September 21, 2004

The Genius of Rubin
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

Rick Rubin can do whatever he wants. He might look more like Jay-Z's bodyguard than his producer, but Rubin has proved thrive and again that he has the golden touch no matter the genre. Together with Russell Simmons, he co-founded Def Jam while still at NYU. His first hits included L.L. Cool J's "I Need A Beat" and Public Enemy's Rubin-produced debut Yo! Bum Rush the Show. From there he's worked with everyone under the sun and continues to be one of the most progressive and innovative players in music.


Run DMC - "Walk this Way"

Rick Rubin is a man of ideas. In 1986, hip-hop was still trying to gain mainstream success in a mess of hair bands. Aerosmith was on the other side of the career curve, apparently past its prime and over the hill. Then Rubin had a simple idea that would change popular music for the next decade: bring rock and rap together on one stage, remixing Aerosmith's original classic with a new hip-hop sound. Everyone from Limp Bizkit to Eminem can attribute the seeds of their careers to this one song. This technique, taking a classic song and remaking it as someone else's, would become one of Rubin's specialties

Beastie Boys - "Fight for Your Right"
Licensed to Ill was the next step in the evolution of rap-rock, featuring samples from Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, not to mention the mean guitar solo from Slayer guitarist Kerry King on "Fight for Your Right." The album also made it acceptable for white kids to like (and purchase) hip-hop, making it the first rap album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Under the Bridge"
Though Rubin made his name with hip-hop, he has mainly focused on rock since his amicable split from Simmons and Def Jam in 1989. When he was enlisted to produce Blood Sugar Sex Majik, he moved the band members into a mansion where they lived and recorded for several months. Today, that's a common practice, but at the time it was considered bizarre. Though he actually produced the beats for Def Jam artists, with the Chili Peppers Rubin's role was more broad and less clearly defined. He was the sonic director of the entire project, acting as guide for everything on the album, including Anthony Kiedis' lyrics. While working together, Rubin discovered a page in a band member's notebook about overcoming his heroin addiction. Initially Keidis didn't think the lyrics fit the album, but Rubin convinced him otherwise. The result was "Under the Bridge," which became the album's biggest hit. The lesson: always trust Rubin's judgment.


Johnny Cash - "Hurt"
Before passing away, Johnny Cash said, "Rick saw something in me that I didn't know was there anymore." The Rubin/Cash collaboration surprised nearly everyone, not only because of its critical and commercial success, but also because of its choice of songs. Their most recent album, The Man Comes Around, the fourth installment in the American series, features Cash singing his cover versions of songs originally written by Sting, the Beatles and Depeche Mode. Rubin convinced Cash to cover songs that he would have never previously considered, such as Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." Cash took Trent Reznor's deeply personal lyrics about his battle with drug addiction and turned them into his own, while Rubin's sparse arrangement leaves plenty of space for Cash's harrowing voice. No one could have imagined the 70 year old Cash's return to cult popularity, but with Rubin he found his way onto MTV2 and college indie-radio.

Audioslave - "Show Me How to Live"
Rage Against the Machine recruited Rubin for the follow-up to The Battle of Los Angeles, but when Zack de la Rocha quit the band in 2000, Rubin suggested that the rest of the band join forces with former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. Rubin went on to produce Audioslave's phenomenal debut and is currently working on the follow-up. In 2004, the self-described workaholic will also work with Slipknot, Weezer, System of a Down, Nine Inch Nails and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Jay-Z - "99 Problems"

"You crazy for this one Rick," raps Jay-Z in a shout out to Rubin, who made his glorious return to hip-hop in order to contribute a beat to Jay-Z's retirement party, The Black Album. Surrounded by fluffy Neptunes beats, the heavy guitars and drums reminded everyone how much hip-hop needs Rubin again. In the phenomenal video for the song, Rubin looks mean and shaggy with his long ZZ-Top beard.