Who Is Rick Rubin?
Born Frederick Jay Rubin, he grew up in Lido Beach, New York. While in high school, he became friends with his school’s audio-visual director who taught him to play the guitar. He also got Rick interested in songwriting. Rick went on to play in a band with some friends until another teacher helped him create a punk band called The Pricks.
The band never made it big, but Rick’s love for music didn’t fade. In his senior year of high school, Rick founded a recording company called Def Jam Recordings. This was the beginning of a life-long career as a record producer and executive. As he was trying to get the company up and running, he was introduced to Russell Simmons, who helped him get Def Jam off the ground.
The first record they released was “I Need A Beat,” by LL Cool J. After that, Def Jam signed Public Enemy and went on to work with Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, Aerosmith, Slayer, The Cult, and many other acts over the next few years.
In 1988, Rick split ways with Russell Simmons and moved from New York to Los Angeles. He founded American Recordings and continued to work with Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and Run-DMC. In addition, he signed the Geto Boys, Danzig, The Four Horsemen, Wolfsbane, and Andrew Dice Clay.
In 1994, Rick signed Johnny Cash and produced his record titled American Recordings, which helped revive Cash’s career and was his 81st album. Rubin then signed the Red Hot Chili Peppers and worked with Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, AC/DC, Metallica, Shakira, Jay-Z, Black Sabbath, and Eminem.
In 2007, Rick was named co-president of Columbia Records. Here he worked with the Dixie Chicks, Neil Diamond, Metallica, Weezer, Jakob Dylan, U2, Green Day, Adele, and Linkin Park.
He also has a home studio, Shangri-La Recording Studios where he produces albums for various artists.
Rick Rubin’s Production Style
Through the years, Rick had developed a trademark style that was familiar through his work. His signature style has a “stripped-down”, minimalist sound, which eliminates certain elements from the song. Some of these include string sections, reverb, and even backup vocals. He ran with this style for many years, until the early 2000s.
Since then, he’s started adding select elements back in, when appropriate. He’s received praise from numerous artists and producers through the years, with Dr. Dre saying “hands down, the dopest producer ever that anyone would ever want to be, ever.” Natalie Maines, of The Chicks, also praised his methods, stating, “He has the ability and the patience to let music be discovered, not manufactured. Come to think of it, maybe he is a guru.”
Most people praise his style, as shown by the many awards he’s won and been nominated for, but there’s always a critic in the house. He has been criticized by a few for partaking in the “Loudness War.” This is the idea that the dynamic range of a musical arrangement is clipped and compressed to create a general loudness in the music. It’s become more popular in music in recent years, and many producers are producing records this way.
Rick Rubin has been nominated for and won numerous awards during his years as a record producer. He holds eight Grammy Awards, including
Best Country Album (Unchained, 1998), Record of the Year (Not Ready to Make Nice, 2007), Best Country Album and Album of the Year (Taking the Long Way, 2007), Best Rock Album (Stadium Arcadium, 2007), Producer of the Year (2007 and 2009), Album of the Year (21, 2012) and Best Rock Album (The New Abnormal, 2021).
He also won the Country Music Association’s Album of the Year in 2003 for Johnny Cash’s American IV: “The Man Comes Around.”
Outside the Studio
Rubin has been spreading his talents across the globe in the past few years, sharing advice on his Instagram page and lending his talents to other industries. He has a chapter in the book Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris and offers advice to the reader. He also wrote his own book, published on January 17, 2023. Titled The Creative Act: A Way of Being, the book turned out differently than originally intended. Rubin stated “I set out to write a book about what to do to make a great work of art. Instead, it revealed itself to be a book on how to be.” As with all great works of art, the writer must follow their instinct, and it turned out well for Rubin.
When Rubin isn’t in the studio or writing books, he hangs out with his son and watches WWE Wrestling. He currently resides in Malibu, California.