"If you let Def Jam die, you're gonna let a bit of the culture die."
Def Jam, the label that ruled hip hop for over two decades with iconic acts like LL Cool J, Jay-Z, DMX, Public Enemy and others, has fallen on tough times of late, with declining sales, faltering cultural influence and the 2008 suicide of top label executive Shakir Stewart. But Irv Gotti, the former Def Jam exec and producer who helped bring Jay-Z, Ja Rule and DMX to superstardom, wants the label to regain its prominence with a new president: himself.
An impassioned Gotti sat down with MTV recently to discuss the struggling iconic label and its lack of leadership. Gotti has been mentioned as one of the leading candidates to fill Def Jam's still vacant president position, and he said he's throwing his hat in the ring because of his strong connection and love to music, hip hop and Def Jam.
"I wanted to speak on this because I love the hip hop culture with a deep, deep passion," Irv Gotti said. "Def Jam is the light of that culture; Def Jam personifies the hip hop culture. There is no other hip hop label like Def Jam."
Irv said the label's been suffering because it hasn't had a proper president since Jay-Z left in early 2008. He gave props to late label executive Shakir Stewart, but criticized former Def Jam Chairman and CEO L.A. Reid for being too removed from hip hop culture. He praised Def Jam execs during its heyday, like Lyor Cohen, who he said really cared about the music. "Lyor was damn near a Black man. He was in the hood...he was at Ruckers playing ball with me, him and the LOX. He's balling! He cared," an impassioned Irv said.
"If you don't want to hire me — the best man for the job, the man who will die for it — cool, I understand. You think I'm Suge Knight, you think the feds may come in here again if you hire me, cool," Gotti said, referring to the money-laundering rap he beat in 2005. "Put somebody in there, because you not giving any sign or any indication that you care about my culture."
Irv said he's worried that the leadership vacuum could lead to the death of the legendary label. "This is helping our lives. This is a culture that is deep for us. You can't let it die, and if you let Def Jam die, you're gonna let a bit of the culture die," Gotti said. "And the fact that you ain't got no one up there leading the army and ain't had nobody — you just let the artists come up there, give you a record and you put it out. That's not what Def Jam is about."
(Photo: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for James Blake Foundation)