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The 25 Best A&Rs in Hip-Hop History

21. Will Socolov

Title(s): Co-founder of Sleeping Bag Records and Freeze Records 
Artists They Worked With: EPMD, Just-Ice, Nice & Smooth

You might not know Will Socolov’s name. But you’ve definitely heard the artists he signed, artists who continue to further his legacy, beyond any reasonable doubt.

Socolov’s first rap signing at his dance music label, Sleeping Bag Records, was a producer and MC duo called Mantronix. Kurtis Mantronik’s production would power Socolov’s dance signings like Joyce Sims and Nocera, contributing to a hip-hop offshoot called Latin Freestyle. Meanwhile, Socolov continued to find great rap talent, sometimes before it was mature enough for the marketplace.

Socolov was down with the Boogie Down before they even found their name and their stride, when he signed Scott La Rock and KRS-One in their first incarnation as a group called 12:41. Socolov had flavor in his ear before Puffy did, signing a rapper named Craig Mack long before he had his comeback.

Socolov’s most famous finds comprised the roster of Sleeping Bag imprint, Fresh Records: Nice & Smooth. EPMD. Just Ice. Sleeping Bag/Fresh imploded in the early 1990s, and Socolov’s two most successful artist were snatched up by Lyor Cohen for Rush Associated Labels. Def Jam/RAL became the home EMPD cohort, Redman, who first performed on Socolov’s label. Socolov later resurfaced in the mid-1990s with a new, small dance-oriented start-up called Freeze Records.

His first signing? Some guy named Jay-Z. Jay-Z’s debut album, Reasonable Doubt would be Socolov’s first and last album with the Brooklyn rapper, as Jay’s partner Damon Dash moved the artist and the Roc-A-Fella label to greener pastures at Def Jam, yet another Socolov-signed artist who migrated to the land of Lyor.

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