Revisiting 10 of Rubin's most significant productions of the '80s.
The birth of Def Jam Records is the stuff of legend. Rick Rubin launched the label out of his NYU dorm room in the mid-'80s, and the stories of his collegiate escapades, documented in a 2011 oral history assembled by New York Magazine, seem straight off the pages of a Judd Apatow movie script:
Adam Horovitz, Beastie Boys: "Nick Cooper knew about this guy Rick Rubin who went to NYU and would throw parties and had turntables. And a bubble machine. We were like, 'If we had a fucking D.J. and a fucking bubble machine, we’d be fucking killing it.'
Eric Hoffert, college classmate: "Rick Rubin was in a hardcore band called Hose. They would play downstairs in the cafeteria of the Weinstein dorm. It was crazed, almost Charles Manson–like. They were pretty awful. And people couldn’t make sense of what he was onto—the fact that he was in this band, and then he’d come back from these hip-hop clubs at night. He was already a budding impresario. He was a complete powerhouse; he worked fourteen, sixteen hours a day."
Adam Dubin, college roommate: "Rick’s most famous dorm party was the bikini contest. It was about 150 people. Packed. Everything about it was unsafe. Surging crowds, straight vodka, gin, tons of beer. Finally the time rolls around for the bikini part, and girls start stripping and people start throwing drinks. I kind of remember Adam Horovitz pouring water over some of those girls."
Around this time, Rubin met Russell Simmons, a man five years his elder who was already a power player on the fledgling New York hip hop scene. Rubin's creative vision and Simmons' connections and business savvy were the twin rockets that launched the the careers of Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and Beastie Boys into the stratosphere. Indeed, Rubin's coarse, rock-driven sound was instrumental in the establishment of hip hop as a bonafide commercial force.
This piece revisits 10 of his most significant early productions: T La Rock and Jazzy Jay's “It's Yours," the first record that Def Jam ever released, and seminal records by Run-DMC, LL Cool J, & the Beastie Boys. Rubin took an extended break from rap production in the '90s before returning to the fold in the early '00s with songs like Rage Against The Machine's "Maggie’s Farm." System of a Down's "Chop Suey," and Jay Z's "99 Problems."