Label: Def Jam/Columbia
Producer: Rick Rubin, LL Cool J
The signature record from the first album that Rick Rubin ever produced, LL Cool J's “Rock The Bells” remains the ultimate representation of what Rubin brought to the music world that didn't exist before him.
Why “Rock The Bells”? Because you can name that producer from the very first jagged guitar chord. It's the subconscious memory of the first time you heard this chord that Jay-Z's “99 Problems” tries to evoke, the sound that makes us hear it and know, instantly, that Rick Rubin produced it.
That one chord is a great example of Rubin's thought form: the desire to surprise you with a sudden contradiction.
This DJ here? He's the new guitar god. This music here? This is the new rock and roll. And we didn't have to lighten the beat or play a guitar to do it. 'Rock The Bells' was the angry death knell of the old musical order, a call to arms from Rubin's new label, Def Jam.
That ugly guitar chord? What's that doing there? That record being scratched? That's not supposed to happen!
The song comprises his entire high-low production ethos. Lots of loudness punctuated by brief, stark moments of silence. Insults delivered from the mouth of a baby-faced cherub. The infantile suffused with an unwitting political message:
This DJ here? He's the new guitar god. This music here? This is the new rock and roll. And we didn't have to lighten the beat or play a fucking guitar to do it. “Rock The Bells” was the angry death knell of the old musical order, a call to arms from Rubin's new label, Def Jam. And you hated Michael and Prince all the way ever since.
It changed the world. Think not? Remember this year's Grammy Awards? LL Cool J, the 16-year-old kid discovered by Rubin, now the host of the entire show. And at the podium, accepting the award for Record of The Year? Adele, who thanked Rubin for showing her the meaning of “quality control” while Rubin's first artistic progeny looked on, smiling.
Adele, the singer, might not have made it to that stage without the rapper standing beside her. Ain't that a bitch? Rick Rubin may belong to the world now. But before he did, he belonged to hip-hop.
And this, for all y'all that don't know the time, is Rubin's finest work. A completely original musical thought.