On January 10th 2023, one of the most influential producers in the history of recorded music will impart his wisdom via a hotly-anticipated book. ‘The Creative Act: a Way of Being’ is the debut written work from Rick Rubin, the “guru” behind such diverse cultural touchstones as Run-DMC and Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Under The Bridge’, and Adele’s debut album ’21’.

A nine-time Grammy award-winner renowned for his ability to push artists to unlock their creative potential, Rubin is notorious for his unorthodox methods. Frequently referring to himself as a “reducer” rather than a producer, he famously neither plays an instrument nor even controls a mixing desk.

Rubin made a name for himself in the ‘80s as the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, considered one of the most influential organisations in the mainstream breakthrough of hip hop. For one of his first production credits, LL Cool J’s ‘I Need a Beat’, Rubin successfully shifted 120,000 physical units — paving the way for collaborations with emerging stars like Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. At the same time, he also began working with some of the era’s great noisemakers — like Slayer and Misfits’ singer Danzig — pioneering a crossover between punk, rap and heavy metal that would become even more pronounced in the decades that followed.

In the ‘90s, Rubin diversified his portfolio by partnering with singers, comedians, and myriad alternative rock bands while famously spearheading the revival of country legend Johnny Cash in a series of comeback records. After the turn of the century, credits with Jay-Z, Rage Against the Machine and Justin Timberlake further cemented his legacy, while James Blake, The Strokes and Ed Sheeran are among the most recent stars to partner with the producer.

In celebration of Rubin’s incredible career, which has shaped popular and alternative music for nearly four decades, we’ve curated a new mix that explores the world’s greatest and most influential producers – starting with a trilogy of works that cemented his reputation in the ‘80s.

Thereafter, our list moves in pairs through a series of prestigious musical signatures. These include the space-age experimental pop pioneered by Joe Meek, and the “wall-of-sound” production of Phil Spector – exemplified by artists like The Tornados and The Ronettes. In ‘70s Jamaica, Lee “Scratch” Perry revolutionised reggae and dub music as Quincy Jones maximised funk, disco, R&B and pop in America. In Manchester, Martin Hannett shaped the sounds of Factory Records’ influential exports like Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays, before DJ Andrew Weatherall turned rock music on its head at the height of Britain’s dance music explosion in the early ‘90s.

Elsewhere, our mix nods to Steve Albini – who shaped punk and alternative rock, and J Dilla – who raised the artistic level of hip-hop production in the ‘90s. Influential female producers include Sylvia Robinson – who produced early hip-hop benchmarks by Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash, and Arca – whose futuristic sound launched FKA Twigs to stardom, while Marta Salogni is shaping a new wave of indie artists in the present day. The playlist closes with one of Rubin’s most exemplary career highlights: Johnny Cash’s moving cover of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’, released just months before the singer’s death in 2003.

Enjoy the music!

Further Reading