No Regrets: Definitive Jux Changes Gears

February 03rd, 2010 | Category: Essays

Under the banner of “’cause motherfuckers are bored,” Definitive Jux has been bringing its brand of boom bap to the masses for over a decade. Label co-founder and artist in his own right, El-P has been challenging preconceived notions of what it means to do Hip-hop since the early 90s when he was one-third of the germinal crew Company Flow. His ability to channel his frustrations with the world, the music, and himself into creative output is largely responsible for his abrasive sound, as well as that of his label’s roster. He once described the label’s M.O. as, “We don’t put out bullshit.”

Def Jux has cultivated a group of fans that are typically not just into one of the label’s artists. They usually like most, if not all of the artists on the label and thereby the label itself — and they are rabid, much like fans of Dischord, the early Sub Pop, or 80s-era WaxTrax. Their ceasing operations is more like a band breaking up than a label closing its doors.

But the rumors of their demise have been “mildly exaggerated.” The doors are not quite closing. Here’s what El-P had to say about it:

This year, a decade after starting Def Jux and after overseeing the releases of some incredible albums…, I’m stepping away from my duties as artistic director for the label to concentrate on what I love most: being a producer and an artist full-time. This is something I’ve been contemplating for a few years now, and can’t think of a better time or, with the eventual release of Camu’s record, a more poetic way to transition into a new direction.

This means change for Jux. Of course we’ll still have our website, we will still sell our catalog, merch and more as well as bring you news and updates on all our projects and artists… As a traditional record label Def Jux will effectively be put on hiatus. We are not closing, but we are changing. The process is already underway, and the last several months (for those wondering what the hell we’ve been up to) have been spent dealing with the technical aspects of wrapping up the label in it’s current form and re-imagining our collective and individual futures [italics mine].

Though Def Jux was one of the early labels to make the move to legitimate digital downloads via their website, real records were their bread and butter. Brian Eno recently equated records with whale blubber, saying,

I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out. I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.

While the sea change of the past decade is hard to argue with, one still wonders what’s going to replace the records. El-P continues,

In 2000 starting a traditional record label made a lot of sense. But now, in 2010, less so and I find myself yearning for something else to put my energy into. I also see newer, smarter, more interesting things on the horizon for the way art and commerce intersect, and as an artist and an entrepreneur, I’m eager to see them unfold. The evolution of this industry is, in my opinion, exciting, inevitable and it would be nice to see the Definitive Jux brand be a part of it.

So, in a move that could be considered a sign of the times, Def Jux as a record label per se is over, but as a progressive entity is not.

“I was saddened by the news,” says Alaska, who was one third of Jux’s legendary Hangar 18. “Being part of the label was an honor and was one of the best times in my life. Thank you to El for giving me an opportunity to see the world and be part of something truly special, and it was a pleasure to be associated with all of the talented and wonderful people on the roster.”

Indeed… Peace to Alaska, Wind N Breeze, Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, El-P, Big Wiz, Dibbs, Metro, Murs, Lif, RJD2, Cage, Calm Pete, Mike Ladd, and especially Camu Tao. Peace, respect, and power to all of your future endeavors.

In happier times? Aesop Rock, Cage, and I backstage at The Showbox in Seattle, June 14th, 2005 [photo by Yak Ballz].

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