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Sha Money XL Poised to Reshape Def Jam

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Beatmaker (True Music Person) Becomes Decision Maker at Hip Hop/Rap’s Most Prolific Label; Will Former G-Unit Topper Return Def Jam to its Hey Day?

By Amir Said (Sa’id)

Four weeks ago, I wrote an article (“Ending the Devaluation of Beatmakers”) evaluating Lil Jon’s far-reaching recording deal, and the potential success of the new music industry with beatmakers (producers) as decision makers at record labels. Well, right on cue, another acclaimed beatmaker (producer) has been put in an even more high profile (powerful) position. Last month, Def Jam Records announced that beatmaker (producer) and former G-Unit president, Sha Money XL (Nee Michael Clervoix, III), was appointed senior VP of A&R of the house that Rubin and Russell built.

Def Jam’s move comes at a time when the majors are fighting for their lives; more importantly, it comes at a time when hip hop/rap music sales are on a steep and steady decline; and it comes at a time when commercial “creative morale” in hip hop/rap music appears to be mostly in a lull. Although I do not think that Sha Money’s recent hire could hardly be seen as an attempt “to save” hip hop/rap music, I do believe that Def Jam is bringing in the Queens, NY native to not only “stop the bleeding,” but to right the ship that is the mighty Def Jam vessel. So this leads me to my big question: Will Sha Money XL be able to return Def Jam to its hey day?

The answer to that question can be had within the context of another question: Was Jay-Z, the former president of Def Jam, able to return the heralded label to its hey day? No! But there are key differences as to why Sha Money just might be able to pull it off. First there’s the obvious: Sha Money isn’t a mega rap star label president, with rhymes to record, and shows to perform, and a public persona to upkeep. On the contrary, Sha Money is an executive manager with proven label-running experience under his belt. Which means, unlike Jay-Z, Sha Money will likely be in the building (literally) much more than Jay-Z’s schedule could have ever allowed. Furthermore, as Senior VP of A&R (not president), Sha Money XL’s experience at Def Jam will be much more different than Jay-Z’s. No doubt Sha Money will indeed have to answer—more regularly—to someone. However, on the other hand, Sha Money will certainly be more accessible (and hands-on) to the artist roster. After all, his survival/success at Def Jam will, in large part, depend on it.

Then there’s the “pressure factor.” Come on, was Jay-Z realistically under any actual pressure as Def Jam president? No! Hence, to be sure, he was given a level of leeway that Sha Money certainly won’t enjoy. The majors are desperate—Def Jam is desperate; therefore, Sha Money comes in the door with little leeway. He’s going to be expected to produce real results (perhaps rather quickly); he won’t be allowed to get by with the sort of marginal exposure that came with a megastar like Jay-Z at the helm. Nope. Sha Money is going to be under incredible pressure to resolidify Def Jam’s position as the premier label for hip hop/rap music (and perhaps beyond).

And what about the aspect of talent scouting? It’s not that Jay-Z can’t see and/or pick talent (he can), he’s just not a talent scout. On the other hand, Sha Money is a talent scout. Moreover, Sha Money’s the sort of stealth talent scout that always has his pulse on what’s happening in the streets, not just in New York, but throughout the country. So look for him to discover new talent, and to tap into rich talent pools across the country, in a way that Jay-Z (a recording artist first) simply never could.

Finally, and maybe most important (I’m biased, so what…), Sha Money XL is a beatmaker (producer). As such, he’s in tune with the mechanics and nuances of hip hop/rap music (specifically, beats) in a way that Jay-Z could never be. As the senior VP of A&R, this special quality gives Sha Money a unique and clear advantage, especially when it comes to paring the right music with the right recording artist. Furthermore, Sha Money’s beatmaking background (and producer management skill-set), puts him in an even more powerful position to secure a broader arsenal of dope beats, a fact that could soon make Def Jam as notable for its in-house beatmakers as it is for the rappers on its roster.

When It’s All Said and Done

Even with the aforementioned key advantages that Sha Money XL has, his success will ultimately be determined by the Def Jam line-up that he’s able to put on the court. Right now, he’s inherited Juelz Santana and Sheek Louch; though Rick Ross and Kanye West are both on the Def Jam team per se, Sha Money will likely not be involved with any of their upcoming projects. Thus, Sha Money’s going to have to add to the roster quickly. (If things go as he hopes, he may be able to add G-Unit, as 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, and Tony Ya Yo are all essentially free agents!) But What will this near-future Def Jam roster look like? Will Sha Money position Def Jam as merely a commercial (pop) portal only reserved for mega acts? Or will he assemble a roster that’s balanced? One that’s as much fly and flash as it is gritty and grime? One that is as much club-pop as it is boom-bap? Given the new music industry circumstances and his unique collective expertise, I’d say that Sha Money XL has the opportunity to deliver a true quality-based, balanced roster at Def Jam.

But when it’s all said and done, Sha Money XL might be judged (fairly or not) on his ability to make Def Jam the singular spot that most hip hop/rap fans recognize as the place for quality, balanced hip hop/rap music. If he pulls that off, he will have indeed righted the ship at Def Jam. And who knows, he might even have helped to save some of the critical aspects of hip hop/rap music. Either way, I’m rooting for Sha Money XL to do well at Def Jam. If anything, beatmakers have to stick together, right?


The BeatTips Manual by Sa’id.
“The most trusted source for information on beatmaking and hip hop/rap music education.”

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About Author

Amir Said (aka Sa’id) is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BeatTips. A writer, publisher, and beatmaker/rapper from New York, Said is the author of a number of books, including ‘The BeatTips Manual,’ ‘The Art of Sampling,’ ‘Ghetto Brother,’ and ‘The Truth About New York.’ He is also a recording artist with a number of music projects, including his latest album 'The Best of Times.' Follow him on Twitter at: @amirsaid and @BeatTipsManual

  • Mariella

    Very good article! Thank you.

  • Mariella,
    Thank *you*. Your opinion means a lot.
    —Sa’id

  • Research and remember this name, Big K.R.I.T. Then come back and reference this article in a year from now.
    Good article, very well written.

  • Not bad, tasted weapon, I like it