Rick Rubin Comes Out of Hiding

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Rick Rubin
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Legendary producer Rick Rubin co-founded Def Jam Recordings when he was still in college, putting out albums with hip-hop stars like LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy, to name a few. But the Grammy Award winner still thinks of himself as an anti-industry punk. “I had no expectation of anybody ever hearing this music,” Rubin tells Kurt Andersen in a rare interview. “We made it for our friends. That said, we thought it was really good.”

After helping bring hip-hop into the mainstream, Rubin left Def Jam and started a new label where he branched into genres like metal, country, and pop. His decade-long collaboration with Johnny Cash solidified his reputation as one of the greatest music producers of all time. Cash and Rubin made a series of critically-acclaimed albums, long after the record industry had written Cash off. “I thought it’d be a fun challenge to find a grown-up artist who hadn’t been doing their best work and try to recapture what was great about them,” Rubin says. He performed similar feats for artists such as Neil Diamond, Metallica, and Black Sabbath.

In recent years, the producer has made a return to hip-hop, making albums with Jay Z, Eminem, and Kanye West. West tested Rubin’s famously laid-back cool by asking him to put together the half-finished album Yeezus with only weeks to go before the release date. “I didn’t think it was realistic or doable,” Rubin says. “I was panicky and he was completely cool. As it turns out, it’s the way he works best.”

Despite his reputation as a solid-gold hitmaker, Rubin remains stubbornly modest. He attributes his success to his one rule in the studio. “We don’t talk about what’s going to get on the radio [or] how are we going to make our release date,” he says. “We talk about how we make this song as good as it can be.”

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Music Playlist

  1. Black Skinhead

    Artist: Kanye West
    Album: Yeezus
    Label: Def Jam Recordings
  2. Don't You Remember

    Artist: Adele
    Album: 21
    Label: XL Recordings/Columbia
  3. Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)

    Artist: Nine Inch Nails
    Album: Further Down The Spiral
    Label: Island UK
  4. The Man Comes Around

    Artist: Johnny Cash
    Album: American IV: The Man Comes Around
    Label: American Recordings
  5. It's Yours

    Artist: T La Rock & Jazzy Jay
    Label: Def Jam
  6. The New Style

    Artist: Beastie Boys
    Album: Licensed To Ill
    Label: Def Jam/RAL
  7. I See A Darkness

    Artist: Johnny Cash
    Album: American III: Solitary Man
    Label: American Recordings
  8. Hell Yeah

    Artist: Neil Diamond
    Album: 12 Songs
    Label: Columbia