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It was recently announced that Paul Rosenberg will be taking over the CEO job at Def Jam starting early next year. Rosenberg, for those who don't obsess about the music business, is best known as Eminem's manager and the co-founder of Shady Records. He's the voice you hear on those Eminem skits, usually begging his client to put down some sort of firearm.
But who is Paul Rosenberg, really? In honor of his new job, we took a deep dive into his history and came up with a number of things you should know about the person who is about to become arguably the most powerful man in the music business.
He Used to Be a Rapper Named "Paul Bunyan"
Before he managed the most popular white rapper on Earth, Rosenberg negotiated the career of another white rapper from Michigan—himself. From 1989-1993, Rosenberg was a part of the group Rhythm Cartel. He rapped under the name "Paul Bunyan."
The name came at least in part from Rosenberg's college days at Michigan State University. Every year, the school has a giant football game with its in-state rival Michigan. The unofficial prize the teams play for? The Paul Bunyan Trophy.
His MC name also fit his appearance. Von Carlisle, better known as Kuniva of the group D12, talked to Complex about his memories of Paul from the mid-'90s. "He always stood out because he was this big, burly, tall white dude who looked like a damn giant," Kuniva said. "He was huge, man. He was like a big-ass lumberjack."
How does Rosenberg sum up his rap career? "I obviously wasn't a superstar. But we were all right. For white rappers, to be accepted by the underground in Detroit, we couldn't have been that bad."
Kuniva backed up that self-assessment. "He was on some lyrical-miracle shit, man," the rapper explained. "He's always had this ear for different sounds. He wasn't the average rapper. He was an unorthodox rapper because he'd rhyme differently than I heard anybody rhyme before. He always had a different ear for the music."
"He was dope, it was just awkward," Kuniva continued. "He had very different rhyme patterns. It reminded me of something like the Pharcyde. He was dope, though."
In case you were still doubting Rosenberg's hip-hop bona fides, he also used to write graffiti around that same period. His tag was "Bunyan71"—his nom de rap plus his birth year.
He Started Out in the Mailroom
Much like Drake, Paul Rosenberg started from the bottom. In the mid-'90s, he worked in the mailroom at BMG Distribution in Detroit. After he passed the bar exam (and shortly thereafter moved to NYC), Rosenberg passed his job on to another prominent Detroit hip-hop figure, DJ House Shoes.
He Has More Rare Dilla Beats Than You
Rosenberg originally connected with beat-making legend James Yancey during his Paul Bunyan days. Rosenberg met Kevin Bell, better known as DJ Head, in college. Bell was involved with a label run by R.J. Rice and Detroit Pistons star John Salley. That same label, circa 1992, started working with a young Jay Dee.
In addition to this early connection, there's one more link between Dilla and Rosenberg. The producer was very close with Eminem's longtime best friend, the late Deshaun "Proof" Holton. In fact, Rosenberg says that Proof and Dilla were even in a "hush-hush" duo called F.C. (Funky Cowboys). Once every few years, Rosenberg shares some previously unreleased Dilla that he has digitized from an old cassette. Like this:
House Shoes told us a short story about Paul that demonstrates his lasting love for Dilla.
"After Dilla passed, [Paul] sent me a picture of one time when he went over to Amp Fiddler's crib and T3 [of Slum Village] and Jay Dee were working on some stuff. It’s like a baby picture. Jay was so young. It really touched me. He reached out to me to get a hold of Ma Dukes [Dilla's mother, Maureen Yancey] to get her a copy. That’s just another example of Paul. He’s a very human person and he’s helped a lot of people back home."
He Loves Judd Apatow... a Lot
Plenty of people call themselves Judd Apatow fans. But Rosenberg is next-level. He began his fandom during the days of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. In a blog post singing Apatow's praises, Rosenberg doesn't just mention Superbad or The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Nope. He takes it back to The Larry Sanders Show, The Ben Stiller Show, and even the short-lived (but brilliant) mid-'90s cartoon The Critic.
So of course Rosenberg had to make his TV geek dreams come true by having Eminem make a cameo in Apatow's movie Funny People. Apatow, in turn, is a fan of Rosenberg's biggest client.
He Helped Break B.o.B
B.o.B has been signed as a songwriter to Rosenberg's company Slim Shady Music Publishing, LLC since at least 2008, about two years before the Atlanta rapper's debut album. A few members of the music press picked up on the Em/B.o.B. connection at the time, but it remained largely under the radar until the two artists linked up on the song "Airplanes" in 2010.