#22: Elektra Records Hires Dante Ross
By the end of the ’80s, major labels still hadn’t figured out how to produce and promote rap music on their own. The only successful way into the market for most majors was to partner with an independent: as Columbia did with Def Jam, as Warner did with Tommy Boy, as Atlantic did with First Priority, and so on. The indie labels had the maps to navigate the backwaters of the rap world; the majors didn’t, and most of the attempts by their own, clueless executives to sign and market rap artists were dismal failures.
Then one major label executive got wise. In 1989, Elektra Records chief Bob Krasnow hired a 22-year-old talent scout by the name of Dante Ross away from Tommy Boy Records, where he had overseen the recording of De La Soul’s debut album and helped sign rap acts Queen Latifah and Digital Underground. Ross would build a powerful, respected roster of rap acts for Elektra including Brand Nubian, Leaders of the New School (featuring a soon-to-go-solo Busta Rhymes), and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
More importantly, Ross’s hiring marked the first time that a major label placed a knowledgeable person from the hip-hop scene among its executive ranks. The departure of Dante Ross from Tommy Boy marked the start of the exodus of both artistic and executive talent from indie labels as major labels began to outbid and, eventually, outsmart them. By the mid-’90s, the eclipse of the original rap indies was all but complete.