At the peak of its success and influence during the 1980s and '90s, New York-based indie label Profile Records boasted an artist roster that read like the Who's Who of hip-hop and rap stars – from Run-D.M.C., Dana Dane, Special Ed and Rob Base, to DJ Quik, Nine, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Onyx, to name just a few. The Profile logo was a familiar symbol to fans on the street, as the company shipped hundreds of thousands of records every month, billed tens of millions of dollars in its best years, and stacked up more RIAA gold and platinum plaques than they could count.
Thirty years after Profile's life-saving signature hit record in 1981 ("Genius Rap" by Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde), GIANT RECORD: PROFILE RECORDS RAP ANTHOLOGY puts a spotlight on the story of one of hip-hop's true super-powered indie labels. The chronologically-arranged, 31-song double-CD will be available at all physical and digital retail outlets starting January 31, 2012 – in advance of Black History Month in February – through Profile/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT.
"Profile Records wasn't the first successful rap label," writes hip-hop authority Dan Charnas in his definitive liner notes essay. "But Profile's openness to this new form of music made the company a pioneer in so many other vital ways: The first record label to produce true rap 'stars' who crossed over to the mainstream. The first to earn gold, platinum and multi-platinum rap albums. The first to get rap videos on MTV. The first to treat rap with the dignity accorded other genres of music." Charnas, who began his career in the mailroom of Profile Records, and was one of the first writers for The Source magazine, is the author of the critically acclaimed The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop (New American Library/Penguin, 2010).
The writer's admiration for Profile Records is echoed by nearly a dozen hip-hop heavyweights whose tributes appear in the CD booklet. Says Brian Coleman (author of Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies and Rakim Told Me: Hip-Hop Wax Facts, Straight from the Original Artists of the 80's): "There are only a handful of '80s dance and hip-hop labels that a connoisseur could truly depend on for consistent freshness, and Profile ranks near – if not at – the top of that list. They made bold choices in what artists they signed, never taking the easy road. Don't forget – Run-D.M.C. was far from a sure thing in 1983. And there are countless other examples of chances taken and amazing music that never would have had a chance of seeing the light of day without them. If Profile never existed, hip-hop as we know it today would have undeniably been different. They changed the game. How many other labels can say that?"
Coleman is joined by an impressive list of tastemakers who wax rhapsodic and eloquently over their Profile faves and what the label meant to them: radio's DJ Riz (extolling Run-D.M.C.'s "Here We Go"); fellow radio star DJ P Fine (Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock's "It Takes Two"); DJ Rob Swift ("Fresh 3 MC's"); DJ Jazzy Jeff; Freddy Fresh; Lord Finesse; Dante Ross; Peanut Butter Wolf; and of course, Russell Simmons ("They were the best independent company...").
Of course there is much more to the Profile story than "just" Run-D.M.C. Profile began with two young Jewish New York record guys, Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki, who were products of the disco 'boom.' By 1979, when the disco 'crash' was looming, they were looking for a new venture and famously borrowed $34k from their folks to start Profile as a 12-inch dance singles operation. Their first two years were uneventful.
Now, the big bang of hip-hop is well-chronicled. It goes back to 1979, and the sound-system block parties in the South Bronx that emulated similar innovations in Kingston and other Caribbean destinations. That summer, the Fatback Band's "King Tim III (Personality Jock)" was the first chart record to have recognizable rapped vocals. At the same moment, the Sugar Hill Gang scored a major hit (#4 on the Billboard R&B chart) with "Rapper's Delight" (which sampled Chic's "Good Times").
Though the record industry was widely skeptical, even dismissive of this rap development, Robbins and Plotnicki understood and supported the music. Down to their last $2,000 in 1981, they learned a lesson from Sugar Hill's success ("where MCs rapped over replayed versions of current dance hits," as Charnas writes). They hired a producer to re-work the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love," and recruited rapper Alonzo Brown who brought along his partner to the session, Andre Harrell (future founder of Uptown Records and future CEO of Motown).