E3 Playmaker: Def Jam pres Kevin Liles

You like hip-hop? You like games? You're gonna love what Def Jam Enterprises has up its sleeve for gamers and the industry. Live from New York, Kevin Liles speaks the truth.


Ever since the days of WipeOut XL, Thrasher: Skate and Destroy, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (1997, 1999, and 1999), games and music have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship. But only in recent years has there been an accelerated evolution in the ecology of that pairing. Def Jam, a brand that stands now for all things hip-hop, has been at the forefront of that development.

Instead of being just a game and its soundtrack, Def Jam walked to the beat of a different drummer and through its collaboration with Electronic Arts put its mark on the game industry for good. First with Def Jam Vendetta, then again with Def Jam: Fight For NY, the Def Jam moniker is now commonly associated with video games. And it's more than just the music Def Jam is influencing; it's the style of the game characters and the game environments.

Kevin Liles, president and CEO of Def Jam Enterprises, called in from New York City to tell us the latest news from the capital of hip-hop. According to Liles, there's no time to waste in making gaming safe for hip-hop culture. "We're figuring out what the next twist is we're going to do." Is Def Jam Vendetta 3 on the way? Maybe a Def Jam game where the characters play nice? And what about those rumors of a Def Jam Vendetta movie?

GameSpot: Kevin, you're credited with giving the Def Jam brand, so closely associated with hip-hop culture, value well beyond music. How were you able to accomplish that and make it look so easyl?

Kevin Liles: OK, one of the great things about the brand is that people trust it. And I make sure we're not doing things that people would go, "Why in the hell are they doing that?"

When we talk about going into the gaming space, we all play games; we just never had an interest, and actually we haven't had a financial interest in those things. We just only bought them. I mean, so they were natural things for us.

GS: And when you make a deal with EA, what's that special ingredient that you're providing in that alliance, in that deal?

KL: We do a lot of things, from our story creation to character creation, to the taste, the feel, the smell of the game. The only thing we don't do is the technology side of it. We believe that they are the gaming experts and we are the branding experts.

Outside of the money, they get partners that understand deliverables, understand what it means to actually get people in our culture on the same page.

We went from having, I think it was 13 artists in the first game, to 45 celebrities in the second game. That's a lot of [worth].

GS: That relationship is ongoing?

KL: Now we're in development for, for lack of a better term, Def Jam 3, which will be coming out on next-generation platforms. We've got [our] treatments; we're figuring out what the next twist we're going to do, who should direct it, who should produce it, those kind of things.

And we're involved from the ground up. We're great partners with them because even on the technical aspect of it, they ask our opinion abut certain new gaming features. Since I'm a gamer myself, the controls are very important to me. So I get involved in that.

GS: And on their side?

KL: They have a lot of young kids at EA who love hip-hop, who love everything that we've done. I love their input. We formed kind of a partnership that's a true marriage, not something just on paper.

GS: What's the value to the Def Jam brand?

KL: Well, the great thing about EA, outside of them having great people, is they're committed to developing brands. They've done it with FIFA and Madden.

They made the same commitment to us. So the value that I get is that I don't have to worry about my games not being great games. I don't have to worry about them not being all over, not being distributed properly.

That's the value that I get. The value they get, I'm sure they can tell you--other than both our games selling 2 million copies.

I think we both get a lot out of our relationship.

GS: What's the biggest motivation that drives the music industry to ally with games, to partner with game publishers today?

KL: I think it was us. I think they said, "Oh, s**. Look what they did at Def Jam Enterprises. Oh, s*** let's try to get in."

GS:Def Jam is moving beyond music, though...

It's not everybody has a brand that can transcend their core business. Def Comedy Jam put us in more households than our records did. We've always had other things as big as our core business, of records. Now, after selling the record company to Universal, we've decided to extend the brand even further, into other things.

GS: Who do you see as the hip-hop consumer today, and how do you see that consumer evolving?

KL: I think that we're reaching everybody because of our brand: from a 12-year-old who loves the music today to the 40-year-old parent who grew up with every record we've ever put out.

So I think the average gaming consumer of course is a male from 28-34, but we reach a broader audience. And I think that we have a lot of people who are excited that, hey, finally hip-hop is represented fully in the gaming arena. I don't think we've finished doing everything that we're going to do in that arena, but I'm happy to say that we're doing it in a way that is still culturally significant and respectful of what we built, the Def Jam brand, over the last 20 years.

GS: What's next for you in the game space? You mentioned Def Jam Vendetta 3. Anything else brewing with Electronic Arts?

KL: Of course. There'll be a big announcement very, very soon that I can't really speak about. But we're not interested in just doing one kind of game. We're interested in merging our culture and the nuances in our everyday life with the gaming audience.

At the end of the day it's all about the game. And one thing that true gamers will always respect about the games that we put out: it's gameplay first, cosmetic second.

GS: And are you going to break out of the fighting genre, because that's been the Def Jam specialty so far.

KL: Absolutely. I say I can't really say everything, but we're in the process of developing all sorts of games, from continue the fighting, to sports, to role-playing games, shooting games. There's a lot of different things that we're doing.

GS: You're also a musician. What makes hip-hop different from other music genres?

KL: I think hip-hop is similar to the blues, and I'd say country music in some [ways]. We talk about everyday stuff. It's just that some of the things that happen in our everyday life are more volatile than other people.

I think that people can truly relate to honesty and the truth. And I think that the truth and the honesty in our message holds. It's bar none in the whole industry. I think it is proven by the amount of records we sell and the amount of opportunities that we've had over the course of the last 10 years.

GS: What's the status of a Def Jam Vendetta or Fight for NY movie? Any progress?

KL: A lot of progress and again, we'll be making a big announcement soon.

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