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A TASTE OF RAINMAKERS II: PAUL ROSENBERG

“Even back then, I was taking on far too many jobs,” Def Jam Chairman Paul Rosenberg recalls of his early career. As the longtime manager of Eminem, Rosenberg has been a substantial player in the unfolding of the modern era and the dominance of hip-hop in the last two decades. His work in that capacity naturally positioned him to seize the reins at the major label that brought rap to the mainstream.

Before he began managing the best-selling rapper of all time, Rosenberg was an attorney, hustling in Detroit and New York but always intimately connected with the Detroit rap scene. Later on, he was a boutique-label owner, film producer and, finally, major-label boss. The success he’s had thus far required savvy and finesse, no question. But it’s been Rosenberg’s fearlessness and commitment to breaking barriers that have secured him this high perch. (And given his imposing height, Rosenberg’s perch is higher than average.)

Legendary exec and Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine summed up Rosenberg’s unique qualifications while simultaneously assessing the State of the Biz: “Bringing Paul in as an entrepreneur is a good idea, and they should bring in morebecause in order to get the record business really healthy, it’s going to take risks and it’s going to take thinking outside of the box,” he told us. “At its height, the business was run primarily by entrepreneurs who either sold their businesses or stayed—Ahmet Ertegun, David Geffen, Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert were all entrepreneurs.”

He grew up in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, surrounded on all sides by music and the arts. His attorney father was a jazz hobbyist, and his mother (who had a theater background) taught music at their synagogue. Young Paul first heard hip-hop thanks to his older brother; he credits two seminal cuts, The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, for kickstarting his hip-hop obsession.

Medical school seemed to be a practical next step, though Rosenberg intended to pursue his own rap career simultaneously. The latter goal was no lark; he landed a deal with a label owned by Pistons Bad Boy John Salley. He started off pre-med at Michigan State, but he struggled with chemistry. After some initial resistance to following in his family’s footsteps, he made the decision to ditch medicine and pursue entertainment law.

Read the entire profile here.

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