The Root Interview: Kevin Liles Talks 'Def Jam Rapstar'

The president of Def Jam Interactive tells all about the video game that finally does hip-hop justice.

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TR: With the built-in features that allow people to perform their own rap songs with beats by an official producer, do you see Def Jam Rapstar being the place where you and your industry cohorts discover the next real-life rap star?

KL: You never know where the next rap star is going to come from. You never know where the next big producer is going to come from. The act of discovery is what makes the music business great. Def Jam Rapstar will be an excellent opportunity to find talent, but also to nurture talent. We're looking at it as seriously as we can because I do think I'm going to find the next DMX in Germany, or the next Jay-Z in China, or the next Ludacris in France or the next Kanye West in Hawaii. It's a great opportunity because the world is in your hands.

TR: Was there any concern from people in the gaming world about whether this would work?


KL: There are so many samples, so many owners of the copyrights, that there are so many egos to deal with when we're talking about clearing records. Nobody could have did what we did, because nobody wanted to take on the responsibility of having 4,000 different conversations, but see, we do this every day because we breathe hip-hop. And I guess nobody wanted to take on the responsibility of dealing with our culture, but we are our culture. We're the people's brand. We've always been our culture, so it was kind of easy for us.

TR: One of the most impressive things about the game is the range of songs that comes with it. What was the selection process like?

KL: A lot of fights, a lot of arguments. The first 40, we weren't going to be able to [please] everybody. We just couldn't put more than 40 records in a box, but what we've been able to do is put new songs, new packages, new beats, constantly, every week. Yes, there was a lot of people arguing, a lot of people yelling. I hope everybody on the site continues to tell us what we need. Like, "Hey, you forgot about this record." Somebody said, "I hope you all got 'I Got 5 On It.' " I just think it's a never-ending cycle for us to deliver what's hot, what was hot, what's historic.

TR: As many songs and artists as the game does have, there are also some noticeable ones excluded. Jay-Z, arguably the biggest rapper today, is one example. Why won't people see certain artists and their songs in the game? 

KL: Here's the thing: They're all my friends. So you're talking about whether someone decides to do it or not to do it -- that's really up to everybody. Our goal is to have anyone who is hip-hop to be involved with the game. We work hard every day for that, whether it's part of the packaging or whether it's a special package that comes out later. Everybody will eventually be a part of the game.

TR: What's your favorite song to perform yourself?