Exactly eighteen years ago on this date, the word DEF
was officially laid to rest. It was that day when Rick Rubin
- who initially was a part of Def Jam
but later broke away and set up his own Def American Records
label, which in turn morphed into American Records
supposedly officially layed the dated hip-hop slang word to rest. This he did via an extravagant funeral service and even went so far as to get a legal death certificate, buy a real life size casket, secure a plot at the Hollywood Cemetery (which is still there to this day), and hold a faux solemn, funeral ceremony with Rev Al Sharpton
acting as officiator.
Rap music industry vet and author Dan Charnas
worked for Rick Rubin at Def American's headquarters in LA at the time and in his recently published book, The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop,
he dedicates some space to the topic of the death of "def." This week I caught up with Charnas via phone from his New York home office to ask him about this date back in 1993 when the word "def" was laid to rest. Charnas, who had already been working a couple of years for the brilliant (but oft quirky) Rubin, recalled how, back as early as 1991, his boss had told him, "Eventually I am going to change the name of Def American to just American. And eventually I am going to bury it. I am going to have a funeral." Charnas said that then Rubin asked with a laugh, "And then what's Russell gonna do?" Charnas recalled of Rubin, "It struck his Bud Abbott
-esque need to prank Russell [Simmons
of Def Jam]," and that the death of def
was combined with other factors. "It was the fact that he wanted a divorce from his past. The fact that there was some consumer confusion. The fact that he could prank Russell a little. The fact that the word was very much out of style," said Charnas. "So he wanted to do a grand piece of performance art."