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Indian hip-hop made some big moves this week. Revered record label and culture leader Def Jam announced its arrival in India by signing rappers Dino James and Fotty Seven.

Since its inception in 1984, Def Jam has been synonymous with hip-hop history. What started as a project in Rick Rubin’s New York University dorm room went on to become a behemoth in the music industry. But most importantly, Def Jam truly feels like the home of hip-hop.

Behind the rise of every music subculture or movement is a record label that was curious to press play. Think Sub Pop in the late 80s stumbling upon the Seattle grunge sound, Death Row popularizing the notorious West Coast gangsta vibe in the 90s, and the Interscope revolution of ’99. For hip-hop, a street subculture’s rise into the mainstream in the 80s, that credit goes to Def Jam.

The Beastie Boys were a bunch of punk rockers thinking of experimenting with rap. Enter Rick Rubin’s production chops and Def Jam’s fresh branding tactics and Licensed To Ill — the first rap album to go #1 on Billboard followed. LL Cool J was just a 17-year-old who wasn’t finding any takers for his track ‘I Need A Beat’ so he sent it to Def Jam’s office aka Rubin’s dorm. A hit track, an iconic album (Radio), and a fresh star was born.

Over the years Def Jam has been home to some of the most iconic names in hip-hop history. Other than the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J, the label has also jammed with Run-DMC, Public Enemy, DMX, Jay-Z, Nas, Rihanna, and Kanye West. But while Def Jam’s roster has hosted the culture’s biggest stars, what are they seeking in a completely new rap landscape i.e India?

The popularity of Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy bringing rap into dining room discussions, a new wave of indie labels (Azaadi, Gully Gang, Big Bang, Kalamkaar + more) on the rise and independent rappers across pin codes stepping up — India’s hip-hop scene is surely blooming. And Def Jam wants its presence in this next big market.

Over the years Def Jam has ventured into regional markets to pick up local hip-hop talent. They started with Germany back in 2000 and recently their South Asia and Vietnam divisions arrived in 2020. With India, Def Jam’s official statement is that they want to ‘boost awareness of Indian hip-hop and culture on a global scale, following the genre’s heightened popularity in the country in recent years.’

In Dino James and Fotty Seven, Def Jam has started their India journey with popular independent rappers who are set to make their major breakthrough. Both the emcees will now see their debut single with the international label (‘Lost’ by Dino James and Fotty Seven’s ‘Banjo’) drop this month.

So is Indian hip-hop in the same phase as New York of the 80s? Independent talent, a culture on the rise, and a rapture waiting to happen. The record label that launched that revolution in New York is here. Let’s press play on this jam and watch what unfolds.