Frederick Jay "Rick" Rubin (born March 10, 1963) is an American record producer and former co-president of Columbia Records. Along with Russell Simmons, Rubin is the co-founder of Def Jam Records and also established American Recordings. With the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Run–D.M.C., Rubin helped popularize hip hop music.
Rubin has also worked with artists such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash, The Black Crowes, Slayer, Jay Z, Danzig, Dixie Chicks, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Black Sabbath, Slipknot, Metallica, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Weezer, Linkin Park, The Cult, Neil Diamond, The Avett Brothers, Adele, Joe Strummer, Mick Jagger, System of a Down, The Mars Volta, Rage Against the Machine, Melanie C, Audioslave, Sheryl Crow, ZZ Top, Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga, Shakira, Ed Sheeran, Damien Rice, Kanye West, and Eminem. In 2007, MTV called him "the most important producer of the last 20 years", and the same year Rubin appeared on Time's 100 Most Influential People in the World list.
Rubin was born in Long Beach, New York and grew up in Lido Beach, New York. His father was a shoe wholesaler and his mother a housewife. While a student at Long Beach High School he befriended the school's audiovisual department director Steve Freeman who gave him a few lessons in guitar playing and songwriting and helped him create a punk band called The Pricks. Their biggest claim to fame was being thrown off the stage at CBGB after two songs for brawling with the heckling audience. These hecklers were friends of the band instructed to instigate a confrontation so as to get the show shut down and create a buzz. Somewhat anecdotal, this story was confirmed in an interview with music journalist Zane Lowe. Although he had no authority in New York City, Rubin's father traveled from Nassau County, New York, to Manhattan wearing his Lido Beach auxiliary police uniform as he attempted to "shut down" the show.
During his senior year, Rubin founded Def Jam Records using the school's four-track recorder. He moved on to form Hose, influenced by San Francisco's Flipper. In 1982, a Hose track became Def Jam's first release, a 45 rpm 7" vinyl single in a brown paper bag, and no label. The band played in and around the NYC punk scene, toured the Midwest and California, and played with seminal hardcore bands like the Meat Puppets, Husker Du, the Circle Jerks, Butthole Surfers and Minor Threat, becoming friends with frontman and Dischord Records owner Ian MacKaye. The band broke up in 1986 as Rubin's passion moved towards the NYC hip hop scene.
Having befriended Zulu Nation's DJ Jazzy Jay, Rubin began to learn about hip hop production. By 1983, the two men produced "It's Yours" for rapper T La Rock, and released it on their independent label, Def Jam Records. Producer Arthur Baker helped to distribute the record worldwide on Baker's Streetwise Records in 1984. Jazzy Jay introduced Rubin to concert promoter/artist manager Russell Simmons in a club, and Rubin explained he needed help getting Def Jam off the ground. Simmons and Rubin edged out Jazzy Jay and the official Def Jam record label was founded while Rubin was attending New York University in 1984. Their first record released was LL Cool J's "I Need a Beat". Rubin went on to find more hip-hop acts outside The Bronx, Brooklyn and Harlem including rappers from Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, which eventually led to Def Jam's signing of Public Enemy. 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. "Rock Hard"/"Party's Gettin' Rough"/"Beastie Groove" EP by the Beastie Boys came out on the success of Rubin's production work with breakthrough act Run–D.M.C. His productions were characterized by occasionally fusing rap with heavy rock. Rubin tapped Adam Dubin and Ric Menello to co-direct the music videos for the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)" and "No Sleep till Brooklyn", effectively launching the band's mainstream hip hop careers.
It was the idea of Rick Rubin's friend Sue Cummings, an editor at Spin magazine, to have Run–D.M.C. and Aerosmith collaborate on a cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way". This 1986 production is often credited with both introducing rap hard rock to mainstream ears and revitalizing Aerosmith. In 1986, he worked with Aerosmith again on demos for their forthcoming album, but their collaboration ended early and resulted in only rough studio jams. In the same year, Rubin began his long musical partnership with Slayer, producing Reign in Blood, considered a classic of the heavy metal genre. This was his first work with a metal band.
In 1987 The Cult released their pivotal third album Electric. Produced by Rubin, the album remains one of The Cult's trademark and classic works. Rubin would later work with The Cult again for the single "The Witch". Rubin is credited as Music Supervisor in the movie Less Than Zero and is the producer of its soundtrack. Rubin portrayed a character based upon himself in the 1985 hip-hop motion picture Krush Groove, which was inspired by the early days of Russell Simmons' career as a music producer. He then directed and co-wrote (with Ric Menello) a second Run–D.M.C. film, Tougher Than Leather in 1988.
In 1988, Rubin and Simmons went their different ways after Rubin had a falling out with the then Def Jam president Lyor Cohen. It was then that Rubin left for Los Angeles, California to start Def American Records, while Simmons remained at Def Jam in NY. In Los Angeles, Rubin signed a number of rock and heavy metal acts, including Danzig, Masters of Reality, The Four Horsemen, and Wolfsbane, as well as alternative rock group The Jesus and Mary Chain and stand up comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Though Rubin's work at this time focused mainly on rock and metal, he still retained a close association with rap, signing the Geto Boys and continuing to work with Public Enemy, LL Cool J and Run–D.M.C., among others.
Rubin originally had given his label the name "Def Jam". The word "def" in urban culture is slang for a song or musical composition that is well liked for its attractive rhythm and dance appeal. Nine years later, Rubin found that the word "def" had been accepted into the standardized dictionary; in 1993, Rubin held an actual funeral, complete with a casket and a grave, for the word "def". Def American became American Recordings. In regard to this he 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."
The first major project on the renamed label was Johnny Cash's American Recordings (1994), a record including six cover songs and new material written by others for Cash at Rubin's request. The album was a critical and commercial success, and helped revive Cash's career following a fallow period. The 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). Rubin introduced Cash to Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt", and the resulting cover version of it on The Man Comes Around would become a defining song of Cash's later years. Rubin also produced two of Joe Strummer's final songs, "Long Shadow", a song Strummer wrote for Cash to record although he never did, and a cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song". Both songs were released on Strummer's final album, Streetcore, which was released after his death. Rubin also produced a version of "Redemption Song" with Strummer and Cash together, which was featured Cash's posthumous box set, Unearthed.
Rubin has also produced a number of records with other artists, which were released on labels other than American. Arguably his biggest success as producer came from working with the Red Hot Chili Peppers with whom Rubin produced six studio albums for from 1991-2011 including their major label debut on Warner Bros., 1991's Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which launched the band to mainstream success thanks to the hit singles "Give it Away" and "Under the Bridge" and is highly regarded as one of the most influential albums of the 90s. 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) with a Producer of the Year Grammy award for 2006's Stadium Arcadium, which was also nominated for Album of the Year. The band has sold over 80 million albums world-wide, most of which have been through sales of the Rubin produced albums. Three of the band's albums; Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Californication and By the Way were featured on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list and the band were 2012 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Various members of the Chili Peppers have also been used on other projects by Rubin as well including recording by Johnny Cash. After 24 years working with the band, they announced in late 2014 that they would be working with another producer on their eleventh studio album bringing an end to their long and successful tenure with Rubin.
He also produced Mick Jagger's 1993 Wandering Spirit album, Lords of Acid's 1994 Voodoo-U album, Tom Petty's 1994 Wildflowers, AC/DC's 1995 Ballbreaker, Donovan's 1996 Sutras, and Metallica's 2008 Death Magnetic. In 2005, Rick 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. Rick 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. During this period, he also produced "Breath of the Heart" in 2001 for kirtan singer Krishna Das (Singer) on Karuna, LLC.
Rubin recently finished producing Black Sabbath's 2013 album 13.
In May 2007, Rubin was named co-head of Columbia Records. Rubin co-produced Linkin Park's 2007 album, Minutes to Midnight, with Mike Shinoda. Rubin and Shinoda have since co-produced the band's 2010 album, A Thousand Suns, and their June 2012 release, Living Things.
In 2007, Rubin won the Grammy Award for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical for his work with the Dixie Chicks, Michael Kranz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Green Day, and Johnny Cash released in 2006. Rubin won the award again in 2009, for production work for Metallica, Neil Diamond, Ours, Jakob Dylan and Weezer in 2008.
In 2012 Rubin won the Grammy for Album of the Year for his role as a producer on Adele's album 21.
Rubin left Columbia in 2012, and revived the American Recordings imprint through a deal with Republic Records. The first albums released under this new deal are ZZ Top's La Futura and The Avett Brothers' The Carpenter.
Rubin also attempted to record a cover album with Crosby, Stills & Nash in 2012, but the sessions were short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful. Graham Nash said the sessions were "irritable" and "not a great experience". He also supports and is the manager of rock band Sunday Mornin'.
Rubin's biggest trademark as a producer has been a "stripped-down" sound, which involves eliminating production elements such as string sections, backup vocals, and reverb, and instead having naked vocals and bare instrumentation. However, by the 2000s, Rubin's style had been known to include such elements, as noted in The Washington Post: "As the track reaches a crescendo and [Neil] Diamond's portentous baritone soars over a swelling string arrangement, Rubin leans back, as though floored by the emotional power of the song." Producer Dr. Dre has stated that Rubin is, "hands down, the dopest producer ever that anyone would ever want to be, ever."
On the subject of 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 1990s, 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 production methods, 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."
In 2010 at the Music Producers Guild (MPG) awards, Muse aimed a potshot at Rick Rubin as the band accepted the award for UK single of the year. Arriving onstage, Matt Bellamy thanked a number of people for teaching them how to produce, finishing off with: "And we'd like to thank Rick Rubin for teaching us how not to produce." The audience roared, as Bellamy smiled, concluding: "I thought you'd like that one."
One trademark of Rubin's production is that he encourages artists to genre-bend: rap stars Run–D.M.C. covered hard rock band Aerosmith's "Walk This Way", country music star Johnny Cash covered "Hurt" by industrial band Nine Inch Nails and "Personal Jesus" by synthpop band Depeche Mode, and Southern rock band ZZ Top covered "25 Lighters" by DJ DMD.
Not all artists who have worked with Rubin have enjoyed his production style. Although he and his band mates had some positive things to say about Rubin, Slipknot's lead singer Corey Taylor said that he met Rubin only four times during the entire recording process of Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) and that Rubin barely came to the studio: "... we were being charged horrendous amounts of money. And for me, if you're going to produce something, you're fucking there. I don't care who you are." He 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".
Since at least 1999, Rubin has been criticized by listeners for contributing to a phenomenon in music known as the loudness war, in which the dynamic range of recorded music is compressed and sometimes clipped in order to increase the general loudness. Albums produced by Rubin that have been criticized for such treatment include:Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (1999) – Tim Anderson of The Guardian criticized its "excessive compression and distortion", and Stylus Magazine said it suffered from so much digital clipping that "even non-audiophile consumers complained about it".
Death Magnetic by Metallica (2008). Some fans have preferred the Guitar Hero version of Death Magnetic, even though it was released for gameplay and not listening, because it was not subject to the same compression.
13 by Black Sabbath (2013) – Ben Ratliff of The New York Times said, "The new Black Sabbath album was produced by Rick Rubin, who some believe to be a prime offender in the recent history of highly compressed and loudly mastered music – a major cause of ear fatigue ... 13 is mastered loudly, too ... Your ears aren't given room to breathe". Jon Hadusek of Consequence of Sound wrote, "Rubin ... deserves disparagement for the way he mixed the audio levels, which are crushed by distortion and compression. Otherwise well-recorded songs are blemished, an affliction all too pervasive in the modern music industry".