Rick Rubin is in my opinion, one of the best music producers alive. In 1985, partnering with Russell Simmons, they founded the Hip-Hop record label Def Jam that has until today remained a label to be reckoned with. From the East Coast, they brought to the main stage artists like The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, and even Public Enemy. Arguably the most ingenious pairing was that of RUN DMC with Aerosmith for ‘Walk This Way’, which was the primary tie up between Rock and Hip-Hop. His vision paved the way for bands like Blink 182 and Linkin Park amongst numerous others.
By 1988, Def Jam had grown substantially and due to lack of creative control Rubin separated and founded Def American records on the West Coast. There he started working with Slayer, Danzig, and other heavy metal bands while still attending to Public Enemy and LL Cool J. I consider the most notable album released in this period to be ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magic’ by Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It was written and recorded at an old mansion in LA. The mansion had some creepy history and the drummer Chad even refused to stay there because he believed his room was haunted. In the end they released one of the most notable albums of their careers that shot the band to superstardom and guaranteed them a place as rock legends.
As most other producers, Rick Rubin has a passion for music and is not only in touch with what other people want to hear, but more importantly, what he wants to listen to. He is obviously not fixated on his outward appearance as he dons a bushy beard that obscures half his face and then hides his eyes behind thick black sunglasses, giving him the appearance of a terrifying Hells Angel. He dresses in old jeans and sometimes tattered t-shirts and in most interviews is noted as being barefoot. His home is not filled with numerous material possessions but rather a kick ass sound system and a few Asian relics.
Rubin also had a close connection with Johnny Cash and played an integral role in reviving his career. In the early 90’s, I do not remember exactly when, but Johnny Cash had been out of the scene for quite a while and decided to revive his confidence for playing in front of an audience by getting on stage at the Viper Room (Johnny Depp’s Bar) in Hollywood. Rubin happened to be in the audience that night and immediately approached Johnny and offered to produce an album with him. Together they released American Recordings in 1994 and won a Grammy for it in 1995.
Rubin’s recipe for success seemed to be mixing up unlikely covers with original songs. He had Cash do covers from Danzig, U2, and Sound Garden. I wrote about one such cover of Nine Inch Nails that Cash did. Rubin also played a central role in re-igniting the careers of Neil Diamond giving him his highest chart ranking in 25 years, Tom Petty, and most recently Paul Anka. In the album ‘Rock Swings’, Anka covers a variety of rock and grunge tunes in Swing. It sounds weird but the other night I was having dinner at a lounge here and I thought I heard Black Hole Sun by Sound Garden. I did and it was in Swing. On that album he also covers Smells Like Teen Spirit, Wonderwall, and Everybody Hurts… All in Swing!
Rick Rubin has worked with and continues to work with some of the biggest and most impressive names in music. Not only was he responsible for creating Audioslave by joining members from Rage Against the Machine with Sound Garden, but he will also be releasing albums this year by Metallica, Linkin Park, RHCP, and Justin Timberlake. Most existing labels do not give an artist the opportunity to create what they want. Rubin on the other hand guides and furnishes artists with the tools and mind frame they require to create expressive works. Take a closer look at the music you listen to and you would surly be surprised to find how much of it has been touched by this man.