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Nana Ashhurst, formerly Carmen, played a key role in the history of hip-hop’s most iconic label, Def Jam, and in the career of its co-founder Russell Simmons. Of course, before that, she met Malcolm X through her activist parents and ran revolutions in Grenada—no big deal.
She joined Def Jam in the 1980s as Russell’s assistant, but quickly worked her way up to president. While there, she also oversaw Russell’s expansion into fashion, movies, and comedy with properties like the fashion label Phat Farm and the TV show Def Comedy Jam.
Nana oversaw Def Jam in the early 1990s, right as gangsta rap was beginning to take over the industry, and she has some valuable insights into how and why that happened. She also, as you’ll hear, has a fascinating political background and family history that informed her work in hip-hop.
Tracks featured in this episode:
- Malcolm X & Keith LeBlanc, “No Sell Out”
- Mavis Staples, “We Shall Not Be Moved”
- Mavis Staples, “Eyes on the Prize”
- The Magnificent Six, “Nattydread in a PRA”
- Funny Scene From The TV Series JULIA
- NBC News Special Reports: October 25, 1983
- GRENADA: the Future Coming Towards US
- Slick Rick, “Treat Her Like A Prostitute”
- Third Bass, “The Gas Face (Radio Edit)”
- Def comedy jam intro
- Public Enemy, “Bring The Noise”
- LL Cool J, “I’m That Type of Guy”
- Slick Rick, “The Ruler’s Back”
- Eric B. & Rakim, “Follow the Leader”
- EPMD, “So Wat Cha Sayin’”
- DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, “Charlie Mack (The First Out the Limo)”
- 2 Live Crew, “Banned In The U.S.A.”
- 2 Live Crew, “Me So Horny”
- 2Pac, “How Do You Want It”
- N.W.A., “Gangsta Gangsta”
- Bytches With Problems, “Two Minute Brother”
- Nikki D, “Daddy’s Little Girl”
- The Lox f/DMX & Lil’ Kim, “Money, Power & Respect”
- Female rappers on the Phil Donahue Show 1991
- THE ADDICTION (Abel Ferrara) 1995 Trailer
- Billy Preston, “Eight Days A Week”