19. Dante Ross
Title(s): A&R at Tommy Boy Records, Elektra Records, Loud/SRC Records
Artists They Worked With: De La Soul, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Del the Funky Homosapien, 3rd Bass, Brand Nubian, Busta Rhymes, ODB, Action Bronson
Dante Ross—a white kid from Manhattan’s Lower East Side during a time when it wasn’t so common to be a white kid from Manhattan’s Lower East Side—got his first hip-hop job at Def Jam/Rush in the late 1980s, working as an assistant to Lyor Cohen. Ross was eventually hired away by Monica Lynch, the president of Tommy Boy Records, where Lynch put him in charge of a new group she had just signed, De La Soul.
Dante was such a hyperkinetic, passionate odd duck in those sessions that he actually got portrayed as one on the inner sleeve of De La Soul’s revolutionary debut, 3 Feet High And Rising, as “Dante the Scrub.”
After the album’s release, Ross would often get public credit for signing De La, no matter how many times he denied it. Ross also played a role in the signing of Queen Latifah and Digital Underground.
But Ross’s work at Tommy Boy was upstaged by what came next. Bob Krasnow, the flamboyant head of Elektra Records, had long been looking for a way into the rap scene. After reading about Ross and meeting him, Krasnow liked Ross’s blunt style, so similar to his own, and hired him. The hiring, in 1989, made Ross the first-ever major label A&R with true experience and credibility in the rap world.
Ross transferred that credibility to Elektra with some key signings: Brand Nubians. Leaders of the New School, featuring a young, frenzied MC who called himself Busta Rhymes. Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth. KMD. Del The Funky Homosapien.
While he worked for Elektra, Ross also remained part of the Stimulated Dummies production team, which gave Def Jam act 3rd Bass it’s first #1 hit, “Pop Goes the Weasel.” In 1993, when the Wu Tang Clan put out their debut underground single, Ross immediately snapped up the most eccentric one of the bunch, Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Ross left Elektra not long after Krasnow’s departure in 1994. But while Ross was there, he set a high bar for the kind of quality, authentic hip-hip that could be done at a major label. His example opened the door for a generation of rap A&R talent in the record business.
Ross later went on to produce a successful rock album for Everlast and a Grammy for his production work on Carlos Santana’s “Supernatural.”