Picks and Pans Review: The First 10 Years of Def Jam Classics

updated 01/22/1996 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/22/1996 01:00AM

Various Artists

When rap impresario Russell Simmons launched Def Jam Records 10 years ago, he was really onto something. The label's earliest hits—LL Cool J's "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and the Beastie Boys' mega-platinum Licensed to Ill album—defined bare-knuckled, hip-hop minimalism. Later, Def Jam's Public Enemy brought on the noise with their black-empowerment agenda and sonic temple of boom. Today the label, more likely to follow than to lead, offers highs and lows, from melodious rap (Warren G.'s "Regulate") to flimsy crossover soul (Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" and MoKenStef's "He's Mine"). This four-CD boxed set includes all the above and Def Jam also-rans like Third Bass and Nice & Smooth. Unfortunately the 49 tracks are haphazardly arranged, so you don't get a clear sense of the label's evolution or recent stagnation. Perhaps obscuring that decline was the point. (Def Jam)

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