Producer Insight – Rick Rubin

Rick Rubbin - Mixxin Academy

Frederick Jay “Rick” Rubin is an American record and music producer. Former co-president of Columbia Record, born on March 10, 1963. Along with Russell Simmons, he is the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings. With the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Geto Boys and Run-DMC, Rubin help to make what is hip hop music today. Back in 2007, he was called “the most important producer of the last 20 years”. He also appeared on Time’s magazine as one of the most influential people in the world.

In his early life growing up in Lido Beach NY and attending the Long Beach High School, he befriended the school’s audiovisual department director Steve Freeman who gave him some lessons in guitar playing and songwriting. Rubin played in a band with childhood friends, performing at school show for town friends until a teacher helped him create a punk band called The Pricks. Their biggest claim to fame was being thrown down off stage after a couple of songs brawling with the audience, who were friends of the band instructed to star a confrontation to make a buzz. Rubin’s father Mickey travelled from his home town to Manhattan wearing his Long Beach auxiliary police uniform as he attempted to “shut down” the show.

Rubin founded Def Jam Records using the school’s four-track recorder moving on to record Hose, an Artcore and garage punk band which was the first recording released with the Def Jam logo and was heavily influenced by famous San Francisco’s Flipper band. Hose played in and around NYC punk scene, played with seminal hardcore bands like Meat Puppets, Husker Du, Circle Jerks and Minor Threat, becoming friends with the frontman and Dischord Records owner Ian MacKaye. After some time in 1984, Rubin’s passion evolved towards the NYC Hip Hop scene and the band broke up.

Rick Rubin’s Hip Hop introduction began by befriending Zulu Nation’s Dj Jazzy Jay. Together they produce “Its Yours” for rapper T La Rock, and released it in their independent label Def Jam Records. Arthur Baker an American record producer also known for his work with hip hop helped to distribute the record worldwide with Streetwise Records. Jazzy Jay introduced Rubin to Russell Simons a concert promoter and artist manager in the Negril club. Rubin explained to Russel he needed help getting his label off the ground, they both edged out Jazzy Jay and the official Def Jam Records Label was founded while Rubin was still attending New York University.

Their first record released was LL Cool J’s “I Need a Beat” Rubin was out on the look to find out more talented hop hop acts outside the Bronx in Brooklyn and Harlem, including rappers, form queens, Staten island and long island, which eventually led to Def Jam’s signing of Public Enemy. Hip Hop group consisting of Chuck D and DJ Lord. A band formed on Long Islan. A band well known for their heavy political lyrics and frustration messages. Rubin was instrumental in pointing the members of the Beastie Boys away from their punk roots and into rap, resulting in the exit of Kate Schellenbach from the group.

In 1985 “Rock Hard” / “Party’s Gettin’ Rough” / “Beastie Groove” EP by the Beastie Boys came out with the great success of Robin’s production work with breakthrough act, Run-DMC wich productions are categorized by occasionally fusing rock and hip hop. Rubin tapped video producers Adam Dubin and Ric Menello to co-direct the music videos for Beatie Boys”(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” and “No Sleep till Brooklyn”, effectively launching the band’s mainstream hip hop careers.

Sue Cummings and editor at Spin Magazine had an idea to have Run-DMC and Aerosmith collaborate on a cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. This special production that took place in 1986 is often credited with both introducing rap hard rock to mainstream ears and also to the revitalization of Aerosmith’s career. Rubin worked with Aerosmith on demos for their forthcoming album, but nothing substantial came out of the studio, only rough jams. In the same year music producer Rick Rubin began his long musical partnership with Slayer, producing Reign in Blood, considered a classic masterpiece of the heavy metal genre.

Another trademark and classic work of Rubin is the album called “Electric” the third album released by The Cult in 1987. Rubin later worked with The Cult for the single “The Witch”, in 1992. Rubin was also credited as a music supervisor in the movie Less Than Zero and is the producer of its soundtrack. Krush Groove was a motion picture that was impaired in the early days of Russel Simmon and Rubin portrayed a character based on himself. He directed and co-wrote with Ric Menello a second Run-DMC film called Tougher Than Leather that would consider being published at the same time as their fourth studio album also named the same as the movie.

Rubin and Simmons went their separate ways in 1998, after a fall out with Lyor Cohen Def Jam president. Rubin left to Los Angeles to star Def American Records, while Simmons kept Def Jam in New York. In LA, Rubin signed several rock and heavy metal bands, including Danzig, The Four Horsemen and Wolfsbane, as well as alternative rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain. Through this time Rubin’s time was focused on rock and metal but never left rap aside. He signed the Geto Boys and continued to work with Public Enemy, LL Cook J and Run-DMC, among many more.

Def American Recordings was the name originally given to his new label. In 1993 Rubin found the word “Def” had been accepted into the standardized dictionary and held an actual funeral for the word held by Reverend Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton is an American civil rights activist, baptist minister, talk show host and politician. After that Def American Recordings became American Recordings. In regard to this, Rubin stated: “When advertisers and the fashion world co-opted the image of hippies, a group of the original hippies in San Francisco literally buried the image of the hippie. When ‘def’ went from street lingo to mainstream, it defeated its purpose.”

American Recordings started off wit a big project with Johnny Cash in 1994. They produced a record including six core songs and new material written by the for Cahs at Rubin’s request. This album helped revive Cash’s carrier giving that the album was a critical and commercial success. This formula was repeated for five more Cash albums: Unchained, Solitary Man, The Man Comes Around (the last album released before Cash’s death), A Hundred Highways, and Ain’t No Grave. 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)

Rick Rubin introduced Cahs to Nine Inch Nails, and the resulting cover version of it on The Man Comes Around would become a defining song of Cash’s later years. Rubin has also produced a number of records with other artists, arguably his biggest success as a producer came from working with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers with home Rubin produced six studio albums from 1991 – 2011: Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which launched the band to mainstream success thanks to the hit singles “Give it Away” and “Under the Bridge”. The six albums with the Chili Peppers also spawned twelve number-one singles on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart, a record the band as of 2015 still holds, and various awards including sixteen Grammy Nominations (with six wins)

On 2006 Producer Rick Rubin won Producer of the Year Grammy Award. At the same time, the album Stadium Arcadium from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers was also nominated for Album of the Year. The band has sold over 80 million albums worldwide, most of them through sales of the Rubin produced albums. Rubin also used Chilli Pepper bandmates for other projects. After 24 years of working with Rubin the band announced in 2014 that they would produce their next album with another producer, this would be their eleventh studio album.

Rubin also produced Wandering Spirit, there third solo album by Mick Jagger, released in 1993, his only solo album to be released on the ’90s. In 1994 he produced and signed to his label Lords of Acid’s with their second studio album. Also Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, AC/DC’s 1995 Ballbreaker, Donovan’s 1996 Sutras, and Metallica’s 2008 Death Magnetic. In 2005, Rubin executive-produced Shakira’s two-album project Fijacion Oral Vol. 1 and Oral Fixation Vol. 2. He was to appear on the Talib Kweli’s album Eardrum, Clipse’s album Til the Casket Drops and Lil Jon’s album Crunk Rock. Rubin also produced the Jay-Z track “99 Problems”, and was featured in the song’s music video. He also worked with Eminem on the song and music video “Berzerk”. Rick Rubin produced Black Sabbath’s 2013 album 13 and Billy Corgan’s comeback solo album Ogilala.

Rubin was named co-head of Columbia Records in May 2007. During his Columbia years, Rubin produced Linkin Park’s Minutes to Midnight album with Mike Shinoda. Rubin and Shinoda co-produced other band albums like A Thousand Suns and Living Things. On the same year, he won the Grammy Award for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical for his great work with the Dixie Chicks, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, U2, Green Day and Johnny Cash. Rubin won the award again in 2009 for his production work with Metallica, Neil Diamond, Ours, Jakob Dylan and Weezer in 2008.

In 2012 Rubin left Columbia Records and revived American Recordings through a deal with Republic Records. The first album to be released under this new deal was ZZ Top’s La Futura and The Avett Brothers The Carpenter. That same year he attempted to produce a cover album with Crosby, Stills and Nash, but the bread sessions were described by Nash as irritable and not a great experience.

Eliminating basic production elements such as string sections, backup vocals and the classic reverb, have been Rick Rubin’s trademark as a producer. Called the “Stripped-Down” sound, Rubin preferred to have naked vocals and bare instruments. However, in the 2000s, Rubin’s style has been know to include such elements. Regarding 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 ’90s, 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.”Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks has praised his productions methods by saying: “He has the ability and the patience to let music be discovered, not manufactured. Come to think of it, maybe he is a guru.” Producer Dr. Dre has stated that Rubin is, “hands down, the dopest producer ever that anyone would ever want to be, ever.”

Over the years Rubin has also had a little criticism by other producers and artists like Matt Bellamy the lead singer of Muse. Bellamy criticized Rubin while accepting the award for UK single of the year, stating that the band would “like to thank Rick Rubin for teaching us how not to produce.” Slipknot’s lead singer Corey Taylor said he met Rubin only for times during the entire recording process of Vol.3 The Subliminal Verses and that he barley came into the studio. He and his bandmates also had positive things to say about Rubin but, they mentioned that they were being charged horrendous amounts of money and that he should have been there. Lead singer Corey Taylor also added: “The Rick Rubin of today is a … shadow of the Rick Rubin that he was. He is overrated, he is overpaid, and I will never work with him again”

Great albums have been key for contributing to a musical phenomenon known as the Loudness War. Since 1999, Rubin has been criticized by listeners for this phenomenon in which the dynamic range of recorded music is compressed and sometimes clipped in order to increase the general loudness of albums. Some of the albums are Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Death Magnetic by Metallica, and 13 by Black Sabbath.

Image: Grammy.com