|First posted 3/10/2020.|
Top 50 Albums
Happy birthday to Rick Rubin! He was born Frederick Jay Rubin on 3/10/1963 in Long Beach, New York. He became a record executive with Def Jam, American Recordings, and then Columbia. “The barefoot Buddha with the woolly salt-and-pepper beard” UT was once dubbed the king of rap by the Village Voice. WP He “was among the key figures behind the commercial and artistic rise of hip-hop, lending his signature rap/metal style to many of the biggest records of the pre-gangsta era.” AMG However, he branched out to work with artists as diverse as Adele, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, the Dixie Chicks, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Rolling Stone called him “the most successful producer in any genre” UT and MTV said he is “the most important producer of the last 20 years.” WK Rubin has produced more than 100 albums with total sales of more than 100 million. WP In 2007, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. WK
Esquire magazine says Rubin is “one of the few industry giants with the confidence to just let artists be themselves.” WK Rubin says his role is “‘to inspire and challenge artists to do their best work, and to do it for the sake of the work as opposed to the ends.” UT Daron Malakian of System of a Down says, “Rick’s like the song doctor. If you play something for him, it’s like going in for a checkup…the songs always feel better after his suggestions.” WP
Rubin continues, saying “Today’s surplus of lousy albums results largely from the twisted agendas of labels and managers who fixate on deadlines and marketing rather than nurturing talent…I try to…refocus everything on the art and the artist’s truth.” UT Malakian adds, “Production with Rick doesn’t mean you're going to sit in a studio. It might mean you go to a record store or to the beach. Or you go for a drive. You bond as people first.” WP
Early Years (1963-1984):
Rubin grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Long Island. He says his parents, Mickey and Linda, smothered and spoiled him and hoped he would become a doctor or lawyer. WP However, he was more interested in “aggressive sounds and outlaw music.” UT As he said, “I like things that are unique and extreme.” UT He was never into drugs, but was somewhat of an outcast in school, wearing sunglasses and black leather. WP
He had a band, the Pricks, in high school, and played guitar in an art-punk band called Hose while at New York University. WK He even played a few gigs at the legendary CBGB’s club in New York, WP but “never considered himself a musician.” UT When he enrolled at NYU, he intended to go to law school, until he was enamored by rap music, or what he considered “black punk rock.” WP He became a fixture at New York hip-hop clubs and was disappointed with most of the rap singles he purchased because he wished the records “felt and sounded like being at a club” WP instead of “disco songs with guys rapping on them.” WP As he says, “I started making records I wanted to hear. I didn’t know it was a viable job.” UT
Def Jam (1984-1988):
Rubin produced his first single, It’s Yours, in 1984 for T La Rock and Jazzy Jay. It became one of the biggest rap hits in New York and got Rubin noticed by Russell Simmons, a music promotor from Queens who also managed his brother’s group, Run-D.M.C. Simmons was shocked when he found out that “‘the blackest song he’d ever heard’ was produced by a Jewish kid from Long Island.” WP The two founded Def Jam, operating out of Rubin’s dorm room at Weinstein Hall, with his parents fronting them $5000. Def Jam made the big time when they landed a $2 million distribution deal with Columbia and broke big with LL Cool J’s 1985 album Radio. WP
The album wasn’t much more than rapping and percussive beats, showcasing Rubin’s minimalist approach which eliminated string sections, backup vocals, reverb, and other typical production elements in favor of naked vocals and instrumentation. WK Instead of a “Produced by Rick Rubin” credit in the liner notes, it read “Reduced by Rick Rubin.” WK Rubin also challenged LL Cool J, “rap’s biggest solo star,” WP “to add traditional song structure to his work, figuring that if it worked for the Beatles, it should work for everyone else.” WP Rubin’s approach had “an immediate impact, playing a key role in rap’s rise.” UT
Another trademark of Rubin’s early work became a fusion of rap and heavy rock. It was his idea for Run-D.M.C. to cover Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, a move credited with reviving Aerosmith’s career and introducing rap to mainstream audiences. WK Run- The song’s parent album, Raising Hell, along with the Beastie Boys’ “obnoxious and bratty” WP Licensed to Ill, “rap broke worldwide in 1986.” AMG The latter exploded “rap’s sonic boundaries [by] adding punk and metal to the mix,” WP a move which hooked “masses of white suburban kids” WP and gave the album the distinction of being the first rap album to top the Billboard album chart. WP
Def American (1988-1993):
Rubin’s relationship with Simmons suffered ad Def Jam flourished. In 1988, Rubin left Def Jam and moved to Los Angeles to launch Def American. He signed a number of heavy rock acts and “abrasive artists” WP like Slayer, Geto Boys, and Andrew “Dice” Clay, who recorded “shocking, controversial albums…with unflinching tracks about murder, Satanic worship, necrophilia and Nazism.” WP “I guess edgy things tend to get my attention,” Rubin said. “But it wasn’t the fact that it was offensive that made me like it…The music is what drives me.’” WP
Rubin signed a deal with Time Warner for a reported $75 to $100 million and “his label jumped out to a fast start with bestsellers from the likes of the Black Crowes and Sir Mix-a-Lot.” WP In 1991, Rubin produced Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the breakthrough album by Red Hot Chili Peppers. AMG Under the Bridge, the album’s #2 pop hit, grew out of Rubin’s discovery of a poem written by Anthony Kiedis about overcoming heroin addiction. Rubin convinced the reluctant singer to present it to the band. WP
American Recordings (1993-2006):
In 1993, Rubin dropped “Def” from the name and the label became American Recordings. Johnny Cash’s career-reviving album of the same name would signify Rubin’s greatest career achievement aside from launching rap into the mainstream. Cash had been at a creative and commercial low when Rubin met him and convinced him to overhaul unlikely rock tunes, most notably Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, into stripped-down, emotionally-bare confessionals.
Rubin worked a similar magic for Neil Diamond, who had “created a cabaret image by drifting from his emotional core as a singer/songwriter.” UT 12 Songs “was the crooner’s best-reviewed work in decades, landing on more than a few music critics’ best-of-2005 lists.” WP It also reached #4 on the Billboard album chart, Diamond’s highest chart position in a quarter century. Diamond said, “I was one of those radio stars killed by videos. It was hard to get back on track. With Rick, I found the right path. He picked up on the vibe of acoustic guitar and understatement, something I haven’t done in years and wasn’t able to replicate until this album.” UT
During this time, Rubin lent production duties to chart-topping albums from artists as diverse as Audioslave, the Dixie Chicks, Jay-Z, System of a Down, and Justin Timberlake. He also won Producer of the Year in 2007 for work with Johnny Cash, the Dixie Chicks, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and U2. The Dixie Chicks also won the Album of the Year Grammy for their Rick Rubin-produced Taking the Long Way.
Rubin was named co-head of Columbia Records in May 2007. He produced #1 albums for Adele, Neil Diamond, Linkin Park, and Metallica. He wond the Producer of the Year Grammy again in 2009. In 2012, Adele’s 21, with several songs produced by Rubin, won the Grammy for Album of the Year.
Republic Records (2012-):
In his post-Columbia years, Rubin lent production duties to #1 albums from Eminem, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, Kanye West, and the comeback of Black Sabbath.
Here are the 50 albums produced by Rick Rubin. 19 of these rank in the top 1000 albums of all time according to the DMDB.
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