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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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? 

KL: I mean, everything from Public Enemy to Lil Wayne to LL Cool J to Kanye West — I span the culture. To give a favorite is like me asking you what’s your favorite rap song. You might say something, but you’ll remember later on, “Oh man, naw, I forgot this.” So I never put myself in that position. I love hip-hop too much.

Jozen Cummings is a writer living in Harlem, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter and read his blog, UntilIgetmarried.com.

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