The very first Def Jam release wasn’t DJ001 (LL Cool J’s “I Need a Beat”) in the fall of 1984, but T. LaRock & Jazzy Jay’s “It’s Yours,” which came out in January of the same year. DJ001 is the first Def Jam record made by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons as a team. “It’s Yours” was a solo venture, produced by Rick while he was still a student at New York University. In fact, to be strictly accurate, “It’s Yours” was the first rap record on Def Jam. The very first Def Jam record in any style was a seven-inch single cut in 1982, produced by Rick and showcasing music by an “artcore” rock band called Hose, which featured young Mr. Rubin on guitar.
But it was “It’s Yours” that brought Rick and Russ together. Featuring an unknown rapper on an unknown label, “It’s Yours” nonetheless electrified New York’s hip-hop nightclubs and rap radio shows during the spring of 1984. Russell, who had a hand in several of the hit records then popular, including tracks by Run-DMC and Kurtis Blow, asked his old friend Jazzy Jay about who was behind “It’s Yours.” Jay introduced Rick and Russ at Danceteria. The pair immediately started conspiring. By the middle of the summer Rick and Russ were partners in Def Jam.
Jazzy Jay himself, however, was left out in the cold. Jay had thought that he and Rick were going to partner up in a label. A crucial Bronx-based deejay allied from the beginning with Afrika Bambaataa, it was Jay who introduced Rick to many of the pioneering hip hop artists, taught Rick how to make beats using a drum machine, and built a world-class sound system into Rick’s car.
But Russell wasn’t yet in the picture when Rick cut “It’s Yours.” A big fan of the Treacherous Three, Rick hoped to cut his first rap record with that crew’s Special K on the mic. But K was prohibited from doing it because of his contract with Sugar Hill Records. So Rick went with T. LaRock, K’s older brother, instead. And Jazzy Jay provided the scratches.
Here’s an an account of the recording session itself—recalled by Rick, T. LaRock, and Adam “Ad Rock” Horowitz—excerpted from Def Jam: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label:
T. La Rock: We cut it at Power Play Studios in Queens. I believe some of Power Play Studios in Queens. I believe some of the Beasties were there—I can’t remember which members. They actually ended up in the crowd participation part of the record.
Adam Horovitz: I just know we drove to some crazy studio in some crazy borough. Somewhere you had to go to in a car—which was not something I did very often [laughs].
T La Rock: I was wondering, “Why are we recording in Queens? I’m from the Bronx and Rick’s from Manhattan.” But it was my first record—first everything—so I just went ahead.
Rick Rubin: Power Play was where we had recorded the Hose record, and it was really cheap. It was $45 an hour, and we made “It’s Yours” in, like, three hours.
T La Rock: I remember the Beasties’ jaws dropping when I rapped one of my favorite verses:
Sound plus rhythm done up with finesse
Is equivalent to the adjective best
Now it’s time to introduce
Neo rhymes combined with a group with juice
Dance to the musical tune
On the microphone I’m gonna make you swoon
Usually the reason for a very nice day
I came here to represent the ultimate act,
Which only occurs when the party is packed
So full of endurance for your insurance
Everything’s fixed, just listen to the mix.
Adam Horovitz: It was a crazy night. That was the first time I ever drank Brass Monkey. Jazzy Jay is the coolest—he’s the great DJ who brought the Monkey. [Brass Monkey is a premixed cocktail—part beer, part orange juice—manufactured by Heublein Inc.]
Rick Rubin: Of all the DJs, Jay was my favorite, from both a technical and taste standpoint. Sometimes Bambaataa played stuff that was more out there, which was cool, but it just felt like every record Jay picked was good. The way he cut ’em up, and just the way he worked the night, felt the best of anybody.
Adam Horovitz: Me and Dave Scilken were just really fucked up, wearing headphones and going, “Ho-oh!” on the background track. It was awesome
T La Rock [laughing]: That was actually a little scary because Jay was hittin’ the sauce. Believe it or not, I didn’t drink any because I was laying down vocals and wanted to be on my A game. So, I didn’t have no liquor, but I believe I drank a small can of Colt 45.
Adam Horovitz: There were women there! Not girls, but, like, ladies. You know, when you’re fifteen and she’s twenty, you’re like, “This is awesome! [Laughs] It was pretty cool.
T La Rock: There were only a few girls and guys there, but the engineer put an effect on the record to make it sound like there was a whole bunch of people.
After we completed the recording, I put it in the back of my mind and returned to work. A couple of months later, I was in the back room of the pharmacy where I worked, writing up an order and listening to the radio. All I heard was “. . . the number-one requested song of the day.” I’m thinking they’re gonna say Run-DMC or somebody like that, but “It’s Yours” came on. I was totally shocked, just blown away. I dragged my friend Ken from behind the counter—he was the lead pharmacist—and called the manager over, and we were all in a huddle listening to it. After work, as soon as I hit my neighborhood, everyone was running up to me.
For the first two months, I kept my job at the pharmacy and performed at clubs like the Roxy, the Fun House, and Roseland. But it got to the point where I could no longer do both. Shows were pouring in from everywhere, from as close as Philly to as far away as Florida and California. Every weekend we were doing two or three shows—and a show in the middle of the week. I was making anywhere from $600-800 per show—a lot of money back then for a young adult.