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
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.