Rick Rubin was “dubbed ‘the king of rap’ two decades ago by the Village Voice,” DL for his role as one of “the key figures behind the commercial and artistic rise of hip-hop.” AMG He was called “the most successful producer in any genre” UT by Rolling Stone and “the most important producer of the last 20 years” WK by MTV. In 2007, he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. WK
“The barefoot Buddha with the woolly salt-and-pepper beard” UT has “amassed a discography that’s more than 90 albums long, a catalogue that’s sold in excess of 100 million.” DL 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, “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.” DL
He was born on March 10, 1963, in Long Island, New York. He grew up there in an upper-middle class neighborhood and “his parents hoped their only child would become a doctor or a lawyer.” DL Rubin “enrolled at NYU and had every intention of applying to law school until rap got in the way.” DL “Enamored of what he considered to be black punk rock, Rubin was a regular at hip-hop clubs throughout New York but was disappointed by most of the studio recordings coming out of the burgeoning rap scene.” DL As he said, “I started making records I wanted to hear. I didn’t know it was a viable job’.” UT
“In 1984 Rubin produced his first single, It’s Yours, for T La Rock and Jazzy Jay. Within two months the spartan song – built around beats, rhymes and little else – was one of the biggest rap hits in New York. Among those taking notice was Russell Simmons, a music promoter from Queens who also managed his kid brother’s group, Run-D.M.C. Simmons was shocked to discover that ‘It’s Yours’ – which he'd declared the ‘blackest’ song he’d ever heard – was produced by a Jewish kid from Long Island.” DL
Rubin and Simmons “founded Def Jam in 1984” AMG “operating the company out of Rubin’s dorm room.” AMG One of the first hits was LL Cool J’s Radio in 1985. Rubin’s style of “fusing rap with heavy rock” WK would also be a trademark of his early work. “It was Rubin’s idea to have Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith collaborate on a cover of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way…a production credited with both introducing rap-hard rock to mainstream ears and revitalizing Aerosmith’s career.” WK
“Rap broke worldwide in 1986” AMG on the strength of Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell, on which that song was featured, and the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, the first rap album to top the Billboard charts. DL He would later produce what has been called the best rap album of all time, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988).
By late 1988, Rubin’s relationship with Simmons was suffering. Rubin left Def Jam, moved to the East Coast, formed Def American, and turned his attention back to rock. “In 1991…Rubin…produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ breakthrough effort, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.” AMG The album’s monster hit Under the Bridge, grew out of “an entry [Rubin] discovered in one of lead singer Anthony Kiedis’s notebooks. It was a poem about overcoming heroin addiction, and Rubin talked the reluctant singer into presenting it to the band.” DL
In 1993, Rubin “officially dropped the ‘Def’ prefix from the label’s name” AMG and “Def American 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. By bringing his stripped-down approach to “the sound of veteran singers and bands, [Rubin] could help them break out of the commercial rut they were currently in.” WK “Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ sorrowful tune, Hurt, would become the defining song of his later years.” WK
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 but Rubin “ranks alongside Paul Simon.” UT 12 Songs “was the crooner’s best-reviewed work in decades…[it] also resonated with fans, reaching the No. 4 Billboard ranking – Diamond’s highest chart position in 25 years.” DL
He won the Grammy for Non-Classical Producer of the Year for his 2006 work with, among others, the Dixie Chicks, who won the Grammy for Album of the Year for Taking the Long Way. The next year he was named co-chair of Columbia Records. In 2009, he won another Grammy for Producer of the Year. He took home the award again in 2012 for work on Adele’s 21, which also won the Grammy for Album of the Year. 15 of his albums rank in the DMDB’s top 1000 of all time.
Resources and Related Links:
- DMDB Music Maker Encyclopedia entry for Rick Rubin
- AMG All Music Guide bio by Jason Ankeny
- DL J. Freedom du Lac, Washington Post. “The Song Doctor Is In.” 1/15/06. Page NO1.
- UT USA Today. “Rick Rubin: Music’s Rock.” (7/7/06). Pages 2A, 2E. By Edna Gundersen.
- WK Wikipedia