Here’s a list of Rick Rubin’s 10 all-time best productions. What we’re looking for are the works that changed the man, the music, and moved the world.
Now, what do we mean when we say “producer”? To many in hip-hop and dance era, a producer is the person who makes the beats. But a record producer, in the classic sense, is analogous to a movie director. Rick did not have to be in the studio when songs were “tracked,” because he was there during rehearsals, when the structure and arrangements were shaped.
Unfortunately, we’re leaving out some unreleased gems, like the Beastie Boys’ remake of The Beatles “I’m Down” and Rick’s sessions with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. And we’re not counting the stuff that Rick Rubin “executive produced” or simply signed. We’re focusing on the works that showcase Rick’s creative vision.
So, without further ado, here are Rick Rubin’s 10 all-time best productions.
10. System of a Down “Chop Suey!” (2001)
Let’s talk about System of a Down’s hit song “Chop Suey!” from their album “Toxicity”. The album was released under Rick Rubin’s label, American Recordings, in 2001. Now, you might know that Rubin missed the grunge era entirely, but that didn’t stop him from producing some top-notch rock music.
Rubin’s creative genius shines through on “Chop Suey!” with its big beat and collapsing noise, which all work together to create a unique sound. The sinister yet subtle lyrics also add to the song’s charm. When Rubin first heard the song, he found it confounding, but he soon realized its potential and helped make it a hit.
Interestingly, “Toxicity” was Rubin’s first record with Sony Music’s Columbia Records, and he produced it for his own label. The album’s success helped American Recordings make a comeback, and it landed at number one on the Billboard Top 200.
Geoffrey Weiss said that “Chop Suey!” may have been confusing at first, but it has a “brutal and muscular logic” that still sounds fresh and original today. We couldn’t agree more! It’s a great example of Rubin’s talent for producing boundary-pushing rock music.
9. Beastie Boys “The New Style” (1986)
If you’re a fan of the Beastie Boys, you know that their debut album “Licensed to Ill” is an absolute classic. And if you’re really in the know, you know that one track in particular, “The New Style,” is something special.
Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, “The New Style” is a prime example of his innovative hip-hop production style. The song is a rollercoaster ride of unpredictable sounds and rhythms that keep you guessing from start to finish. It’s a true masterpiece of musical creativity.
But “The New Style” isn’t the only gem on “Licensed to Ill.” “Hold It Now, Hit It” is another standout track that helped the Beasties break into the hip-hop market. It’s hard to find hip-hop songs with the same level of musical complexity and thought as these two, except maybe for the work of Rubin’s production team, The Bomb Squad.
It’s worth noting that while Rubin is often credited as the sole producer of “Licensed to Ill,” the Beastie Boys had a major hand in the album’s creation. Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch, and Michael Diamond brought their own vision and contributions to the table, making it a true collaboration.
Still, there’s no denying the impact that Rubin had on the album’s sound. Compare “Licensed to Ill” to any of the Beasties’ later albums and you’ll see that they never quite reached the same level of songwriting, chorus writing, or musical consistency. Rubin’s sense of dynamics and drama was truly one-of-a-kind.
All in all, “The New Style” and “Licensed to Ill” are hip-hop classics that still hold up today. If you haven’t given them a listen in a while, do yourself a favor and give them a spin. You won’t regret it.
8. The Bangles “Hazy Shade of Winter” (1987)
If you’re a fan of The Bangles, you’re probably familiar with their rockin’ version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter” from the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1987. What you might not know is that the song almost didn’t make it onto the soundtrack at all due to a disagreement between producer Rick Rubin and the band.
Rick Rubin, who was known for his perfectionism in the studio, had a particular vision for the song that he wanted to see come to fruition. He wanted it to rock harder, but during the recording sessions, he clashed with the band members over certain aspects of the sound. In fact, he even asked Danzig bassist Eerie Von to leave the studio because he wasn’t playing the bass the way Rick wanted.
Despite these difficulties, the band and Rubin managed to record a version of the song that they were both happy with. However, when Rubin heard the mixes that the band had done in his absence, he felt that the song sounded too “soft” and “processed” for his taste.
Ultimately, Rubin decided not to push for his version of the song to be included in the movie and on the soundtrack. However, when the song became a hit and climbed to No. 2 on the pop charts, Rubin realized that he had a hit on his hands. He may have had some regrets about how the final version of the song turned out, but he deserved credit for producing a bona fide hit.
Interestingly, Rubin’s success with The Bangles caused some surprise among his colleagues in the music industry. When he decided to work with the Black punk rock group Public Enemy, Russell Simmons reportedly asked him why he was “messing with” a group that was unlikely to sell any records when he was already making hit records with The Bangles.
Despite the drama surrounding the production of “Hazy Shade of Winter,” it remains a beloved song and a testament to the talent of both The Bangles and Rick Rubin.
7. Beastie Boys “Fight For Your Right” (1987)
Okay, so let’s talk about the ultimate party anthem – “Fight For Your Right To Party” by Beastie Boys. This track, from their album Licensed to Ill, was produced by the Boys themselves and Rick Rubin, and became a massive hit in 1987.
Some people say that “Fight For Your Right” is a bit contrived, with its basic three-chord riff and lyrics that feel like a call to whiteboy rebellion. But hey, others think it’s an honest expression of the Beasties’ eclectic musical tastes, which range from punk to pop to hip-hop and beyond.
To be honest, we think both viewpoints have some truth to them. Regardless of how you interpret the song, there’s no denying that it’s one of the most recognizable tracks from the era. It’s silly, it’s catchy, and it’s a total crowd-pleaser.
In fact, “Fight For Your Right” was the song that turned the Beastie Boys into household names, and propelled Def Jam from a niche label to a major player in the music industry. It even caught the attention of bigwigs in the pop world, like record companies, radio programmers, and MTV executives, who took notice of Rick Rubin’s production skills.
But let’s not forget the best part – the song is just plain stupid in the best possible way. It’s the kind of song that you can’t help but sing along to, even if you know it’s kind of ridiculous. Rubin’s production style is a perfect match for the Beasties’ irreverent attitude – it’s both low-brow and high-brow at the same time.
So, whether you’re looking for a classic party jam or just want to reminisce about the good old days of hip-hop, “Fight For Your Right” is definitely worth a listen.
6. Johnny Cash “Hurt” (2003)
If you’re a Johnny Cash fan, you’ve likely heard his heartbreaking version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” which was featured on his 2003 album American IV: The Man Comes Around. Produced by Rick Rubin, this album was the fourth collaboration between the two, and it showcased Cash’s unique talent for interpreting contemporary songs in his own style.
Rubin had the brilliant idea of introducing Cash’s music to a younger generation of fans by having him cover songs by artists like Soundgarden and Beck. The success of these covers led to the ultimate masterpiece: Cash’s cover of “Hurt.”
This song has become one of Cash’s most well-known and beloved tracks, in part because it served as his poignant farewell when he passed away shortly after its release. But it’s also a testament to Rubin’s genius as a producer and his ability to push the boundaries of what an artist is capable of.
It’s incredible to think that Rubin’s partnership with Cash lasted longer than his collaborations with the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, or LL Cool J. Their work together demonstrated just how far Rubin had come and how important he had become as a producer.
5. Johnny Cash “Delia’s Gone” (1994)
So, picture this: it’s 1992, and the rumor mill around Def American Recordings is buzzing about a potential new signing. The name being thrown around? Johnny Cash. Now, to most of us, this seemed like a strange move for Rick Rubin, who was known for signing more obscure projects like the Flipper album. Plus, let’s face it, Johnny Cash’s star had been on the decline for some time. The country music industry had pretty much written him off as irrelevant and pushed him onto the antique shelf. But, as usual, Rick Rubin had a plan.
In his usual fashion, Rubin saw past the surface-level assumptions and recognized the potential for greatness that still lay within Johnny Cash. He brought in some cutting-edge technology (Alesis “ADAT” machines) and transformed his living room into a makeshift recording studio. And it worked. Johnny Cash came in, picked up his guitar, and started to play.
Over the course of a few months, Rick encouraged Cash to embrace his creativity and trust in the simplicity of his arrangements. It was a musical rebirth that Cash hadn’t seen in decades. But, Rubin’s master plan didn’t end there. He saw that Cash was no longer a country artist, but rather a folk musician who could be marketed in the growing genre of “Americana” that was gaining traction on “triple A” radio.
And thus, the rebirth of Johnny Cash was not just a musical one but also a marketing play. His eponymous album became the flagship release of Rubin’s rechristened record label, American Recordings. And it worked. The album was a statement, and it won a Grammy.
But the best part? The music itself. One of the album’s standout tracks, “Delia’s Gone,” is a haunting ballad that tells the story of a man who shot his lover and now regrets it. It’s classic Johnny Cash – gritty, dark, and with a touch of danger. And who played Delia in the video? Kate Moss.
Overall, the whole project was brilliant. It was meaningful. It was fun. And it showed us all that sometimes all it takes is a little creativity and a lot of trust to bring out the best in people.
4. LL Cool J “Going Back To Cali” (1988)
In 1988, LL Cool J dropped “Going Back To Cali” on the albums “Less Than Zero” and “Walking with a Panther”, under Def Jam label with Rick Rubin as the producer. The story behind the song is an interesting one. Rick Rubin, who initially had a disdain for the Southern California lifestyle, began to change his mind while recording songs for the soundtrack of “Less Than Zero” in Los Angeles. The town was perfect for making music, had amazing recording studios and rock radio stations. To top it all off, he met and started dating a porn star, Melissa Melendez.
Upon returning to New York, Rubin wasn’t sure where he wanted to stay. The ambivalence continued into a recording session with LL Cool J, where he informed the chorus of the song that he was “Going Back To Cali”. What made this record stand out was how Rubin broke away from the conventions of hip-hop that he himself had created. He added a horn section to flesh out the bare beat, and instead of encouraging the loudmouth, he made him hush.
The jarring, discordant guitar chord thrown into the song, battling it out with a lone horn was a departure from Rubin’s previous work. “Going Back To Cali” was different from anything that came before it, and frankly, from almost everything that came after it. The B-side, “Jack The Ripper”, was also significant. It became one of the best MC battle records of all time and a staple of DJ battles, with Rubin creating a musical departure in the opposite direction, completely dependent on one repeating musical loop.
With “Going Back To Cali” and “Jack The Ripper”, Rubin killed off his brand of “beat box” hip-hop. The record said that there was nothing more for the beat to say and that music was the answer. The second record was a symbolic handing of the baton to folks who deserted the beat box for the soul of real drums, looped. Rubin left most of his possessions behind, including his half of Def Jam, and flew back to California, where he remained.
In conclusion, LL Cool J’s “Going Back To Cali” was a game-changing record that broke away from the conventions of hip-hop and showed Rick Rubin’s evolution as a producer.
3. Red Hot Chili Peppers “Under the Bridge” (1992)
If you’re a fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, chances are you’ve heard their hit song “Under the Bridge.” It’s one of their most well-known tracks and was a huge success for the band. But did you know that it almost didn’t happen at all? It turns out that the song was only made possible thanks to the band’s producer, Rick Rubin.
During the rehearsal and pre-production period for their album “Blood Sugar Sex Magik,” Rick would often drop by the home of lead vocalist Anthony Kiedis. One day, he stumbled upon a poem that Kiedis had written about his struggles with drug addiction. The poem included a reference to Kiedis’s lowest point: when he found himself under a bridge in downtown L.A. trying to score heroin.
Rick urged Kiedis to surface the lyrics for his bandmates to write to, and they got to work. Guitarist John Frusciante’s beautiful guitar work was the perfect accompaniment to Kiedis’s melancholic story. And Rick’s arrangement, especially the explosive refrain at the very end of the song, made it truly special.
So next time you listen to “Under the Bridge,” take a moment to appreciate the behind-the-scenes work that went into making it. Without Rick Rubin’s guidance and Kiedis’s personal struggles, we might never have had this iconic song.
2. Run-DMC “Walk This Way” (1985)
Let’s talk about one of the most influential songs in hip-hop history – Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way”. This iconic track was released in 1985 as part of their album “Raising Hell” under the Profile Records label, and was produced by the legendary duo Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons.
Now, before we get into the details, let’s go back to how Rick Rubin got involved with Run-DMC in the first place. Russell Simmons was impressed with Rubin’s skills and asked him to work on a few tracks for Run-DMC’s previous album, “King of Rock”. Rubin quickly proved himself as a creative force to be reckoned with, having already made waves in the industry with L.L. Cool J.’s first album, “Radio”.
But it was on “Raising Hell” where Rubin truly made his mark. Although Run and DMC produced most of the tracks themselves, Rubin’s expertise in arrangement and beat programming was invaluable to the album’s success.
Now, let’s talk about the track that changed the game – “Walk This Way”. This song was a childhood favorite of Rubin’s, and also a staple in Run-DMC’s early lives. They were familiar with only the first four bars of the song, which they would loop via turntables for MCs to rap over.
Rubin managed to unite these two ways to savor “Walk This Way” – as a song and as a beat. He convinced Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith to collaborate, and Run and DMC to try something new. The result? One of the most iconic and successful collaborations in all of American music history.
Despite angry callers flooding rock radio stations that dared play the song, “Walk This Way” triumphed. The song became the first rap record in history to be certified multiplatinum at 3 million units sold. And it was all thanks to MTV and a brilliant, iconic video that made a huge statement about rap’s power to break down white racism.
So there you have it, folks – the story of how Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” changed the game. It’s not just a great song, it’s a cultural landmark that helped pave the way for future generations of hip-hop artists.
1. LL Cool J “Rock The Bells” (1986)
This iconic track is from LL Cool J’s first album, “Radio,” produced by Rick Rubin and LL Cool J. It’s the one that put Rubin on the map, showcasing what he brought to the music industry that nobody had seen before.
Why is it called “Rock The Bells”? Simple – from the first guitar chord, you can tell that Rubin produced it. That sound is unforgettable – Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” tries to recreate it to take you back to that moment when you first heard it. This one chord represents Rubin’s desire to surprise you with something unexpected.
“Rock The Bells” was a game-changer that marked the end of the old musical order and a new beginning for Rubin’s new label, Def Jam. It’s a great example of Rubin’s production ethos – loudness followed by silence, insults from a cherub-faced rapper, and an accidental political message.
It’s no wonder that this track changed the world. LL Cool J, who was discovered by Rubin at 16 years old, hosted the entire Grammy Awards show. Adele even thanked Rubin for his “quality control” when she accepted the Record of the Year award. Who knows if Adele would have made it without LL Cool J by her side?
Before Rubin belonged to the world, he belonged to hip-hop. And this track is his masterpiece, an original and groundbreaking musical thought. So let’s rock the bells and celebrate the best work of one of the greatest producers of all time!