|Parent company Universal Music Group|
Founder Rick Rubin
Distributor(s) Republic Records
Country of origin United States
American Recordings is a Los Angeles-based record label headed by record producer Rick Rubin. Formerly known as Def American Recordings, the label has been home to Slayer, the Black Crowes, ZZ Top, Danzig, Trouble, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, The Mother Hips, and System of a Down, among others.
American Recordings was founded after Rick Rubin left Def Jam Recordings in 1988. Among the first acts to be signed were Slayer (which followed Rubin from Def Jam), Danzig, The Four Horsemen, Masters of Reality, and Wolfsbane, as well as indie rockers the Jesus and Mary Chain and controversial stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Rubin continued his association with hip-hop music by signing artists such as the Geto Boys and Sir Mix-a-Lot. American had its first major success with The Black Crowes' 1990 debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, which was eventually certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA. The group’s 1992 follow-up, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, gave American Recordings its first No.1 album. Emcee Sir Mix-a-Lot managed a number-one hit with the song "Baby Got Back" as well as a platinum-selling album titled Mack Daddy. Heavy metal acts Slayer and Danzig also enjoyed notable commercial success, with Slayer in particular, managing several Gold-certified albums. Rubin produces many of the recordings on the label, as well as directing other related ventures.
Rubin changed the name of the company to American Recordings in 1993 after seeing the word "def" in a dictionary. The company was renamed because he believed that finding the word in a notable source was against the anti-establishment image that he was trying to project for the company. A mock funeral presided over by the Reverend Al Sharpton was done for the label name change.
American had several sub-labels over the years, including Onion Records, Ill Labels, Wild West, Whte Lbls [sic], and Infinite Zero. The latter was a partnership with Henry Rollins that specialized in reissues of obscure albums. None of these labels made the distribution transition after American Recordings left Warner Bros. Records in 1997, and its recordings were deleted.
The first-ever Def American release was Reign in Blood by Slayer, which had a Def Jam Recordings logo on its first pressing. Reign in Blood is also known by fans of heavy metal music to be one of the most critically acclaimed and important albums in the genre's history, and it continues to obtain much high praise from fans and critics. A Def Jam Recordings logo was also present on its follow-up album. However, because Russell Simmons felt that Slayer's music was not in line with Def Jam, and because Def Jam’s then-distributor, Columbia/CBS Records, refused to release it, it was released through Geffen Records, and Rubin took the rights of the release to the new label with him after the split. Danzig's 1988 debut album was the first release to actually bear the Def American logo. Initially, the label was distributed by Geffen Records through Warner Bros. Records, but when Geffen refused to distribute the self-titled album by the Geto Boys and the controversy it caused, distribution was absorbed by Warner Bros. proper, which released all subsequent Def American titles.
American's distribution has been handled through several labels over the years. American's first incarnation was distributed by Geffen Records through Warner Bros. Records from 1988 to 1990. After a falling out with Geffen over the content of the Geto Boys' only Def American release, Warner Bros. itself took over distribution duties from 1990 to 1997. However, sub-label Ill Labels was distributed by hip-hop specialist and former Warner Bros. subsidiary Tommy Boy Records as part of its deal. For a brief time during the 1990s, the label also distributed Too Pure Records in the USA.
Rubin signed a distribution deal with Columbia/SME Records in 1997, which distributed the label's titles until 2001. That year, Universal Music Group, through its Island Def Jam Music Group division, took over distribution. In 2005, with the exception of the recordings of Johnny Cash, the label returned to the aegis of Warner Bros. Records. Non-US distribution was handled by BMG until the deal with Columbia Records.
In 2007, Warner Bros. Records, which was American's home from 1990 to 1997, acquired the rights to the extensive American Recordings catalog, which included Johnny Cash, The Black Crowes, The Jayhawks, Slayer, and Danzig. However, American's current roster (except Tom Petty) was transferred to BMG successor Sony BMG (now Sony Music Entertainment) in mid-2007 after a legal battle between Warner and Rubin over the details of their former arrangement, in which American Recordings would sign and provide creative services for artists, while Warner Bros. was only to handle promotion, sales, marketing, and distribution because Rubin was prompted to move his label with his appointment to co-chairman of Columbia Records in the spring of 2007.
In 2012, Rick Rubin, upon his exit from Sony Music Entertainment, signed a new deal with Universal Republic Records (Universal Republic later changed its name to Republic Records) for a new incarnation of American. The first albums to be released under this new deal were ZZ Top's La Futura and The Avett Brothers' The Carpenter.