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Paul Rosenberg Stepping Down as Head of Def Jam

Jem Aswad

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UPDATED: Paul Rosenberg, chairman and CEO of Def Jam Recordings since January of 2018, is leaving his post at the company, a source close to the situation confirms to Variety. Jeff Harleston, general counsel for Def Jam parent company Universal Music Group, will serve as interim chief until a new CEO is appointed; he will continue in his UMG role as well.

Rosenberg, who has managed Eminem since early in the rapper’s career and continued to do so throughout his Def Jam stint, has formed a joint-venture with UMG called Goliath Records, and will continue to serve as a consultant to Def Jam on its legacy artists, while also remaining the principal of Goliath Artists, Inc., the management firm that handles Eminem among others. Rosenberg will also maintain his role as President of Shady Records, Eminem’s joint venture with UMG’s Interscope Geffen A&M.

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While Eminem was releasing an album every few years at the time Rosenberg took the helm at Def Jam, the rapper has stepped up his activity dramatically, dropping three albums in just over two years — two of them surprise releases, including last month’s “Music to Be Murdered By.”

Rosenberg said, “Lucian offered me a dream opportunity to serve at the helm of Def Jam. The experience I had running one of the greatest, most storied record companies of the modern era was incredible. I will remain forever grateful. I’ve learned a great deal, but one of the most important things I learned is that my ability to multi-task is not without limits. My new relationship with UMG gives me the ability to continue to sign and develop talent in a more focused and streamlined way, while still dedicating the time necessary to fulfill my management duties and foster the many entrepreneurial endeavors connected with Eminem.” The news was first reported by Billboard.

While Rosenberg has been enormously effective as Eminem’s manager over the years, he was a surprise choice for the Def Jam role: He had never worked at a major record label before taking the helm of the company, and it never really gained traction under his tenure. While he had a long runway — his appointment was announced in August of 2017 and he began making moves before he’d officially started — it seemed to struggle for direction. Several executives have left the company over the past few months — including marketing chief Scott Greer, head of A&R Steven Victor and nearly the entire brand strategy and content team under Noah Callahan-Bever, which Rosenberg created late in 2017 and terminated less than two years later — and it has faced challenges in breaking new acts and sustaining the careers of several developing ones. Conspicuous among the latter has been Alessia Cara, who won a Best New Artist Grammy and enjoyed several hits from her 2015 debut, “Know-It-All,” but her two follow-up releases failed to match it commercially or critically. And while Kanye West has certainly made headlines in recent years, few would dispute that his recent releases pale next to his classic work and his public profile has been problematic.

However, Rosenberg did enjoy four No. 1 albums under his tenure — two each from West and rapper Logic — and another seems likely next week: the first album in nearly five years from Def Jam’s top-selling artist, Justin Bieber. The label has also seen recent success with releases from Pusha T, YG, 2 Chainz and Jeezy.

Founded in 1983 by Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, Def Jam is one of hip-hop’s most iconic record labels, having released classic albums by LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Method Man, Ghostface, DMX, Ludacris, the Roots, Young Jeezy, Frank Ocean and, via a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella and Roc Nation labels, Jay, West, Rihanna and others. Its vibe shifted a bit toward pop under Rosenberg’s predecessor, Steve Bartels, who took the helm when the company split from a union with Island Records early in 2014, but it enjoyed robust chart success during those years, particularly from Bieber, West, Cara and Desiigner. Prior to Bartels’ ascent to chief executive, Island Def Jam was run by Antonio “L.A.” Reid and, before that, Lyor Cohen.

Rosenberg is also an attorney and co-founder of Shady Records, which has released albums by such artists as 50 Cent, D12, and Obie Trice. He also served as executive producer of the 2002 Imagine/Universal film “8 Mile,” which starred Eminem and won him an Academy Award for Best Song the following year. Eminem finally performed the song on during the ceremony, some 17 years after he’d skipped the one at which he won an Oscar, earlier this month.