In March, Joie Manda left his two-year tenure as head of urban music at Warner Bros. Records to become president of Def Jam Recordings. It marked the first time the position had been filled since Jay-Z ended his three-year reign in 2007. At WBR, Manda was responsible for signing Common, Maybach Music Group and Waka Flocka Flame to the imprint, building a strong roster before exiting.
Now three months on the job at Def Jam, Manda is settling into his duties as head of the decades-old imprint, founded by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons in 1984. Overseeing upcoming albums from Nas, Rick Ross, 2 Chainz and Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, Manda explains how realizing an artist’s vision is of foremost importance as he tries to turn Def Jam from one of the premier labels in hip-hop into the most successful imprint in the world.
What did you take from Warner Bros. and apply to Def Jam?
Patience. You have to be patient, and you also have to remember why we’re here: to help new artists. We really work for the artist. That’s the mantra and ethos.
What’s your goal as president of the label?
To have all of our artists facilitate their vision, to bring their music to market in the right way and to do their creativity justice. My other goal is to revive the Def Jam brand. Forget about the No. 1 label in urban music; it needs to be the No. 1 label in the world. It should be the premier destination for any artist. I think it still is, but I want to reinvigorate it and really work on the branding of Def Jam. I want to remind people how important it is.
What’s the most important thing Def Jam can do to continue its 30-year legacy?
What Def Jam needs to do, and will do right now, is think of nontraditional ways to put artists and music out. That’s where Def Jam came from. When Russell and Rick started this company, there was no blueprint for a rap label. We’re thinking of nontraditional ways. Radio is important, obviously. That’s how we get our music to the masses. But we really are trying to think of different ways.
Radio is obviously an integral focus of any label, but hip-hop doesn’t have as strong a grip on pop radio as it once did. How do you hope to bring that back?
I think that music, not just hip-hop, has become homogenized lately. We’re not scared to sign artists that don’t fit inside of a box and aren’t commercial or commercially marketable. We’re looking for the 2012 N.W.A, the 2012 Public Enemy. Stuff that other labels would probably say, “What are we going to do with this? This isn’t commercial, this isn’t going to cross over.” That’s what we’re looking for.
Where do you see the biggest potential for growth and opportunity that could use nurturing at the label?
Right now, all the people who are involved in artist development here, we’re all going to take steroids. We’re going to be the best in the world at artist development. If you’re a new artist, you’re going to want to be on Def Jam, because we’re going to be patient and we’re going to spend the time and the money to really develop new artists. – Steven J. Horowitz