Rick Rubin, the legendary producer, spiritual guide, guy on the couch and co-founder of Def Jam Records, turns 53 today. He doesn’t look a day over “ancient old, wise man, shuffling around a small village,” and yet, from his early days in New York City until this very moment, Rubin had a hand in creating some of the biggest albums ever recorded. He’s worked with everyone from Adele to the Beastie Boys, the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Cash. Along with Russell Simmons, he started Def Jam Records, helping to launch the careers of Run DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys to name a few. Rubin also is the godfather of the rap/rock genre, dating back to his fusing of the two genres in “Walk This Way,” the Run DMC song featuring Aerosmith.
In recent years, Rubin has acted as a sounding board for Jay Z and Kanye West, while also working with the Avett Brothers, Linkin Park, Lady Gaga, and Wu Tang Clan, among others. He’s become somewhat of a mythic figure, a living legend who lends street cred to any project he’s involved with, regardless of his actual level of involvement. Rubin’s career and his discography is a lot to digest — there’s a lot of material to cover. A ranking of his best work could easily start a riot, and limiting it to highlighting his 10 best projects would leave too much out.
So let’s keep it simple, a tribute to Rubin’s production style during his first two decades, when he favored stripped down arrangements and essential personnel instrumentation. Happy birthday, sir. Let’s run through Rick Rubin’s career, A to Z.
A: Adele’s 21
Rubin was drawn to Adele after seeing her perform on Saturday Night Live and was penciled in to produce the album she was working on at the time. He wanted to channel the emotions and sound he experienced when he saw her perform live while in California and brought in a top-notch group of session musicians to help them achieve it. Despite recording an albums worth of material though, Adele elected to use material she had recorded previously, feeling it better captured the emotions she had felt when writing the songs. Only five songs from the Rubin-produced sessions appeared on 21, despite Adele’s label preferring the Rubin-produced material to the material used.
B: Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers had gone through a major lineup change before their album Mother’s Milk and with the follow-up, were looking to take more steps in this new direction. They needed a new record label and were looking for a producer that they could feel comfortable bouncing ideas off of and working with as a collaborator. Rubin was an obvious choice for them. Rubin helped them write songs, arrange music and most importantly, suggest they record the album in Harry Houdini’s old house.