Album: Licensed to Ill
Label: Def Jam
Producer: Rick Rubin

“Girls,” from the Beastie Boys album Licensed To Ill, comes up a lot when I talk to folks about Rick Rubin's production. Which is surprising in a sense because there's almost nothing to the song save a plunky toy piano-esque synth figure and an oom-pah-pah drum beat. Geoffrey Weiss — who shepherded American Recordings' product through the Warner system before Rick's departure, and is now a Senior VP of A&R at Hollywood Records — puts it best: “Because it's so spare and empty and shouldn't work at all, and sounded amazing when it was new, and sounds classic now.”

 

It's so spare and empty and shouldn't work at all, and sounded amazing when it was new, and sounds classic now.

 

“Girls” is indicative of Rubin, who initially portrayed his role as “reducer,” not “producer.” 1980s music had a lot of needless flourishes and additives. Rubin's mission was to boil off excess and serve the essence. Rick is often portrayed as a producer who does almost nothing to the music he touches. Which isn't to say that he does nothing. The opposite, in fact, is true. Like a great chef, he chooses the best ingredients and lets them speak for themselves. The genius is in the selection and arrangement of those ingredients.

In the case of “Girls,” it's one part drums, one part piano, and four parts asshole.