Various Artists
Giant Single: The Profile Records Rap Anthology

While the parlance, style and other signifiers of hip-hop have now been ingrained into the constant flow of mainstream pop culture, when Profile Records began in the early ’80s, the genre was still an underground phenomenon. In the days before Jay-Z and Kanye, before Eminem, before Yo! MTV Raps, before Def Jam, rap music wasn’t taken seriously and was considered little more than a novelty. Indeed, Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki had no intention of starting a rap label when they formed Profile. The two 20-something Jewish New Yorkers had originally conceived of the imprint to release dance music 12-inches. Fortunately, the label’s first release, “I’m Starting Again” by Grace Kennedy, was a complete flop.

With the failure of that first single, Robbins and Plotnicki took the last of the money loaned to them by their parents and recorded and released “Genius of Rap” by Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. A reworking of the Tom Tom’s “Genius of Love,” the single sold 150,000 copies. They found success again the next year with “Whip Rap” by the Disco Four, which similarly reworked the Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip.” But it was a brash new sound that would make the label’s fortune. “It’s Like That” by Run-DMC featured little more than some drum machine beats and synth bleating, but the hard-edged sound was the shape of hip-hop to come. With the Queens trio eventually becoming hip-hop’s first figureheads, the single firmly established the Profile brand as a mark of quality.

In 1994, Robbins sold his half of the company to Plotnicki, who in turn sold the label to Arista Records two years later. Arista subsequently did very little with the imprint, but with Arista’s parent company, BMG, having merged with Sony, Legacy is now revisiting the Profile catalog, beginning with the two-disc retrospective, Giant Single.

Organized chronologically, the first CD of Giant Single showcases Profile’s beginnings. While cuts like the aforementioned “Whip Rap” and Fresh 3 MC’s “Fresh” may sound dated 30 years later, the talents of MCs like Dana Dane (“Nightmares”) and Pebblee-Poo (“A Fly Guy”) remain untarnished. Meanwhile cuts like “Get Off My Tip!” by The Masterdon Committee (and featuring Pebblee-Poo) show hip-hop’s steady progression towards the harder sounds of the ’90s.

The second CD features Profile’s biggest hits, namely Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” and Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two.” The two tracks are important milestones in hip-hop’s crossover to mass appeal, the former successfully merging rap and rock (and resuscitating Aerosmith’s career in the process) and the latter becoming the theme for Yo! MTV Raps. Elsewhere, cuts from Special Ed and DJ Quik reveal Profile never ceased to have its collective ear to the streets. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the evolution of hip-hop without Profile being intrinsically involved, and Giant Single is a potent reminder of the label’s place in shaping the genre as we know it.
Stephen Slaybaugh