Sunday, January 3, 2010


I have often expressed admiration of Rick Rubin 's production skills. If I were a producer, I'd like to be like him: hip-hop, metal, funk, punk, country, singer-songwriters, nothing is off limits, and he proved that again in the '00s.

He remained close collaborator of Johnny Cash, producing American III: Solitary Man and American IV: The Man Comes Around in the early years of the decade. I would argue that Cash's American series of albums are nearly as good as anything he'd ever done, obviously American IV's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" was one of the greatest moments of an incredible career. Rick also curated the incredible Unearthed box set, allowing fans to hear some of the incredible things that didn't make the American albums. He's also been the keeper of the Cash flame, releasing American V: A Hundred Highways, which featured "God's Gonna Cut You Down" (and now there's word that 2010 will see the final album from the American sessions, American VI: Ain't No Grave.

Rick started working with Tom Morello, who certainly was paying attention to Rubin's rap/rock/metal hybrids in the '80s. Rubin produced Rage Against The Machine's final album, the all-covers Renegades, as well as their posthumously released live album, Live At The Grand Olympic Auditorium (which turned out to be the band's final shows before reuniting years later). Rubin hooked Morello and Rage mates Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk up with ex-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell and produced the first Audioslave album.

One of Rick's supposed talents is to discover new talent, and I don't know how much he's done that in the past decade, but one band he did work with early on is System Of A Down, who are one of the best metal bands around (even though they seem to be on hiatus at the moment). Rick signed them to his American Recordings, and has produced their albums, including (this decade) Toxicity (which, bizarely, hit #1 on 9/11), Steal This Album! and Hypnotize and Mesmerize.  Another younger band in the heavy guitar category he worked with The Mars Volta on their De-Loused In The Comatorium album.

He remained the go-to guy for The Red Hot Chili Peppers (having worked with them ever since 1991's BloodSugarSexMagik), producing the excellent By The Way and the maybe-too-long double album Stadium Arcadium. I really hope they work with him on the next one, which will be their first since guitarist John Frusciante quit (again).

He briefly returned to hip-hop, producing a cover of Ice-T's "99 Problems" for Jay-Z's "final" record, The Black Album. It may be Jay's finest moment. Less successful was his "Better Than I Ever Been" track that he produced for Nike, featuring Kanye West, Nas and KRS-One (DJ Premier later did a better remix which also featured Rakim).

Rubin also veered closer to the mainstream, producing Shakria's Oral Fixation albums, which included her huge hit collaboration with Wyclef Jean, "Hips Don't Lie." There was also The Dixie Chicks' album Taking The Long Way featuring the classic "Not Ready To Make Nice." And he tried to give Neil Diamond a new credibility by doing some American Recordings type stripped down albums with him. He also worked with Weezer, Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan on his first solo album, a new-ish Americana-type band called The Avett Brothers who I need to write more about, and The Gossip. And of course, Metallica's triumphant comeback album, Death Magnetic. He also produced some tracks with U2, but the full album he worked on with them remains in the vaults.  And he is apparently working with Crosby Stills & Nash and ZZ Top at the moment. Will he discover more LL Cool J's, Run-D.M.C.s, Public Enemys, Slayers and System of a Downs in the '00s? That's what will be interesting to see.

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