LL Cool J‘s mom, Ondrea Griffith, saw how depressed he became after his earlier demo recordings kept being rejected by labels, so she used her entire tax refund money to buy her son a Korg drum machine and new recording equipment to help jump start his career.
“I sent demo after demo into every record company,” LL Cool J said. “I got rejection letters from company after company and I just kept at it. Then what actually happened is I quit. My mother took her tax return and bought me some equipment because she knew I was depressed and I was down in the dumps because I didn’t have the proper equipment to make what I felt was a good demo. So, she took her whole tax return bought me a drum machine. It was a Korg actually. And me and my man Frankie went in the basement, we didn’t even read the instructions. We played it manually.”
The demo landed in the hands of Adam Keefe Horovitz aka Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys, who then suggested it to Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin who then gave the tape to his then-partner, Russell Simmons co-founder of Def Jam, who wasn’t impressed with the demo.
“I sent it in to Rick Rubin at his dorm. He had a little production company in his dormitory, Def Jam Productions,” he said. “Actually Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys heard the demo and he played it for Rick. They decided that ‘Oh, he sounds good, bring him in.’ And I would call Rick every single day and bug him…I just was stalking him and stalking him. Finally he called me back and told me to come in. When I met him I was like—I thought he was gonna be black…We went back in the studio and made another song called ‘I Need A Beat.’ Played that for Russell and Russell was like ‘Yeah, this is it. This is it.’ And that started Def Jam. And the rest is history.” LL Cool J says on Jimmy Kimmel
Rick Rubin signed LL Cool J and he was Def Jam’s first act and his single “I Need A Beat” was Def Jam’s official debut single. “I Need A Beat” sold over 100,000 copies, leading the way for LL Cool J’s debut studio album, Radio, which was released on November 18, 1985 under Def Jam. Radio did well, selling over 500,000 copies within its first five months of release.