched out and released projects from such varied artists as Murs, Cage, Del the Funkee Homosapien, Chin Chin and RJD2 that were all well received by fans and critics. Throughout the decade the label kept core fans satiated with a steady stream of releases featuring the classic, futuristic yet hardcore, Def Jux sound (once described by Entertainment Weekly as “a laser being cut by a buzzsaw”) and an expanding palette of sounds including Hip-Hop from the South (9th Wonder) and West Coast (Murs, Del), instrumental (RJD2, El-P) and an increasingly rock-influenced sound (Cage, Chin Chin). By the end of the decade the “Def Jux Sound” was so progressive and diverse that it became difficult to classify it at all.
Def Jux provided a vehicle for many of the most talented underground rappers/producers/musicians to be heard on a national level for the first time. Aesop Rock, Cage, Murs and C Rayz Wallz were all established artists that reached new artistic and commercial heights once signing with the label. This keen eye for talent, combined with visionary production skills and a tight grip on quality control is what separated El-P from many of his less-successful peers. Supporters of the label were receptive to anything with the Def Jux logo because the label had such a stellar track record.
This track record extended to Def Jux live performances that were not mere underground Hip-Hop shows, but EVENTS. The Def Jux sound was so big and the rappers/DJ’s were so talented that it was hard to contain them in the small clubs and venues that they regularly played. From Aesop Rock’s ability to spit insanely complex rhymes at a dizzying pace to Cage’s charismatic/scary stage persona Def Jux artists, from opening act to headliner, were all well worth the price of admission.
Def Jux was also ground breaking in the way they packaged their material and their emphasis on providing fans with high-quality merchandise. Album Covers, T-Shirts and Posters were not merely promo items, but works of art designed by some of the hottest artists of the decade. Jeremy Fish, Alex Pardee and many others got the chance to create compelling art based on the compelling music. This burning desire to push all aspects of the music, including beats, rhymes, live performances, artwork and merchandise, to the absolute limit may be Def Jux’s lasting legacy.
The future of Definitive Juxtaposition Records is currently unclear, but what is abundantly clear is that the label has given us a decade of consistently ground breaking music that defined the decade for indie Hip-Hop. As the artists, employees and fans of the label take the next step in their evolution, www.fifthroundmovement.com would like to thank them for all of their hard work and amazing musical output and wish them the best of luck in the future.