Rick Rubin’s Early Years

Rick Rubin is one of, if not the most, influential record producers in music of various different genres. He played an integral part in the progression of the careers of countless musical acts such as LL Cool J, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Run D.M.C., Metallica, Eminem, Kanye West, and Adele, as well as multiple genres as a whole. His work in hip-hop, rock, metal, country, and pop has translated into an illustrious career that can be argued as being unmatched by any other producer of his time.

On March 10, 1963, Frederick Jay Rubin was born in Long Beach in Long Island, New York. He grew up in Lido Beach, and was supported by his father Michael, who was a shoe wholesaler, and his mother Linda, who was a housewife. His interest in music developed while he attended Long Beach High School. In high school, Rubin learned how to song write and play the guitar through lessons from his school’s audiovisual department director Steve Freeman. With his newly learned skills, he created a band alongside three of his childhood friends and performed for garage and school shows. He later formed a punk band named The Pricks with the help of his audiovisual teacher.

While attending New York University, Rubin founded the punk-rock band Hose in 1981 with himself as the guitarist, Warren Bell as the bassist, Joel Horne on the drums, and Rick Rosen as the lead singer. During his senior year in NYU, Rubin founded the independent label Def Jam Records, and in 1982 a Hose single became the record’s first release. Hose toured all over NYC, as well as the Midwest and California.

A year later, Rubin began his endeavors in hip-hop production alongside his friend DJ Jazzy Jay. Together they produced “It’s Yours,” which was released through Def Jam Records, for New York rapper T La Rock. The success of this record was assisted with the help of producer Arthur Baker who distributed the record worldwide through his Streetwise Records label.

     I used to go to a reggae club called Negril on Second Avenue in New York City, when I was still a student at NYU. On Tuesdays, they had a hip-hop night. It was one of the first times you could hear hip-hop music without going to the Bronx or Harlem. There weren’t really clubs or parties in lower Manhattan so much. Jazzy Jay was my favorite DJ of all the DJs, and he was one of the DJs who would play at Negril. I just loved, loved his DJ’ing ability, and his taste. I learned so much about music from just hanging out with him. At the club, I loved the music and recognized that the records that were coming out at this time — there were no albums in rap yet, just 12-inch singles ­— and the ones that were coming out didn’t sound like what the club felt like. So “It’s Yours” was almost a documentary-style attempt at what it felt like going to a hip-hop club and experiencing real hip-hop music. That’s what it is. – Rick Rubin

Jazzy Jay also played a major part in Rubin’s career because he introduced him to concert promoter and artist manager Russell Simmons. In 1984, Rubin and Simmons partnered and founded the official Def Jam record label. The first record to be released by the official Def Jam label was the Rick Rubin produced song “I Need A Beat” by LL Cool J.

     It was a beat that I programmed at the dorm room on a DX drum machine. I think that was the first one that we ever recorded with LL. He came over with lots of lyrics, just pages and pages of lyrics, though not necessarily arranged into songs.

I helped pick some of the lyrics and arranged them into a song. Back then, I would say LL was kind of a nerdy 16-year-old kid. He was really smart, well read. He came to the dorm room and was very motivated. He’s one of the more hardworking artists I’ve worked with, even from then. And I felt like he really kept to himself. He was friendly with the other artists, but I felt like he was a little bit of a loner type guy. He was in his head a lot. It was different than so many artists that were much more outgoing.

We did the recording at Chung King, a studio whose real name was Secret Society — I decided to call it “Chung King” just because it was in Chinatown. The owner’s name was John King, and it was a really crummy studio and I wanted it to be recorded in this mystical place, so we made up this Chung King place. I can’t remember much about the actual making of the song. We had it all arranged before we went into the studio. The lyrics were all written, the beat was already there; then in the studio it was just plugging in and documenting what we had already figured out in the dorm room. – Rick Rubin

     During the beginnings of Def Jam, Rubin discovered many musical acts throughout all boroughs of New York City, with their most notable discovery and signing being Long Island’s Public Enemy. Rubin was also instrumental in directing the Beastie Boys away from punk and into rap, and the group’s first major label rap effort “Rock Hard” was produced by Rubin and released through Def Jam in 1985. Also in ’85, Rubin produced songs for Queens’s hip-hop trio Run D.M.C., including tracks off of their second studio album King of Rock. LL Cool J also had Rick Rubin produced records on his debut album Radio, which was released that same year.

In 1986, Rubin’s band Hose broke up due to his passion shifting towards the NYC hip-hop scene. The list of his production credits grew immensely through his work with Run D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and others, and his role in the music industry began to become more and more prominent as the years went by. In the following three decades, Rick Rubin has gone on to win 8 Grammys for categories including Album of the Year, Best Country Album, Best Rock Album, and Producer of the Year, Non-Classical, and work with countless influential and iconic musical artists in a wide range of genres. In 2007, Rubin was called “the most important producer of the last 20 years” by MTV, and, also in 2007, Rubin appeared in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. The impact Rick Rubin has had on the music world is unparalleled, and his body of work, accolades, and accomplishments speak for themselves.


-Ibrahim Akay