Quick: what do the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, Sheryl Crow, Donovan, Jay-Z, Tom Petty, System of A Down, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Diamond, Ozzy Osbourne, Weezer, Slayer, Johnny Cash, Public Enemy, Kula Shaker, and Danzig have in common?
Not a whole heckuva lot it would seem on the surface; one would assume that a mix tape of such artists would make for a singularly bumpy listening experience.
Yet there is a common thread among those artists that manifests itself in sonic ways that actually does render such a mix less bumpy than you'd expect: they were all produced by Rick Rubin, whose contributions to rock have been every bit as important as his contributions to rap and hip-hop. At it for over twenty years now, the 42-year-old Rubin has already amassed a resume that can stand among the most elite producers in rock; as a label owner, he helped launch some of music's most vital careers, as well as revitalizing some key veteran musicians whose careers had sagged. He can also pretty much take credit for inventing the rap/metal genre, one of the most unlikely music hybrids in history, and a successful and influential one in the 1990's.
Frederick Jay Rubin was born on Long Island NY in 1963 and launched the Def Jam label in 1984. He was attending college at the time; he and partner Russell Simmons ran the fledgling label from their dorm room at NYU. In 1984, rap was only just beginning to emerge on the national scene; five years had passed since Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow had come up with the very first rap records of all. MTV was only just beginning to play Run-DMC; most rap was still confined to clubs and tapes. While it had been growing rapidly since its 1979 appearance, it had yet to reach suburbia in any real numbers.
Def Jam's first release was a single by T La Rock and Jazzy Jay called "It's Yours", which was distributed by Partytime/Streetwise. Within a year, Def Jam had a distribution deal with Columbia records, a major label, and Rubin, at 22, was in position to leave his mark on the world.