#57 – Rick Rubin, legendary music producer: collaborating with sensitive psyche of greatest living musicians, and his personal story of weight loss and spiritual quest

"I came alive through that process. . .I was already alive in the studio, but maybe that was the only place I was alive before. But through exercise, I became alive more in life." — Rick Rubin on how exercise changed his life

Read Time 29 minutes

In this episode, Rick Rubin, legendary music producer and founder of Def Jam Records and American Recordings, discusses his early foray into music production which started as a hobby as a teenager and ultimately turned into a Grammy award-winning career that produced revolutionary changes in the music industry. Rick has worked with the likes of the Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Johnny Cash, just to name a small fraction. Rick talks about the pain and suffering that sometimes drives music and the cycle of drug addiction and how he has been able to help artists through those struggles to make space for their creative genius. We also get into Rick’s own personal health journey including his battle with depression, his struggle with obesity, and ultimately his extraordinary transformation. Finally, Rick shares a really significant health scare which required emergency heart surgery, and how that experience has impacted him.


We discuss:

  • Early career, and the birth of hip hop [7:15];
  • Early success of Def Jam Recordings, and working with LL Cool J [13:15];
  • Revolutionary changes in music: LL Cool J, Beastie Boys, and Run DMC [19:30];
  • Partnership with Columbia Records, and leaving Def Jam [26:45];
  • The success of Licensed to Ill: how it took off, and how it changed things [36:00];
  • American Recordings: Rick’s transition to rock and roll [39:15];
  • Working with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the poetic nature of music [45:45];
  • Rick’s favorite music that he did NOT produce [53:00];
  • Prevalence of drug use and emotional pain in musicians: Rick’s experience with helping artists through their struggles [57:20];
  • NYC vs. LA hip hop [1:05:30];
  • Rick’s battle with depression [1:10:00];
  • Coping with the death of artists that Rick worked with [1:22:00];
  • Working with Johnny Cash [1:26:45];
  • Working with Rage Against the Machine [1:34:30];
  • The digital age of music: Have we lost something? [1:37:45];
  • Rick’s health journey and battle with obesity [1:42:45];
  • Radical weight loss: How Rick was finally able to shed the weight [2:00:15];
  • Total transformation: Exercise and training with Laird Hamilton [2:11:00];
  • Emergency surgery: Rick’s frightening heart condition [2:25:30];
  • Methylene blue and exogenous ketones: Are they neuroprotective? [2:46:15];
  • The most profound thing Rick learned about himself from his heart condition and major surgery? [2:52:30];
  • What life lessons does Rick wish to impart on his son? [2:57:30]; and
  • More.


Early career, and the birth of hip hop [7:15]

Note: Peter interviewed Rick at the famous studio (Shangri La Studio) built for The Band and Bob Dylan in the 1970s

Figure 1. Peter and Rick outside the Shangri La Studio.

How long does it take for a band to record an album?

  • Could be a couple weeks, could be a couple years

Where did Rick grow up and what was his experience with music?

  • Grew up in Long Island Beach, Long Island
  • Always loved music
  • Attended NYU as a philosophy major, then switched to film and television after 2 years
  • In a punk rock band, first experience with recording

When did he first start producing music?

  • Produced some very early hip hop
  • Hip hop started as a small underground form of music in the mid-80s
  • To find it you’d have to go to record stores and look for 12 inch vinyl singles
  • The records were more, they were less like hip hop records and more like other kinds of records musically other than they may have somebody rapping them. But musically it could have been an R&B record.

Hip hop in the club

  • The hip hop in the club scene was a much better energy than what was on the 12 inch vinyl singles
  • In NY, only place to hear hip hop was at a reggae club called Club Negril on Second Avenue

First hip hop hits

  • Run DMC (well-known in early-80s in NYC, but not yet nationwide)
  • First album produced by Larry Smith and Russell Simmons
  • There were things on that album that were really revolutionary… Run DMC’s first record had a couple of glimpses of what was to come.”

Early success of Def Jam Recordings, and working with LL Cool J [13:15]

Def Jam

  • Def Jam was founded by Rick and he brought on Russell Simmons as his partner
  • Rick was a “kid in college” and Russell was already a “big fish in a small pond”

LL Cool J

  • From Hollis, Queens
  • Ad-Rock (from the Beastie Boys) brought a demo by LL Cool J to Def Jam
  • What was it about LL that struck you as distinctive at the time?

{end of show notes preview…}

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Rick Rubin

Rick is an American record producer and former co-president of Columbia Records. Along with Russell Simmons, he is the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings and also established American Recordings. With the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Geto Boys, and Run-DMC, Rubin helped popularize hip hop music.

Rubin has also worked with artists such as AC/DC, Adele, Aerosmith, At The Drive-In, Audioslave, Black Sabbath, Coheed And Cambria, Damien Rice, Danzig, Dixie Chicks, Ed Sheeran, Eminem, Frank Ocean, Gogol Bordello, Jakob Dylan, Jay Z, Jake Bugg, James Blake, Joe Strummer, Johnny Cash, Jovanotti, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Kid Rock, Lady Gaga, Lana Del Rey, Linkin Park, Melanie C, Metallica, Mick Jagger, Neil Diamond, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Shakira, Sheryl Crow, Slayer, Slipknot, System of a Down, The Avett Brothers, The Black Crowes, The Cult, The Four Horsemen, The Mars Volta, The Smashing Pumpkins, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Trouble, Type O Negative, Weezer, Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys and ZZ Top.

In 2007, MTV called him “the most important producer of the last 20 years”,[3] and the same year Rubin appeared on Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.


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