Without a doubt, Rick Rubin is one of the most important musical figures of the past 30 years. The bearded genius who formed Def Jam Records in his dorm at New York University has worked on countless releases across the years, often being noted as the catalyst for numerous hip-hop, heavy metal, alternative and pop successes.
With an immersive genre spanning resume that continues to expand yearly, we take a look at the top ten essential Rick Rubin albums.
10. Toxicity, System of a Down
Spearheaded by its immense slew of successful singles, Toxicity is littered with contrasting lyrical allusions to religion, addiction and genocide, complimented effectively by System of a Down’s incredibly unique musical style.
Rick Rubin’s touches are evident across the album, particularly on his writing contribution to the bridge of the group’s insane first single ‘Chop Suey!’.
9. 21, Adele
The Grammy demolishing sophomore album by British songstress, Adele featured production by Rick Rubin across four tracks, attempting to capture the mood of her emotional live performances through assembling a crack team of seasoned session musicians to work with the singer.
Adele noted that while working with Rubin was extremely daunting, the producer was crucial in pushing her out of her comfort zone to create this smash record.
8. 13, Black Sabbath
When the pioneers of heavy metal officially returned from hiatus in 2013, it made perfect sense for Black Sabbath to recruit Rick Rubin to produce their 19th studio effort.
Rubin advised the group to harken back to their sound of the 70’s for inspiration, creating a well received final album that holds up as one of the best in the band’s discography.
7. Yeezus, Kanye West
In classic Yeezy style, Kanye decided to follow up his star-studded 2010 magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with an abrasive, glitchy album of industrial hip-hop.
Rubin’s distinct minimalist production style is notable on tracks like ‘Black Skinhead’ and ‘Bound 2,’ sonically stripping the tracks to reveal the flesh on this intriguing release.
6. Taking the Long Way, Dixie Chicks
After receiving national vilification by criticising then-president George W. Bush in 2003, the Dixie Chicks retreated to the studio with Rick Rubin behind the board to create a country tinged reflection on non-conformity and emotional vulnerability for their 2006 album, winning the group five Grammys including Album of the Year.
5. Reign in Blood, Slayer
A landmark album for thrash metal, Slayer’s major label debut was shaped by Rick Rubin’s insistence for the band to create ridiculously fast songs, with an album average of 220 beats per minute.
While his emphasis on sonic clarity across Reign in Blood alienated some hardcore Slayer fans, this glorious half hour thrash fest was crucial in affirming Rubin’s versatility as a producer.
4. Raising Hell, Run DMC
Yet another genre defining album featuring production credits from Rubin, Raising Hell was a critical and commercial breakthrough for hip-hop, which was previously dismissed as being a fad genre.
Highlights include the rock-rap Aerosmith interpolation ‘Walk This Way’ and streetwear anthem ‘My Adidas,’ featuring a classic Rick Rubin produced boom-boom-bap beat.
3. Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Chili Peppers sprawling funk-rock epic from 1991 effectively showcases Rubin’s stripped back production style, with his musical contributions certainly highlighting the incredible rhythmic powerhouse of Chad Smith and Flea and affirming the young John Frusciante as a modern six string god.
Funk aside, Rubin was also crucial figure behind the band’s musical development, particularly through his insistence on frontman Anthony Kiedis developing an uncharacteristically melodic tune by the name of ‘Under the Bridge.’
2. Licensed to Ill, Beastie Boys
This early Def Jam staple was another core contribution by Rick Rubin to the world of hip-hop, being the first rap album to top the Billboard album chart.
Jam packed with pop culture references, frat-pack bravado and Rubin’s sample based production featuring the likes of hard rock, funk and punk rock, the Beastie Boys debut album marks a crucial moment in both the history of rap music and Rubin’s producing career – watch for a cameo from the man himself wearing an AC/DC shirt in the iconic music video for ‘Fight For Your Right.’
1. American Recordings, Johnny Cash
Undoubtedly one of Rubin’s most impressive contributions to music was being the catalyst for Johnny Cash’s late career revival. After signing Cash to his own record label, Rubin assisted the country legend in recording his 81st album, producing 13 soulfully stripped back arrangements featuring only vocals and acoustic guitar recorded in the singers living room.
The universal acclaim of American Recordings formed a unique partnership between Rubin and Cash for the remainder of his musical career, resulting in the singer releasing his hauntingly powerful cover of Nine Inch Nails ‘Hurt’ months before his death in 2003, proving testament to Rick Rubin’s musical genius.