In 1984, Def Jam Recordings burst onto the scene in New York City to propel hip-hop culture to a new level. In the decades that have followed, the house that Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin built has more than lived up toits promise, becoming one of the most recognisable purveyors of hip-hop entertainment across the planet.

Def Jam has been home to hip-hop icons past and present, including Run-DMC, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, 2 Chainz, and Desiigner. A full list of the legends on its roster would take more than a mere 16 bars.

With hip-hop’s influence spanning the globe, it was only a matter of time before Def Jam slung its brand of dope directly in SouthEast Asia, arguably the most excitingly fresh frontline for new, boundary-pushing music. This came to pass at the All That Matters summit in Singapore, in September 2019, when Def Jam South East Asia was announced, with a starting lineup of regional luminaries that included Joe Flizzow of Malaysia, Daboyway of Thailand, A. Nayaka of Indonesia, and Singapore’s Fariz Jabba and Yung Raja.

Since its game-changing launch, Def Jam SEA has already paid its dues several times over, flexing its musical chops at high-profile showcases such as 2019’s Culture Cartel convention in Singapore, and helping to usher in global sports retailer JD Sport’s entry into the Thai market during the brand’s massive launch party in Bangkok. The label has also been busy bringing in more stellar talent from across the region into its fold, adding Indonesia’s Ben Utomo and Rayi Putra, and welcoming Vietnam and the Philippines to the family, represented by the likes of Seachains and VVS Collective, respectively.

Adam Granite, Executive Vice-President of Market Development of Def Jam SEA’s parent company Universal Music Group, hailed the label’s emergence as a “mark of commitment and respect for both the music culture in the region, and our belief in its future.” For Def Jam SEA’s artists, though, celebrations will have to wait. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ll all do our best,” says Joe Flizzow, one of the region’s hip-hop elder statesmen, and now a big brother in Def Jam SEA’s growing family.

From KL to BKK to SG, with an around-the-world fistbump to NYC, Def Jam South East Asia is determined to cement hip-hop culture’s position in the region, elevating local talents whose time in the global limelight is way overdue. The hip-hop adage ‘can’t stop, won’t stop’, as far as Def Jam SEA is concerned, is an inspiration, a promise, and a way of life, all rolled into one.