Definitive Jux to go on hiatus

Last night, El-P announced that Definitive Jux will soon go on hiatus, and that he plans to step down as its artistic director. Acknowledging industry rumors portending his label’s imminent demise, the co-owner, rapper, producer and symbol of one of the most acclaimed rap imprints of the past decade explained in a note titled “Of Hooptys and Hovercrafts,” “We are not closing, but we are changing.”

In the post — which went live around 10 p.m. EST February 2 but is dated February 3 — El-P didn’t fully explain what new form Definitive Jux will take. But it appears that it will turn into a catalog label focused on selling products created during the past decade.

Also unclear from the statement is whether Definitive Jux will stop releasing new material. It has a backlog of signed artists, including Despot, Activator, Danny!, and Cool Calm Pete. Many of them have waited years for Definitive Jux to issue their material. Those delays have fueled speculation that the company is becoming financially insolvent. In the post, El-P described such rumors as “mildly exaggerated.”

Other artists closely associated with Definitive Jux, including breadwinner Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic, are expected to release albums in 2010. El-P promised that its final slate of projects include King of Hearts, a collection of the late Camu Tao’s final recordings, and “a DEF JUX remix compilation, a 10 year anniversary retrospective and some other goodies. But then as a traditional record label DEF JUX will effectively be put on hiatus.”

Definitive Jux was one of the last great record labels to emerge during the underground hip hop explosion. El-P formed it in 2000 with manager Amaechie Uzoigwe after an acrimonious departure from Rawkus Records, which distributed El’s first venture, Official Recordings, and his group Company Flow’s pioneering album, 1997’s Funcrusher Plus. (Company Flow didn’t survive the transition, splitting up in early 2001).

Definitive Jux quickly became one of the hottest labels in the country, dropping several hip hop classics during a heady two-year period: Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein (which El-P produced), Mr. Lif’s Enters the Colossus, Aesop Rock’s Labor Days, RJD2’s Deadringer and El-P’s own Fantastic Damage. Its roster formed a crew that toured together around the world, guested on each other’s albums and mixed hip hop aesthetics with noisy musical and lyrical experiments, all while capturing accolades and a devoted audience. Many of its titles sold over 50,000 copies (known in industry parlance as “indie gold”).

As the  roster grew and evolved, however, Definitive Jux became less of a collective and more of a traditional independent. It issued acclaimed albums such as Murs & 9th Wonder’s 3:16: The 9th Edition, the Perceptionists’ Black Dialogue and Cage’s Hell’s Winter.

Definitive Jux’s last major release to date was Cage’s 2009 album Depart From Me.

With such a vague post announcing undefined “change,” it may be too soon to write Definitive Jux’s epitaph. However, media attention surrounding this announcement, and presumed further comments from El-P and other associates will undoubtedly provide some answers on which direction the company will take next.

“Of course we’ll still have our website, we will still sell our catalog, merch and more as well as bring you news and updates on all our projects and artists,” wrote El-P. “The process is already underway, and the last several months (for those wondering what the hell we’ve been up to) have been spent dealing with the technical aspects of wrapping up the label in it’s current form and re-imagining our collective and individual futures.

“The evolution of this industry is, in my opinion, exciting, inevitable and it would be nice to see the DEFINITIVE JUX brand be a part of it. In other words, maybe we can turn this hoopty in to a hovercraft.”

Photo by Timothy Saccenti.

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