In Dan Charnas’s up-coming book, The Big Payback: The History Of The Business Of Hip-Hop, the former magazine editor, record producer, and current InteractiveOne managing editor reveals a little-known truth about the relationship between one of hip-hop’s biggest executives and the late Jam Master Jay.


“Run DMC  had a gig in Los Angeles booked by Lyor Cohen, the very first concert he ever threw. That was the first time Lyor met Run DMC. It was a hugely successful gig. Lyor made a ton of money and that one gig presaged his relationship with Russell Simmons.

Eventually, Lyor flew out to NY and their current road manager couldn’t be found and Lyor was the only guy with a passport. So Lyor had to fly to London with Run DMC.

He ended up saving one of their shows because their roadie had left Jay’s records at the last venue. Lyor told fans that brought records to be autographed to pass them up to the front before the show, rather than after [so Jay could use them]. That was a bonding moment with the crew and he went on to tour through Europe and America with Run DMC. And Lyor will tell you that Jason was the one who taught him how to get paid before the performance. Jay was the person who taught him how to reconcile at the end of the show. Jay was the street-wise person and Lyor was not. If you ask Lyor today he will credit Jason with being his first teacher.

So in The Big Payback when I talk about Lyor’s growth from road manager to helping Russell Simmons run Rush Management, to taking over the executive duties at Def Jam and then Chief of American Operations at Warner, Jay is his teacher. Jay was the one who got him his start in the music business. Lyor was a pure product of hip-hop taught not by some Rock & Roll folks, but by Jam Master Jay. By a rap group.

One of the most poignant moments in the book is when Jay dies and Lyor immediately goes to the recording studio [where he was killed.] There are three statuses in ancient Jewish society that have endured even though they don’t mean much in the modern world. The Cohains were the priests, the Levites were the next group under them and the masses were the Israelites. That’s where all of those last names came from. Kahn, Kane, Kahane, Cohen, they all mean the same thing. Lyor told me that a Cohain is not supposed to be around a dead body unless it is your wife, son, daughter or father,etc. But Lyor went to Jam Master Jay’s funeral because he considered him his brother. That speaks volumes.

The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop by Dan Charnas—coming out December 2010 on New American Library/Penguin—is the first-ever definitive history of the executives, entrepreneurs, hustlers and handlers to transform hip-hop from an obscure street phenomenon into the world’s predominant pop culture and a multi-billion dollar industry. Order your copy here.


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