The Jew who created the modern Hip Hop song


The man, the myth, and the beard can’t be mistaken. The many photographs of Rick Rubin present a guru like figure with long flowing hair and a big gruff beard to match. Even in his early days as the founder of Def Jam Recordings Rick Rubin sported the long hair heavy metal prowess. This was also matched with his wide spectrum of musical tastes as he heard the many new sounds coming out of New York City in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Like the members of what would become the Beastie Boys Rubin dipped into both worlds of the NYC club scene. He enjoyed the heavy rock sounds along with the Hip Hop artists who were performing as well. We should not forget that at the same time as Hip Hop’s genesis Punk music was also being created in the disheveled Lower East Side neighborhood in lower Manhattan. Punk, much like Hip Hop, was a do-it-yourself idea where the talent was lacking and the music blared with little pretensions. This wet his appetite and made him far more interested in participating in the genre that he is so well known for. However, Rick Rubin was not only an integral player by creating Def Jam and producing for the likes of the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Slayer, he also created the modern format of the Hip Hop song. When he produced the heavy hitting track “It’s Yours” in 1983 with Jazzy Jay and T La Rock he revolutionized rap music.

Just to give a quick overview of the man would be disingenuous due to his expansive history. Still the man, officially named Frederick Jay “Rick” Rubin, has an interesting story that also strings along the past Jewish players in the realm of American popular music. Rubin was born on the shores of Long Island and his parents were supportive, as his father Mickey helped him financially through his business ventures. They believed in their son’s talent and drive, yet the hair, brutish persona, and what some might consider sexist and racist humor is another aspect to the man. Regardless of that he managed to build on these ideas while enjoying himself the entire time. By listening in his New York University dorm room to the many lush licks laid down by heavy metal groups like AC/DC, Black Sabbath and the almighty Led Zeppelin gave him ideas. He would be the first to incorporate these sounds into Hip Hop music while keeping the authentic cutting and scratching on top. Also, using the Punk credo and sensibility of self determination made him steadfast in his work. When you hear a Rick Rubin track you hear the unfiltered no nonsense approach of a true master.

After promoting parties through his dorm room, and creating the skeletal ideas which would become Def Jam, he became more versatile. By hanging out in the public spheres that most consider  black he managed to forge important bonds and friendships. The white kids were mostly not interested in these new sounds playing it safe by sticking to the new popular fads like Disco slop. Through these connections he met Jazzy Jay who DJ’d for the legendary Afrika Bambaata, and T La Rock who’s brother was part of the Hip Hop super group the Treacherous Three. The song “It’s Yours” is very simple, but its impact is important in the history of Hip Hop music. Like past Jewish producers, such as Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, Rubin wanted the sound to be big and bombastic to the listeners ears. In his book, The Big Payback: The HIstory of the Business of Hip- Hop, Dan Charnas recounts the experience in fine detail by writing that, “Rubin wanted to conjure something that he hadn’t yet heard in a rap record – parity between the DJ and MC, in the same way that rock records might feature the singer and guitarist equally.” This DJ and MC connection was somewhat severed when Hip Hop started being recorded and pressed to wax records. The earliest Hip Hop records used house bands that would relinquish the role of the DJ. The Dj would become invisible to the ears as the rappers were the only real sound you heard along with the band. The original party aspect of the pre-recorded Hip Hop scene had this quality as the DJ spun and the MC worked off of the DJ’s music. Rubin emphasized the role of the DJ as we can hear his cutting on the track along with the rhymes. You can hear Jazzy Jay cut with two turntables as he works off T La Rock’s rhymes. Rubin also made sure that the record was labeled as made by both Jazzy Jay and T La Rock, giving them equal billing. Another important aspect is Rubin’s control over the song by not allowing it to keep going in time. Clocking in at around four minutes this song was much shorter than the past few years’ releases. With few exceptions, like Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s grand opus “The Message,” most of these songs were long like the full length version of “Rapper’s Delight,” “Supperappin,'” and “Planet Rock.” These records, although highly influential and moving, were put together rather sloppily and in an amateurish fashion. The standard format would be the beat playing as the group mimicked the party aspect and each rapper would shine and rap his or her verses. This would keep going on and on until the song would fade out, but some songs would take from ten to fifteen minutes to listen to. Rubin formatted the Hip Hop song to the structure of rock singles. This was revolutionary as it would help usher in the new era of shorter and catchier Hip Hop songs. Other acts at the time such as Run-DMC brought the grip from the streets to the record. Rick Rubin brought the rock and roll structure in order to make it more accessible to the wider white audiences. This would also help bring it to the radio format with short singles that were playable due to their shorter forms. This record was also liked by Rubin’s future co-owner and label partner Russell Simmons. As they say the rest of the story is history. The song revolutionized Hip Hop music and forever changed its marketability. Rick Rubin opened the door and of course he is part of the long string of Jews pushing the envelope in many ways.

Shabbat Shalom

Rubin in the early days with the Beastie Boys:

And a link to the song “It’s Yours”

#rick rubin #Hip Hop #It’s Yours by Jazzy Jay and T La Rock #Dan Charnas #Beastie Boys #Def Jam Recordings


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