A flawless compilation, Def Jam 1985-2001: History of Hip Hop, Vol. 1 showcases just how powerful the New York-based record label was during the '80s and '90s. In fact, no label came close to challenging Def Jam's status as the premier rap label -- not Death Row, not Jive, not Sugar Hill, not Cold Chillin'; no label even came close. The early mid- to late-'80s hits that catapulted the label to recognition during the Russell Simmons/Rick Ruben era are here: LL Cool J's "I Can't Live Without My Radio," Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right," and Slick Rick's "Children's Story." So are plenty of the early-'90s hits that solidified Def Jam's status during a time when it finally had to fend off competitors and a fledging West Coast scene: Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," EPMD's "Crossover," and Onyx's "Slam." And there are also a handful of the late-'90s hits that redefined Def Jam's image once the label shed many of its veteran artists: Jay-Z's "Can I Get A...," DMX's "Party (Up in Here)," and Method Man's "I'll Be There/You're All I Need." While the Def Jam Music Group -- Ten Year Anniversary box set is undeniably more thorough and informative, this convenient single-disc compilation features nothing but the big hits and also features the late-'90s artists that aren't found on that pricey box set.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier