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Rick Rubin Reflects On His Contributions To 10 Iconic Hip-Hop Albums


LL Cool J—Radio (1985) 

“At the time, it was the beginning of Def Jam, and the rap records that you could buy didn’t really sound like hip-hop records. Even though there were people rapping on them, they sounded more like R&B and club records with people rapping on them, whereas if you went to a hip-hop party the DJs would be cutting up breaks—it would be very different with the DJ and MC as opposed to the records you could buy on Sugar Hill, which was just bands playing music with a guy rapping.

“So, with LL’s record, it was kind of the prototype of being a true hip-hop album, stripped down to drum machines, scratching, vocals and maybe a piano or a couple other elements that were used as architectural elements in this minimal landscape. It was really about getting as close to the rawness of what hip-hop really felt like at a time when records didn’t really sound like that yet.

“We just tried to make records that we loved. We might make a record then bring it to Danceteria that night and play it, just to get a point of reference of what it sounded like over a big system. Musically there wasn’t really [any cultural references] other than going out to a club and feeling the energy of the DJ cutting up break beats. The minimalism of that, and how important the DJ was in hip-hop culture was another thing.

“So many of the MCs that I’ve come in contact with since making that record…I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t reference LL Cool J as one of the people who influenced them as an MC.”

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