The rarely seen original Def American logo. Note its resemblance to the Def Jam Recordings
The label Def American Recordings was founded after Rick Rubin left Def Jam Recordings in 1988. Among the first acts to be signed were Slayer (which followed Rubin from Def Jam), Danzig, The Four Horsemen, Masters of Reality, and Wolfsbane, as well as indie rockers the Jesus and Mary Chain and controversial stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Rubin continued his association with hip-hop music as well by signing artists such as the Geto Boys and Sir Mix-a-Lot. Def American had its first major success with The Black Crowes' 1990 debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, which was eventually certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA. The group’s 1992 follow-up, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, gave the label its first No.1 album. Rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot obtained a number-one hit with the song "Baby Got Back" as well as a platinum-selling album entitled Mack Daddy. Heavy metal acts Slayer and Danzig also enjoyed notable commercial success, with Slayer in particular having several gold certified albums. Rubin produced many of the recordings on the label, as well as directing other related ventures.
Rubin changed the name of the company from Def American Recordings to American Recordings in 1993 after reportedly seeing the word "def" in the dictionary. The company was reportedly renamed because he believed that finding the word in a notable source was against the anti-establishment image that he was trying to project. A mock funeral presided over by the Reverend Al Sharpton was done for the label name change.
American had several sub-labels over the years, including Onion Records, Ill Labels, Wild West, Whte Lbls, and Infinite Zero. The latter was a partnership with Henry Rollins that specialized in reissues of obscure albums. None of these labels made the distribution transition after American Recordings left Warner Bros. Records in 1997, and its recordings were deleted.