Regulators: How Warren G Saved Def Jam
When you think of the growth of hip-hop, Def Jam Records is a major figure in development and rise in popularity over the last four decades. The labels roster throughout the 1980’s sports legendary rhyme specialists, like LL Cool J, Run-D.M.C, EPMD, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. Through the late ’90’s, artists like Jay-Z, DMX and Onyx invaded airwaves, releasing multi-platinum projects. The 2000’s saw the pinnacle of hip-hop’s hierarchy split between two Def Jam factions, Dipset and Roc-A-Fella/State Property. But in the early ’90’s the label was in major financial limbo, despite having several chart-topping artists. It took a newcomer, looking to step out of his brother’s shadow to save the label.
New York ran the rap game through the ’80’s, until N.W.A emerged on the scene, depicting life on the streets of Compton. Once the world was introduced to the police brutality and gang-infested lifestyle of Los Angeles and surrounding areas, the west coast quickly seized the crown. Artists like Ice Cube, Compton’s Most Wanted and DJ Quik became household names, as listeners fascinated by the west’s opposing perspective and sound bought albums in mass.
N.W.A producer and rapper Dr. Dre went his own way after the group split in 1991, formulating a partnership with Long Beach rapper Snoop Dogg that would bring about timeless music. Dre’s 1992 debut album The Chronic caused mass hysteria, being RIAA certified triple-platinum the following year.
While Dre shattered airwaves, his step-brother Warren G was formulating his own style, combining the popular west coast “G-Funk” sound with a smooth, laid-back flow and demeanor. An exceptional producer, G helped Dre formulate production for The Chronic, learning the rigors of the industry while making a name. Interestingly enough, it was G who introduced Dre to Snoop, pushing him to sign his partner-in-crime.
The period between 1992-93 at Def Jam was wildly hit-or-miss, as the label attempted to keep up with the growing trend of “Gangster Rap”. While east coast artists like EPMD, LL Cool J, Redman and Onyx all achieved success in record sales, the label struggled financially. Label co-founder and brainchild Russell Simmons was experimenting with branching out, when he created “Def Jam West”. The new imprint was set to feature artists from the left coast, as California rappers from other labels continue to dominate airwaves. Unfortunately, Simmons dropped the ball from the jump, in terms of bringing in talent. Artists’ Boss and South Central Cartel failed to sell, despite mainstream feature-heavy projects.
Fast-forward to 1994, as the label is on the brink of bellying up due to financial restraints. Early that year, Polygram Entertainment purchased Sony’s 50 percent stake in the label.
Warren G was a new artist on Def Jam, prepping to release his first single “Regulate”, featuring vocals by fellow Long Beach native and friend Nate Dogg. The ode to a night in the LBC samples the Michael Mcdonald hit “I Keep Forgettin'”. Warren G tells a laid-back tale of surviving a botched-robbery as Nate Dogg croons about rescuing his friend in distress. The song was placed on the soundtrack of the 1994 film “Above The Rim”, shooting up the charts instantly.
The song peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Rap Charts, becoming RIAA Certified Platinum in 1995. The song was then re-released as the single for Regulate…G Funk Era, G’s debut album. Upon release, the album peaked at No.2 on the Billboard Charts, selling 176,000 copies it’s first week. The album went on to be RIAA Certified Triple Platinum in 1995. The 1995 single “This D.J.” would give G his second-consecutive Top-10 hit.
Warren G’s boyish good looks and cool demeanor appealed to the ladies, while his street-cred as a certified Rollin 20 Crip got him play from the streets. G was a feature in Def Jam’s 1995 film The Show, a documentary dedicated to hip-hop narrated by Simmons.
The album and G’s commercial appeal helped turn the label around immediately. No Def Jam release would exceed G’s sales until 1998, with the release of DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.
Although G’s sophomore release Take A Look Over Your Shoulder was certified Gold in 1997, it failed to live up to the success of Regulate. Nevertheless, G’s legacy as a Def Jam artist will forever be cemented for his debut album.
By 1998, artists like Jay-Z and DMX had repositioned Def Jam at the pinnacle of the industry, commercially and financially.
But just keep in mind, there would be no Def Jam if Warren G and Nate Dogg didn’t regulate.