Friday, July 14, 2006
The course of history can sometimes turn on seemingly small events. Naturally we don't know that they are happening at the time, and we can only speculate on them once they have occurred. Some see them as watershed moments and others look upon them as small additions to a greater unfolding of life that would have happened with or with out them. In my following postulate I contend that with out one man's seemingly inconsequential actions the world today would be very different.
And So I ask: What would the world be like if Rick Rubin had never heard punk rock and Rap while attending film school at NYU?
For starters there are whole genres of music that would have never found their voice, or more importantly, their larger audience. When Rubin first became interested in Rap music in the early 80's, it was a small phenomenon confined to big cities, and primarily to the black community. Rubin started pecking around the clubs and asking questions about the young genre, and before long he was running Raps foremost record label, along with Russell Simmons, out of his dorm room. This alone isn't what put rap over the top, for, at this point the audience was still small and limited. The big moment came in the mid 80's when Def Jam and Rubin put out the big three of Rap records. "Radio" by LL Cool J, "Licensed to Ill" by the Beastie Boys and "Raising Hell" by Run D.M.C. When these records hit the market in 1985 and '86 the commercial viability of Rap was secured and the careers of those artists were ensured.
When those albums hit the street two of Rubin's other gifts to music were realized. The first was the reinvigoration of the careers of artists who's careers were waning. The second was the fusion of different types of music through cameo appearances and duets, and the covering of songs by bands of opposing genres. By this time Rubin had started to take notice of music of all types, and used his simotanious recording sessions with Slayer and the Beasties to bring the two together for "No Sleep till Brooklyn." Rap's future and the re-emergence of Aerosmith were both secured with the duet of "Walk This Way" featured on Run D.M.C's Raising Hell record, a masterstroke even by Rubin's standards. White kids all over America began to pick up new rap records and old Aerosmith albums.
The bending of expectations and the merging of various types of music continue on as a Rubin staple even to this day. So too does the rescue of careers in decline, with names like Johnny Cash, The Dixie Chicks, Weezer already on the list and varied acts like Metallica, Courtney Love and Justin Timberlake all ready to join it. Where would Cash have ended his career and life with out his Rubinized cover of NIN's Hurt? Would the Dixie Chicks have emerged as a seller on the pop charts with out Rubin? And what do the upcoming Rubin produced releases of Metallica, Love and Timberlake have what it takes to make those names relevant again? If the track record has anything to say about it then the answer is most likely yet.
So where would we be? If Rubin had gone on to make shitty art house movies, like most NYU film school grads do, on his way to an office job in a stuido. There would be an underground legend in Queens called LL Cool J, but while he worked his job at UPS he would just be known as Todd Smith. VH1 would be doing a "Where are they now" show on Aerosmith, wondering how it all went wrong for the 70's icons. Anthony and Flea would have joined up with other bands after the general public ingnored another Chili Peppers record. Hard rock and Nu Metal would be a non factor on the charts today, and MTV would still be showing videos. Or so I think. Thanks Rick, thats some good work out of you.