Rick Rubin: Def Jam founder and producer announces debut book

The Creative Act: A Way of Being will be ‘a book about what to do make a great work of art’ and ‘a book about how to be’

Rick Rubin, founder of Def Jam Records and the most highly regarded music producer of his time, has announced his first book.

The Creative Act: A Way of Being is a non-fiction work about creativity. “I set out to write a book about what to do to make a great work of art,” said Rubin in a statement. “Instead, it revealed itself to be a book on how to be.”

UK publisher Canongate describes The Creative Act as Rubin’s distillation of “the principles of creativity for creators of all kinds, including people in their everyday lives” and said it gives “revelatory insight into the mysterious process of making stuff great”.

Given Rubin’s decades-long and undimmed creative prowess – and going by the proliferation of inspirational Rubin quotes shared online – his advice carries significant weight.

He founded Def Jam Records as a teenager, which would become one of the most influential labels of all time after he joined forces with Russell Simmons in the mid 80s and released music by the likes of LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Slayer and Public Enemy.

That decade, Rubin worked as a producer for the stars of the nascent New York City rap scene as well as for heavy rock acts, and often brought the once-disparate genres together to history-changing effect. In 1986 alone, he produced Run-DMC’s Raising Hell, Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill and Original Concept’s Can You Feel It.

Left to right, Rick Rubin and Tom Petty during the recording of Petty’s album Wildflowers, 1993.
Left to right, Rick Rubin and Tom Petty during the recording of Petty’s album Wildflowers, 1993. Photograph: Robert Sebree/Reuters

“The punk rock and hip-hop trajectories were somewhat similar: both were being made by young people without virtuoso skill, and both were about ideas more than musicianship,” Rubin told the Guardian last year. “They were edgy and frowned upon by anyone who wasn’t part of the respective scenes.”

By the 90s, the Rubin touch spread beyond his already broad church. He worked frequently with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as Mick Jagger, Tom Petty and the Spice Girls’ Mel C, and began a collaboration with Johnny Cash that would revive the ageing country star’s career and continue until his death in 2003.

With every decade, Rubin’s influence reached further: to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Limp Bizkit and the Chicks in the 2000s, to Adele, Lana Del Rey and Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, in the 2010s.

“I really like the challenge of working with different kinds of music,” he told Interview magazine in 2010. “I feel like my role is really like a coach, so I feel like I can do my job for different kinds of music that may not necessarily be what I listen to.”

In a celebration of the producer’s career published in 2020, the Ringer critic Rob Harvilla described Rubin, who often appears to approach production as a kind of existential state, as “a man with nothing but time, a slovenly mystic who regards time [and producing] as a construct.

“Studio footage of this person doing his thing is endlessly rewarding, especially when the thing he is doing is an endless and somehow profound amount of nothing.”

From 2007 to 2013, Rubin was co-head of Columbia Records, overseeing its transition into the digital era. He has won nine Grammy awards, encompassing his work with Cash, the Chicks, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele and the Strokes, as well as in recognition of his production generally.

Last year, he interviewed Paul McCartney for the six-part Hulu mini series McCartney 3, 2, 1.

Def Jam recently launched a British imprint, 0207 Def Jam. “I’ve always been hopeful that the UK would breed a British invasion in America for hip-hop, in the way it did with the Beatles and Merseybeat,” Rubin said. “Maybe this can set the stage for that dream to come true.”

The Creative Act will be published in early 2023.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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