Def Jam is going international. A little more than a half a year after launching Def Jam South East Asia, Universal Music Group today announced Def Jam Africa, a new division based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Lagos, Nigeria, that will focus on "hip-hop, Afrobeats and trap talent in Africa" and report to Universal Music Sub-Saharan Africa & South Africa Managing Director Sipho Dlamini.
Over the past few years, the major labels have invested more aggressively in Africa – both to market streaming services and, especially, to sign talent -- and Universal now has offices in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Senegal, and Morocco. Until recently, however, the company’s ventures there haven’t had as much freedom to shape their brand identities as their U.S. counterparts.
Def Jam Africa could change that. "In the U.S., [Universal Music has] Republic, Interscope, Def Jam, Capitol – labels that can each define their own DNA," Dlamini told Billboard in an interview in the new "Africa Now" issue. "In Africa, we’ve only ever operated Universal, and under that umbrella you might have jazz, gospel, dance, and hip-hop. What Def Jam Africa allows us to do is create an aspirational label. If a kid is making hip-hop, we want him to say, 'I want to sign to Def Jam Africa.'"