Where’s the scene?

In the first full episode of the Broken Record podcast, Malcolm Gladwell chats to Rick Rubin about the start of his journey to becoming a record producer.

I’m piecing together fragments here – iffy chronology:

  • He loved music. Punk and hardcore on the radio. Listening to hip-hop (tapes of Mister Magic’s Rap Attack – ‘the only place that hip-hop was on the radio’) with friends at school.
  • Starts a band, ‘The Pricks’ – at some point plays punk club CBGBs, where he manufactures a brawl to get the band thrown off stage.
  • Goes to hip-hop clubs on his own – often the only white guy in the audience. ‘I didn’t really think about it – I went for the music, and while sometimes I went places where I felt like, when I would walk in, I would feel like, “Hmm, I wonder if I belong here,” but then as soon as the music would start, my relationship to the music and the rest of the audience’s relationship to the music was the same, so I felt camaraderie in terms of musical taste and fandom.” 
  • Hangs out at ‘a little teeny punk rock record store called Rat Cage records’ – where he picks up with the Beastie Boys. I’m even sure if they were the Beastie Boys yet. ‘Rat cage… actually put out the first Beastie Boys – maybe the first two – Beastie Boys singles.’
  • Tours as DJ with the Beastie Boys on Madonna’s first tour (!) – ‘The Beasties were kind of rowdy and dirty, and Madonna’s audience were 14 year old girls… not so many Beastie fans – we didn’t even have an album out.’ He’s 21 – still at New York University. Drops out of the tour with an ear infection. Mike D of the Beasties was still at high school.
  • Starts Def Jam Recordings our of his dormitory in his fourth year at NYU – partly because he wasn’t happy with how hip-hop was being recorded.  ‘Just from the fan’s point of view of wanting records that sounded like I heard at the club, I started making them.’ Records License to Ill, the Beasties’ first full album.
  • There are other bands, clubs, more cross-overs with Punk and hip-hop… he’s busy. ‘I didn’t take any classes before three in the afternoon, because I knew I wouldn’t wake up.’
  • Goes on to become one of the most influential – the most influential? – music producers of his generation. Walk This Way with Aerosmith and Run DMC (which arguably brought hip-hop truly into the mainstream) was just the start.

Rap Up

  • He loved this thing
  • He found the scene, became part of it, started to make it. Punk and hip-hop shared a big DIY ethos.
  • He put in the hours – built a body of work
  • His work is for himself as well as for others in the scene
  • He – and the Beasties – are hybrids. Jewish boys with feet in the punk and hip-hop scenes. He credits this with a lot of his success in making rich music.

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