Geffen Records has had several incarnations over the years, and another one begins today: the storied record label is relaunching with veteran A&R exec Neil Jacobson as president. The move was exclusively announced to Billboard by John Janick, chairman of Interscope-Geffen-A&M.
"Geffen Records has always represented the true entrepreneurial spirit of the music business," Janick said in a statement. "Neil's commitment to artistry, his drive, and his ability to see and create new opportunities for our business make him the perfect choice to take the helm at Geffen, a label that is such an important part of the collective legacy of our company."
Jacobsen has been with Interscope for some 15 years, working in international publicity and marketing before moving over to management and A&R. Over the years he’s signed LMFAO and DJ Snake, managed Will.I.Am (and also ran his label), Robin Thicke and hitmakers Jeff Bhasker (Fun., Kanye West, Mark Ronson) and Emile Haynie (Lana del Rey, Father John Misty, Lady Gaga, Kid Cudi).
"I've been telling people for 15 years that one day I wanted to run Geffen,” Jacobson tells Billboard. I always thought Geffen is a special label and David Geffen is a special person. And with Nirvana and Guns N' Roses you're talking about my favorite artists of all time."
Geffen was founded by its namesake, David Geffen, through Warner Bros. in 1980. The executive had enjoyed spectacular success through the first half of the preceding decade, as his Asylum label became the focus of the Southern California soft-rock that dominated FM radio during the era (its roster included the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and many others). In 1975 Geffen left to pursue an unsuccessful stint as a vp at Warner Pictures and then had a cancer scare, but returned full-force to the music business with his eponymous label. Its first signings were two of the biggest artists of the time, Donna Summer and John Lennon, the latter of whom was murdered just days after the release of Double Fantasy, his album with wife Yoko Ono.
The label became one of the most successful of the '80s, with hits from both established artists -- Elton John, Don Henley, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell -- and, as the decade progressed, hard rock -- Whitesnake, Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith. In the '90s it became an alternative haven, with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Beck and others. Geffen sold the label to Universal in 1990 for $800 million, and became a billionaire when Universal was purchased by Matsushita the following year. Geffen remained with the company until 1995, although his day-to-day involvement had long since diminished.
In 1999 the label was essentially annexed by Interscope and no longer operated as a freestanding unit, although it has been revived occasionally over the years. In the mid-2000s it absorbed several artists from MCA's roster (Mary J. Blige, Blink-182, Common, The Roots) and again in 2011, when it was relaunched as a hip-hop imprint headed by Lil Wayne manager Gee Roberson, although the following year he transitioned to lead Blueprint, a different label within Interscope. A rep for the label told Billboard at the time that new leadership for Geffen would be announced the following year, and now, albeit a few years behind schedule, it has.