In an interview with XXLMag.com, Rubin reflected on a number of Hip Hop albums in his production discography, many of them going back to Def Jam’s early days.
One album that stood out was Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, in that Rubin claims he was more removed from the project than others.
“I played more of an advisory role with Public Enemy,” he explained. “I really trusted them to make the music that they wanted to make, and the way The Bomb Squad worked with them…they created their whole own world of music. They would always ask me to come to the studio and I would check in on things and I’d make suggestions and stuff, but for the most part, the closer it was to [Chuck D’s] vision, the better.”
Rubin heaped praise onto Chuck D in particular, whose distinctive style and subject matter separated him from other emcees at the time. “[Chuck] didn’t really sound like anyone else. He had authority in his voice, and maybe some anger that not many emcees had at that time. He seemed more literate, and more angry, and it was a very interesting combination at a time when there were not many great Hip Hop artists. Even though he wasn’t making records when I met him, I could tell he was a special one and he needed to be heard. I think Chuck’s always had a great point of view and interesting things to say, which kind of separated him from all the other emcees.”
Rick drew comparisons between It Takes a Nation and the group’s debut, Yo! Bum Rush the Show. “They really stepped up [with Nation], but with that said, I really loved their first album too. I loved their first album. But there’s a reference on the second album where Chuck says, ‘Last time you played the music, this time you play the lyrics.’ What he’s talking about is that when the first Public Enemy album came out, on the mix shows—which was the only place that played Hip Hop in those days—they would only play the instrumental versions of the songs. They wouldn’t play Chuck, because it was too different.”
Ultimately, Rubin explained that Nation put PE on the map. “At the time Public Enemy came out, they were the least successful group on Def Jam, and it wasn’t until the second album when people started accepting him and got used to it. It was just so radical at first that when people heard it, they didn’t want that. Nation was important in that Public Enemy was the first group to really talk about serious political stuff, so that’s an exciting and important thing.”
Throughout his career, Rick Rubin contributed to early projects by LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, Run-DMC, The Geto Boys, and more.