Childhood & Early Life
Frederick Jay Rubin was born on March 10, 1963, in Long Beach, New York, to Michael and Linda Rubin. His father was a shoe wholesaler, and his mother was a housewife. Theirs was a Jewish family. He had no siblings.
Rubin spent his early years at Lido Beach, New York. He attended the ‘Long Beach High School’ in New York. He learnt the basics of songwriting and playing the guitar from Steve Freeman, the director of the school’s audio-visual department. Rubin formed a garage band with his school friends, which led to the formation of a punk band, ‘The Pricks.’ The band played at the famous New York music spot ‘CBGB,’ but they were thrown out after getting into a fight with the audience.
Thereafter, Rubin formed a group, ‘Hose,’ and toured the country, especially through the Midwest and California. With the help of the school’s four-track recorder, he formed his own recording company.
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Music is his prime passion. Since the beginning of his career, he has been both a record company owner and a producer. In 1982, he founded his record company, ‘Def Jam Records,’ in his ‘New York University’ dormitory. He released the first single of his group, ‘Hose,’ through this label. The band also played with other bands such as ‘Circle Jerks,’ ‘Minor Threat,’ and ‘Butthole Surfers.’
In 1984, ‘Hose’ disbanded, as Rubin developed an interest in hip-hop music. Collaborating with DJ Jazzy Jay of the hip-hop awareness group ‘Universal Zulu Nation’ helped Rubin observe the details of hip-hop production closely. Together, they produced ‘It’s Yours’ (1983) for rapper T La Rock.
Through Jazzy Jay, Rubin met concert promoter and manager Russell Simmons. Together, Rubin and Simmons officially launched the label ‘Def Jam Records’ in 1984. Rubin was still studying at the ‘New York University’ at that time.
His label’s first release was ‘I Need a Beat’ by LL Cool J. in 1984. Rubin scouted areas such as Brooklyn, Harlem, Queens, and Long Island in search of rap and hip-hop artistes. ‘Def Jam Records’ soon signed with ‘Public Enemy’ and the ‘Beastie Boys.’ This resulted in a successful EP by the ‘Beastie Boys’ in 1985.
On a friend’s (Sue Cummings, editor at ‘Spin’ magazine) suggestion, Rubin brought together ‘Run-DMC’ and ‘Aerosmith’ to collaborate on ‘Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’ (1986). This was the first time rap–rock became part of mainstream music, and this helped resurrect ‘Aerosmith’s career.
In 1986, Rubin worked for the first time with a metal band when he produced ‘Reign in Blood’ for ‘Slayer.’ In 1987, Rubin worked on ‘Electric,’ the significant third album of the British rock band ‘The Cult.’
Rubin produced the soundtrack of the movie ‘Less Than Zero.’ He was also the music supervisor for the film. In 1988, he co-authored and directed ‘Tougher Than Leather,’ which was the second movie of ‘Run-DMC.’ Later in the same year, he had differences with the president of ‘Def Jam Records,’ Lyor Cohen. Rubin quit the company soon after. He then went to California and established ‘Def American Records.’
Rubin then worked with many rock and heavy metal bands, such as ‘The Four Horsemen,’ ‘Wolfsbane,’ and ‘Danzig’ among others. While working with the heavy metal bands, he also continued his association with ‘Run-DMC,’ ‘Public Enemy,’ and LL Cool J.
In 1993, when Rubin found out that the word “def” had been included in the standard dictionary, he conducted a real funeral for the word “def.” According to him, when “…'def' went from street lingo to mainstream, it defeated its purpose.” He soon changed the name of his label from ‘Def American Records’ to ‘American Recordings.’
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The first production of ‘American Recordings’ was Johnny Cash’s ‘American Recordings,’ which became a commercial success. This was followed by five more albums by Cash, which helped save his sinking career.
From 1991 to 2011, Rubin produced six studio albums with the ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers.’ Their debut album, ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ (1991) with ‘Warner Bros.,’ was a major success of the 1990s. These six albums set many records, aced the ‘Billboard Alternative Songs’ chart, and earned a number of ‘Grammy’ nominations and awards. Three of these albums were featured on the ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time’ list released by ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. After a 24-year fruitful working collaboration, the band ended their association with Rubin in 2014.
Over the years, Rubin has produced many successful albums, such as ‘Wandering Spirit’ (1993) by Mick Jagger, ‘Wildflowers’ (1994) by Tom Petty, ‘Sutras’ (1996) by Donovan, two albums by Shakira in 2005, and ‘Death Magnetic’ (2008) by Metallica. He produced Jay Z’s track ‘99 Problems’ and appeared in its music video.
Rubin was named co-head of ‘Columbia Records’ in May, 2007. In the same year, he produced the album ‘Minutes to Midnight’ by ‘Linkin Park’ and then produced their next two albums in 2010 and 2012. He won several ‘Grammy Awards’ for his work with artistes such as the ‘Dixie Chicks,’ ‘U2,’ ‘Green Day,’ ‘Metallica,’ Neil Diamond, Jakob Dylan, ‘Weezer,’ and ‘Ours.’
In 2012, he quit ‘Columbia Records’ and went back to ‘American Recordings,’ in collaboration with ‘Republic Records.’ The new venture released albums by ‘ZZ Top’ and ‘The Avett Brothers.’
Awards & Achievements
Rubin’s album ‘Unchained’ won him his first ‘Grammy Award’ in 1998, in the category of the ‘Best Country Album.’ He was nominated for the ‘Grammy’ for the ‘Producer of the Year, Non-Classical’ in both 2000 and 2003. Over the years, he has received various other nominations.
The year 2007 saw him win multiple ‘Grammies.’ That year, he won the ‘Grammy’ for the ‘Record of the Year’ for the album ‘Not Ready to Make Nice,’ the ‘Grammies’ for the ‘Best Country Album’ and the ‘Album of the Year’ for ‘Taking the Long Way,’ and the ‘Grammy’ for the ‘Best Rock Album’ for the album ‘Stadium Arcadium.’
The same year, he earned another ‘Grammy’ for the ‘Producer of the Year, Non-Classical’ for his work on the albums of the artistes ‘U2,’ ‘Green Day,’ Michael Kranz, and the ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’ among others. He won the same award again in 2009, for his work with ‘Metallica,’ ‘Weezer, Neil Diamond, and ‘Ours’ among others. In 2012, he was awarded the ‘Grammy’ for the ‘Album of the Year’ for producing four tracks for Adele’s ’21,’ which became one of the highest-selling albums of this millennium.