The LiFTED 5: Hip Hop’s original A&R Dante Ross
The Hip Hop is 50 celebrations continue as LiFTED interviews legends in the game
Legendary Hip Hop A&R man Dante Ross has been at the helm of some of the biggest, and most critically acclaimed Rap records from its earliest days to recent times. As an A&R man for Tommy Boy, Elektra, and Def Jam, he signed and developed acts like Brand Nubian, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, De La Soul, and Ol Dirty Bastard. As a record man, he produced and remixed iconic tracks for artists like 3rd Bass, Busta Rhymes, Everlast, and Carlos Santana. In 2000, he won a Grammy for his work on Santana’s global smash album Supernatural. In recent years, he has had platinum records with Lil Dicky and Ugly God.
This year, Dante published his memoir, Son of the City, and has been on a book signing tour featuring many guest Hip Hop luminaries and funky DJ sets. LiFTED had a chance to sit down with the Hip Hop pioneer to ask five questions about the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop and his own place in that history.
According to legend, Hip Hop as a genre turns 50 this year, going back to a party thrown by Kool Herc in 1973 in the Bronx. What year did you first become aware of Hip Hop?
1979 when Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper's Delight became a hit.
In your book Son of the City, you described working for Rush Management in the 1980s as your first gig in the music industry. In those early years, there was no playbook yet, and legends like Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen were actually creating it on the fly. What was that like?
They made it up as they went along. Most of us did. It was a new art form, and there was very little protocol. There were no established managers in the Rap world at the time.
De La Soul is one of the most influential Hip Hop groups ever. What was it like working on their seminal album 3 Feet High and Rising when you were at Tommy Boy?
I often say I was lucky to be in the room when those guys created that record. I wish they could all be that fun, that easy, and that amazing. The bar was set very high early in my A&R career.
No major label had a dedicated Hip Hop A&R man until Elektra created that position for you. Those must have been crazy times, as Hip Hop was literally forcing its way into previously white-dominated companies like major record labels and MTV. What was it like going up against all that resistance?
It was a bit uncomfortable at times. I was blessed to have a great boss, Bob Kransow, who supported me, even when certain factions of the company didn’t. I learned how to pick and choose my battles. It was a great eight-year run.
Are any Asian Hip Hop artists on your radar? If so, how do you feel about the rise of Asian Hip Hop and Asian MCs?
I don’t really look at Hip Hop in terms of race, gender, sexual preference, etc. If someone’s good, they're good. As far as Asia specifically, I look at Hip Hop with a more global lens these days and Asia certainly plays into this equation. I recently got hip to a Japanese female rapper Awich, who I found interesting. She’s talented and unhinged, her attitude was impressive.