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From Neil Diamond to Slayer, Josh Groban to Run-DMC: Six albums that define Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin

“Oh, I kind of listen to everything”

When you ask most people what kind of music they like, you’ll often get this response.

The dirty little secret? That’s almost always a lie.

In reality, the majority of people go back to the same couple of bands and genres for the majority of their music listening. And, honestly, that’s fine. We all have our favorites.

Legendary producer Rick Rubin might be the only person in the universe who can actually say that he legitimately listens to, and enjoys, everything. A short list of artists he’s produced includes the Beastie Boys, Slayer, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Tom Petty, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, the Strokes, Slipknot, Ed Sheeran, ZZ Top, and…Josh Groban?

Yes, even Josh Groban.

Here’s a list of six records that show the range and genius of Rick Rubin.

Raising Hell – Run DMC (1986)

It isn’t for nothing that Chuck D of Public Enemy calls this the greatest hip-hop album of all-time. Aerosmith collaboration “Walk This Way” might be the most famous moment on Raising Hell, but the entire record is much more than just a one-off or a novelty. Its big hooks, big riffs, and big ideas – due in large part to Rubin’s production – laid the foundation for hip-hop’s eventual prominence as an album format.

Reign in Blood – Slayer (1986)

The old Monty Python adage “and now for something completely different” is basically the catch phrase of Rick Rubin’s career. In 1986 alone he produced landmark albums in both rap and metal.

Reign in Blood is basically the first death metal record. Like the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, which Rubin also somehow found the time to produce in 1986, it might also be the pinnacle of its genre. The relentless, pure aural aggression of the album still sounds fresh – and kinda scary. 

Andrew Dice Clay – Dice (1989)

As one does, Rubin jumped from rap to metal to comedy, producing the first handful of albums by comic legend Andrew Dice Clay. Like the Beastie Boys and Slayer before him, Clay pushed boundaries and did something completely new. I’m sure it wasn’t as difficult creatively to produce a comedian, but Rubin’s tastes proved once again to be forward-thinking.

Blood Sugar Sex Magic – Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991)

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have always had good taste in producers. Gang of Four’s Andy Gill produced their first album, legendary Parliament/Funkadelic leader George Clinton their second, and Rubin was at the helm for Blood Sugar Sex Magic, their breakthrough.

Rubin and the Chili Peppers hooked up at the right time, as the (relatively) less intense material on this album fits his production style more than their previous efforts. As he was able to do with rap and metal, Rubin synthesized the funky intensity of the Chili Peppers with more straightforward pop and rock without sacrificing the power of either. This resulted in classics from “Give it Away” to “Under the Bridge.”

Neil Diamond – 12 Songs (2005)

Although better-known for his resurrection of Johnny Cash’s career in the mid-90s, Rick Rubin has also had a hand in late-era gems from Cat Stevens, Donovan, and Neil Diamond. The last of these is the most impressive, as Rubin takes Diamond out of his show biz comfort zone and taps into the serious songwriter of “Solitary Man” to rather startling results.

Illuminations – Josh Groban (2010)

Classical pop crooner Josh Groban, eccentric producer Rick Rubin, and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson…together at last! That might sound like a joke, but it’s actually the foundation of Illuminations, which is easily the most listenable of Groban’s albums. Sure, it has some of the typical …umm…classic? Groban excesses, but Wilson as songwriting partner and Rubin as producer reign him in pretty well.

Erik Ritland
Author: Erik Ritland

Music in Minnesota editor Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul. He has released over a dozen albums and EPs featuring his unique blend of rock n' roll, modern rock, and Americana since 2001, most recently 2020's A Scientific Search. Rambling On, his personal blog and podcast covering music and sports, was launched in 2012. Erik was also Head Staff Writer for Minnesota culture websites Hometown Hustle and Curious North.

Written by Erik Ritland

Music in Minnesota editor Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from St. Paul. He has released over a dozen albums and EPs featuring his unique blend of rock n' roll, modern rock, and Americana since 2001, most recently 2020's A Scientific Search. Rambling On, his personal blog and podcast covering music and sports, was launched in 2012. Erik was also Head Staff Writer for Minnesota culture websites Hometown Hustle and Curious North.

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