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"We’re not arrogant, because nothing’s a given in this business. There’s no disco dancing in the hallways here. We’ve got our hardhats on, and we’re under construction. Every corner of this building is taxed."
——Lyor Cohen
ISLAND READIES RAP ATTACK
With The House Already Rockin’, Label Comes A-Knockin’ With String Of Major Rap Releases
Rock has been making a comeback, and with the likes of breakthrough artist Sum 41, as well as American Hi-Fi, Saliva and now Roadrunner’s Slipknot and Nickelback, the Island Def Jam Music Group is getting its taste. But don’t think for a second the label group is ignoring its bread and butter.

Indeed, beginning next month, Def Jam/ IDJ has four major rap albums hitting the streets in the space of seven weeks—the first three of them back to back. And with only one or two rap albums in the Top 10 in recent weeks, the potent string of releases will put IDJ on a major rap roll as we hit the top of the fourth quarter.

  • Jay-Z’s sixth LP, "The Blueprint" (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam) is due in stores 9/18. First single "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" is #1 at Mixshow and is already charting at Crossover. Jay-Z has sold about 12 million albums OTC in the U.S.; his last effort, "Dynasty—Roc La Familia" (10/24/00) debuted at #1 on sales of just under 560k.
  • DMX will release his fourth album, "Tha Great Depression" (Def Jam), on 9/25. First single "We Right Here" is just hitting Mixshow now, with spins currently coming from only 80 burned CDs. His last album, "…And Then There Was X" (12/14/99), debuted at #1 on sales just shy of 700k; he has sold a combined 11.6 million OTC in the U.S.
  • Ja Rule’s third Murder Inc./Def Jam release, "Pain Is Love," which hits the streets 10/2, is getting a pre-release boost from huge airplay for his work on J.Lo’s "I’m Real" remix (which will be included on "Pain"). First single "Livin’ It Up" is hitting the airwaves now to great early response (Def Jam will go for Urban and Crossover adds on 9/10). Ja Rule has sold about 4.3 million albums OTC in the U.S. to date; his last album, "Rule 3:36" (10/3/00), debuted at #1 on sales of 276k.
  • Batting cleanup is Atlanta rapper Ludacris, who releases "Word of Mouf," his sophomore effort for Def Jam South, on 10/30. First single "Area Codes" is moving up the Mixshow and Crossover charts and is also featured on Def Jam’s "Rush Hour 2" soundtrack. Ludacris’ DJS debut, "Back for the First Time" (10/17/00) debuted at #4 on sales of 134k and has sold about 2.5 million OTC in the U.S.

Jay-Z’s "Izzo," DMX’s "We Right Here" and Ja Rule’s "Livin’ It Up" were all added to MTV this week. Ludacris’ "Area Codes" is already on, as is Ja Rule on J.Lo’s "I’m Real."

IDJ is shipping north of 1.5 million units of each of the above.

While IDJ President Lyor Cohen says this kind of hectic release schedule isn’t something he plans for, it’s not something to shy away from. Last year, Def Jam released Ja Rule, Ludacris and Jay-Z records in October; and at the end of 1999, the label released DMX and Jay-Z records on 12/14 and 12/28, respectively, effectively giving Def Jam the last #1 of ’99 and the first #1 of ’00.

"This is what you call a traffic jam," Cohen says. "And what you do in a traffic jam sometimes is you get in the tank and just drive. My people hate me right now because we’re on a death march."

Indeed, with such an ambitious slate comes the need for a major team effort, notes IDJ Chairman Jim Caparro. "Def Jam is a Maserati that has been traveling at 150. Now Lyor and [Def Jam/Def Soul President] Kevin [Liles] are putting their pedal to the metal and looking to push that Maserati to 200."

"We’re not arrogant, because nothing’s a given in this business," adds Cohen. "There’s no disco dancing in the hallways here. We’ve got our hardhats on, and we’re under construction. Every corner of this building is taxed."

On the retail side, Best Buy’s Kevin Engler sees Def Jam’s back-to-back approach as a positive: "This is a new thing for us, especially in September instead of November, but they’re all big crossover titles—which makes it easier to synergize branding and merchandising opportunities. We can wrap a story around that."

Def Jam will be working to build just such a story in the coming weeks. "When you take three monster releases week after week and have the fourth follow immediately thereafter," Caparro notes, "there are many opportunities to maximize exposure and create an event." One such opportunity will be to play up the fact that the back-to-back releases represent three different New York boroughs—Jay-Z from Brooklyn, DMX from Yonkers, Ja Rule from Queens.

But don’t look for late additions to the slate: "If I put one more release on the schedule," Cohen says, "people will start cocking their shotguns and looking for the guy in the corner office."

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