Russell Simmons rejected Nas’ plea for a record deal
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Russell Simmons rejected Nas' plea for a record deal

Def Jam is one of the most renowned record labels in hip-hop. Founded out of a New York University dorm room in 1983 by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, it evolved and grew into an empire very quickly. The first acts that put the label on the map were Run-DMC, Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. With such a powerful roster, the label was seen as a money-making machine that would only sign the best.

Although the label started off as a unified front, after five years, the founding fathers of the label began to have creative differences concerning the variation and style of music Def Jam was releasing. Eventually, Rubin left, but Simmons kept the label moving and in the early-’90s, was presented with the opportunity to sign Illmatic legend Nas. However, the mogul passed on the opportunity to work with him, and apparently, this happened on more than one occasion.

In a recent appearance on the Drink Champs podcast with Noreaga and DJ EFN, New York label executive and producer Large Professor revealed in the early days of Nas’ career, industry heads refused to sign him as his sound was too reminiscent of other acts out at the time.

Speaking with the hosts, Large Professor (real name William Mitchell) recalled, “From the start. When they brought Nas’ demo to Russell [Simmons], Russell was like, ‘Nah, he sound too much like [Kool] G Rap.” He continued, “It was crazy. We was in the same camp, though. That’s what he wasn’t seeing — it was like, ‘Yo, Nas is actually a descendant of G, so… you should you know, accept a new generation type shit. But, Russell ain’t know that Force.”

In 1992, before he was a mainstream name, Nas was managed by MC Serch, who was the individual presenting labels with demos. However, although Russell Simmons of Def Jam passed on Nas, Don Lenner, the president of Columbia Records, signed the rapper hastily, and his investment most definitely paid off.

Large Professor alongside DJ Premier was one of the primary producers of Illmatic, Nas’ debut album and hip-hop relic. As one of the Queensbridge legend’s closest collaborators, he saw his exceptional skill and rise to domination in the 1990s. You can see him talking about the ‘N.Y. State Of Mind’ act’s rejection in the video below.