Props to the Old School: LL Cool J and DMX Reportedly Sign New Deals With Def Jam Records

Two-time Grammy Award and NAACP Award winner LL Cool J was the first rap act to release music on Def Jam Records in 1985.
Photo: Rob Grabowski (AP)

Are they having some kind of old-timers’ reunion at Def Jam Records?

LL Cool J and DMX—two of hip-hop’s biggest superstars—are reportedly returning the storied rap label, which is in the midst of celebrating its 35th anniversary.

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According to AllHipHop.com, two-time Grammy Award and NAACP Award winner LL Cool J has re-signed to the iconic record company he helped build. A source at the Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons-founded label confirmed the signing with the leading hip-hop site but weren’t able to offer up any details on new music.

James Todd Smith, the lip-licking Queens native also known as LL Cool J—whose moniker means Ladies Love Cool James—was the first act signed to the record company, whose humble beginnings were shaped in Rubin’s New York University dorm room in the early 1980s.

In 1985, at the age of 16, the hunky Kangol wearing lyricist released his debut opus “Radio,” which went launched the “Rock The Bells” rapper’s career.

A platinum-plated recording career with a lengthy stream of hits, including classics like “I’m Bad,” “ I Need Love,” “Jingling Baby” and “Around The Way Girl,” catapulted Cool J to legend status. And while the fickle music business subsequently acted like it didn’t want anything to do with him, the self-proclaimed G.O.A.T. sustained an enviable career as an actor in films and television. (The tenth season of the CBS procedural drama NCIS: Los Angeles, which he’s the star of, premieres Sept. 29.)

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In 2017, he became the first hip-hop artist to be feted by the Kennedy Center Honors.

LL Cool J was among 2017 Kennedy Center Honorees, which included legendary dancer Carmen de Lavallade, television trailblazer Norman Lear and fellow Grammy Award winning music icons Gloria Estefan and Lionel Richie.
Photo: Greg Allen (AP)
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In 2008, LL Cool J released his final album, aptly titled Exit 13, on Def Jam Records, in the midst of criticizing how his hip-hop peer Jay-Z was running the label as its president.

On Sept. 22, as the news started to spread about LL’s return, Def Jam purportedly confirmed the news on social media—with a simple message: “Big Elly” accompanied by a classic photo of the “Headsprung” hitmaker in his FILA track suit-wearing glory.

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DMX is also reportedly coming back home to the label he made history with.

Last week, the recently-released-from-jail rap icon’s longtime producer Swizz Beatz confirmed that he has new music coming out on Def Jam.

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“It’s going to be a good year for him, god willing,” the veteran producer said. “I just want it to happen so he can go to where he been supposed to have went.”

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During the late 1990s through the early 2000s, DMX (born Earl Simmons) was one of Def Jam’s top-selling artists.

In 1998, the two-time American Music Award winner’s two classic albums It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, which were both released months apart from each other, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart—making the Mount Vernon, N.Y., native the first artist ever to do so.

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X released five albums overall for the label, with a string of hood anthems that are still considered bangers two decades later: “Party Up (Up In Here),” “Ruff Ryders Anthem” and “Who We Be.”

Born Earl Simmons, the Mount Vernon, NY native is one of Def Jam Records biggest selling acts.
Photo: LOUIS LANZANO (AP)
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The chiseled, hyper-masculine rap idol’s imagery transcended into memorable roles in films such as Hype Williams’ cinematic masterpiece Belly, 2000’s Romeo Must Die and the Steven Segal surprise hit Exit Wounds. Last year, he made a return to film as Midnight John, in the gritty Lee Daniels-produced indie drama Pimp, which starred Keke Palmer.

Def Jam hasn’t made anything about the signings official but the company’s Senior Vice President Gabriel Tesoriero announced last week the company’s new partnership with Ronnie Fieg’s influential clothing boutique KITH NYC to release a new version of the label’s legendary varsity jacket to commemorate the 35th anniversary.

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About the author

Karu F. Daniels

Hailing from "the thorough borough" of Brooklyn, Mr. Daniels has written for The New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, Essence, VIBE, NBC News, The Daily Beast, The New York Daily News and Word Up!