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Lyor Cohen
Lyor Cohen

Def Jam


note: quoted text in this entry was taken verbatim from the Def Jam 10th Anniversary 4 disc set liner notes.

In the very center of the 1987 Licensed to Ill Tour Book, there is an unforgettable photo of Lyor Cohen flipping the bird at the photographer. Since 1987, Lyor has flipped hip-hop and rap stereotypes the bird more than once.

Lyor was born in Manhattan, NY and grew up a world away in Los Angeles, CA. In the early 1980s, he graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in marketing and international finance (both degrees would come in handy later). Having moved back to Los Angeles following graduation, Lyor took a job at Bank Leumi. Hating his job and wanting more out of life, Cohen began promoting his own hip-hop shows at a venue in Los Angeles called the Mix Club. His philosophy on booking talent was to create shows that other promoters wouldn't touch.

"His first show featured Social Distortion, Fear, Fishbone, Circle jerks, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Dickies, and at the top of the bill, Run DMC." This was how Lyor initially hooked up with Russell Simmons. Run DMC was never on the Def Jam label, but they were managed by Russell's company Rush Entertainment.

Having been impressed by Lyor, Russell invited him to join the Rush team and work for him. Cohen took him up on the offer and closed the Mix Club in January of 1985 and moved to New York. "He learned the music business from the ground up, road managing Run DMC and then all of the Rush acts on the first national rap tours, the "Fresh Fest" in 1984 and 1985, and the Raising Hell in 1986." It was during the Raising Hell Tour that the Beastie Boys and Run DMC would unite rock stages night after night.

"Lyor earned Russ's confidence, started managing Rush day-to-day while Russell concentrated on Def Jam, and eventually became Russell's partner in Rush." Def Jam artists like: DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Eric B and Rakim, EPMD, Slick Rick, and 3rd Bass were all signed by Lyor.

"But if there was a golden age of Def Jam, it was over by 1987 or so, when Rick and Russell's partnership started to unravel. Although they were mostly in agreement about which artists to record, they disagreed about how to manage the company. In fact, Russell was being pulled in two directions, with Rick on one side and Lyor on the other." Lyor won the tug of war and in June of 1988, Rick and Russell parted ways. It was during this period that the Beastie Boys would decide to leave Def Jam for Capitol Records.

Circuit II Nick Cooper