The Art & Science of Audio & Video

Rick Rubin

Frederick Jay “Rick” Rubin (born March 10, 1963 in Lido Beach, New York) is an American record producer and is currently the co-head of Columbia Records. He is given credit for merging rap and heavy metal (now known as rapcore), as well as the “American series” albums with Johnny Cash. MTV called him “the most important producer of the last 20 years.”[1]

In addition to being a producer, he is a musician serving as the original DJ of the Beastie Boys, and a head of a record label, co-founding Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons, and later founding American Recordings. In 2007, Rubin was listed among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in The World. Rubin was recently appointed as co-chairman of Columbia Records.

Def Jam Years

Rubin has Jewish roots and grew up in Lido Beach, New York. His father was a shoe wholesaler and his mother a housewife.[2] While a student at Long Beach High School he befriended the school’s AV Director Steve Freeman who gave him a few lessons in guitar playing and songwriting and helped him create a punk band called “The Pricks”. At school, Rubin was unpopular among the other musicians. During his senior year Rubin founded Def Jam records using the school’s four track recorder. Moving on to New York University he played guitar in a New York University art-punk band called “Hose”, influenced by San Francisco’s Flipper. In 1982, Hose became Def Jam release #1, a 45 rpm 7″ vinyl single in a brown paper bag, and no label. The band played in and around the NYC punk scene, toured the Midwest and California, and played with seminal punk bands like the Meat Puppets, Hüsker Dü, the Circle Jerks and the Butthole Surfers. The band broke up in 1986 as Rubin’s passion moved towards the NYC Hip Hop scene.

Having befriended Zulu Nation’s DJ Jazzy Jay, Rubin began to learn about hip hop production. By 1983, the two men produced “It’s Yours” for rapper T La Rock, and released it on their independent label, Def Jam Records. Producer Arthur Baker helped to distribute the record worldwide on Baker’s Streetwise Records in 1984.

Jazzy Jay introduced Rubin to concert promoter/artist manager Russell Simmons in a club, and Rubin explained he needed help getting Def Jam off the ground. Simmons and Rubin edged out Jazzy Jay and the official Def Jam record label was founded while Rubin was still attending New York University in 1984. Their first record released was LL Cool J’s “I Need a Beat”. Rubin went on to find more hip-hop acts outside The Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem including rappers from Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, which eventually led to Def Jam’s signing of Public Enemy. “Rock Hard”/”Party’s Gettin’ Rough”/”Beastie Groove” EP by the Beastie Boys came out on the success of Rubin’s production work with breakthrough act Run-D.M.C.. His productions were characterized by occasionally fusing rap with heavy rock.

It was Rubin’s idea to have Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith collaborate on a cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” in 1986, a production credited with both introducing rap-hard rock to mainstream ears and revitalizing Aerosmith.

Def American Years

In 1988, Simmons and Rubin went their separate ways, partly due to a power struggle that Rubin lost with Def Jam president Lyor Cohen. Simmons stayed in New York with Def Jam, and Rubin left for Los Angeles, California, where he created Def American Records. In Los Angeles, he signed a number of heavy rock acts, including Slayer, Danzig, Masters of Reality, and Wolfsbane, as well as the indie rockers The Jesus and Mary Chain and controversial stand up comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Rubin also produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He retained a close association with rap, signing the Geto Boys and continuing to work with Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Run-DMC among others.

American Recording Years

Rubin originally had given his label the name “Def Jam”. The word “Jam” in urban culture is slang for a song or musical composition that is well liked for its attractive rhythm and dance appeal. Nine years later, Rubin found that the word “def” had been accepted into the standardized dictionary; in 1993, Rubin held an actual funeral, complete with a casket and a grave, for the word “def”.[3] Def American became American Recordings.
The first major project on the renamed label was Johnny Cash’s American Recordings (1994), a record including six cover versions. The album helped revive Cash’s career following a fallow period. The formula was repeated for four more Cash albums: Unchained, Solitary Man, The Man Comes Around (the last album released before Cash’s death), and A Hundred Highways. The Man Comes Around earned a 2003 Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance (“Give My Love to Rose”) and a nomination for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (“Bridge Over Troubled Water” with Fiona Apple). Rubin introduced Cash to Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”, and the resulting cover of it on The Man Comes Around would become the defining song of Cash’s later years.
Rubin produced a number of records with other older artists, including Mick Jagger’s 1993 Wandering Spirit album, Tom Petty’s 1994 Wildflowers, and Donovan’s 1996 Sutras.

In 2007, Rubin won the Grammy Award for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical for his work with The Dixie Chicks, Justin Timberlake, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, and Johnny Cash released in 2006.
Production Trademarks

Rubin’s biggest trademark as a producer has been a “stripped-down” sound, that involves eliminating clichéd production elements such as string sections, backup vocals, and reverb, and instead having naked vocals and bare instrumentation. However, by the 2000s, Rubin’s style had been known to include such elements, as noted in the Washington Post: “As the track reaches a crescendo and Diamond’s portentous baritone soars over a swelling string arrangement, Rubin leans back, as though floored by the emotional power of the song”.[5] Another form of stripping down the sound of an album would be Rick Rubin’s suggestions to have ‘Gapless Albums’ which are albums with songs that segue into each other, such as “Minutes To Midnight” by Linkin Park, South Of Heaven by Slayer, and Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

His previous style began with his very first production effort, LL Cool J’s Radio, which consisted of little more than rapping and percussive beats (the liner notes credit for the album read “Reduced by Rick Rubin” rather than the usual “Produced by Rick Rubin”). He later gained a reputation for being able to restore the careers of veteran singers and bands, as somebody who could help them break out of the commercial rut they were currently in. He did this most notably with Johnny Cash, achieving this with Tom Petty and Neil Diamond (on 12 Songs) as well.

On the subject of his production methods; Dan Charnas, a music journalist who worked as vice president of A&R and marketing at Rubin’s American Recordings label in the 1990s, said “He’s fantastic with sound and arrangements, and he’s tremendous with artists. They love him. He shows them how to make it better, and he gets more honest and exciting performances out of people than anyone.”[5]

Rubin pioneered the fusion of rap and hard rock/heavy metal in his work with Run-D.M.C.,the Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Later examples of his rap-rock fusion were Jay-Z’s 2003 song “99 Problems” and Lil’ Jon’s 2004 song “Stop Fuckin Wit Me”. The latter sampled Slayer’s “Mandatory Suicide” and “Raining Blood”, both originally produced by Rubin. He also co-produced Linkin Park’s latest album Minutes to Midnight.

Another trademark has been having artists cover songs where the covering band’s style is different from the original version of the song. Rubin produced Slayer’s cover of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, and produced Rage Against the Machine’s 2000 covers album, Renegades. He presented the song “Hurt” to Johnny Cash originally recorded by industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. He also brought the members of RATM to form Audioslave and produced their first two albums, Audioslave and Out Of Exile. He is also noted for signing the breakout rock act Luna Halo.


Rubin has won 7 Grammy Awards
• Best Country Album- Unchained, Johnny Cash
• Record of the Year- Not Ready to Make Nice, Dixie Chicks
• Album of the Year- Taking the Long Way, Dixie Chicks
• Best Rock Album- Stadium Arcadium, Red Hot Chili Peppers
• Best Country Album- Taking the Long Way, Dixie Chicks
• Producer of the Year, Non-Classical
• Best Pop Instrumental Album- The Mix-Up, Beastie Boys


March 1, 2008 - Posted by | Pioneers in Audio

1 Comment »

  1. […] tagged meat puppetsOwn a WordPress blog? Make monetization easier with the WP Affiliate Pro plugin. Rick Rubin saved by 1 others     Nickc2525 bookmarked on 03/13/08 | […]

    Pingback by Pages tagged "meat puppets" | March 13, 2008 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: