Producer: Rick Rubin
Album: Radio
Label: Def Jam

"I Need a Beat" wasn't just LL Cool J's debut; it was Def Jam's, too. In the wake of the success of T La Rock's "It's Yours," Rick Rubin's dorm room was inundated with demo tapes, and among them was LL's. After the Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz discovered LL among the pile, Rubin called him up and invited him over. "I Need A Beat" was recorded soon after.

Minimal and driven entirely by a drum machine, the song epitomized the radical new aesthetic Rubin and Russell Simmons had pioneered, emphasizing the spirit of live hip-hop, rather than worrying about its disco source material. But with Run-D.M.C., Rubin and Russell had scored a deal with Profile Records; determined to have more control over the process, the two budding entrepreneurs released the record under the name Def Jam. It quickly sold 100,000 copies, and history was made. —David Drake