If you would’ve asked me what music I listened to back in the early 2000’s, I probably would have listed a bunch of artists, but I could have just as easily said “Anything on Def Jux”. Aesop Rock, El-P, and Cannibal Ox forever changed my perspective of music. I even had a Def Jux hat.
Back in those days I was just scraping the surface of underground hip-hop after an intense love affair with mainstream rap. For me, interest in the underground scene started with Anticon, which was mostly abstract, nerdy underground hip-hop. Besides my introduction to Slug (Atmosphere), who I still listen to on a biweekly basis, I soon decided that Anticon didn’t have what I wanted.
The first thing I wanted was intelligence and creativity. At this point in my life I was completely anti-MTV, and I hated the rappers on television who all splashed around in the same shallow mud puddle. I wanted something I could listen to late at night while getting high in my room, drawing and having my mind blown. (Years later, I would reaccept mainstream hip-hop. Everything has its place.)
The second thing I was looking for, that Anticon couldn’t give me, was an animalistic, abrasive energy. I wanted music that gave me that adrenaline burst when the beat dropped, and something that wasn’t always easy to listen to. Something that was bigger than dusty loops, eerie string arrangements, or recycled soul. Definitive Jux was the two headed robot monster that I was searching for. With an in-your-fucking-face sound that was undoubtedly manufactured in a space factory and a lineup of artists that renewed my faith in creativity, Def Jux was exactly what I needed. Fuck, to an outsider it might just look like a young, misdirected slacker wasting time, but those nights rocking Labor Days, Fantastic Damage, and of course The Cold Vein will forever hold a place in my heart. This shit got me through a lot of points in my life when I felt like I was about to snap in half.
I guess I should let you know why I’m reminiscing like this. There have been rumors going around about the label’s downfall, and today El-P announced that he is stepping down as creative director and the label will be on an indefinite hiatus. You can read the letter here.
Considering its history, this is sad news for fans of the music, but it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Although Def Jux has done a phenomenal job of linking up with great artists like Cage, Dizzee Rascal, Del, Mr. Lif, Aesop Rock, Murs, and RJD2, they have been lagging behind in this rat race of an industry. In my personal opinion, El-P’s presence was sometimes too strong and although I think he’s a musical genius, his influence was so heavy on the sounds of some of the artists that they lost their own identity.
A big part of the game today is branding (I’m going to get around to writing a whole piece about this eventually) and although Jux was a musical powerhouse, I think they were weak in the branding aspect. In some ways, this was what made it so appealing to the hardcore fans. You could tell Def Jux didn’t push their artists to wear certain clothes, keep a certain image, or splatter their personality on the wall, take pictures, and post it on everyblog.blogspot.com. When you did see videos of them pop up, it was usually ill quality footage from shows or a freestyle session in a basement that was unfamiliar with blog territory.
For me, the news is upsetting but exciting at the same time. It’s sad to see the camp broken up, but I can’t wait to see these artists’ next moves and watch them develop outside of Definitive Jux’s industrial hide-out. Until then, let’s take a look back at some of Definitive Jux’s metallic catalog. Classics. And in case the label does dissolve – Miss you, Def Jukies.
Aesop Rock – Mars Attacks | YouSendIt
Cannibal Ox- Straight of the D.I.C. | YouSendIt
Cage – Shoot Frank ft. Darryl Palumbo | YouSendIt
El-P – Deep Space 9mm | YouSendIt
Aesop Rock ft. Mr. Lif – 11:35 | YouSendIt
Cannibal Ox – The F Word (RJD2 Remix) | YouSendIt
Murs – Bad Man | YouSendIt