Recap: Rick Rubin & Russell Simmons at New York Public Library

Posted on: October 17th, 2011 at 10:19 am by

Friday evening at the New York Public Library in Bryant Park, downtown took midtown to school on the birth of modern-day hip-hop.  Producer-moguls Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons were in the house, and sat down with moderator Paul Holdengraber to discuss the history of venerable record label Def Jam.  The high-profile event, which attracted A-list music figureheads (e.g. Lou Reed, Lyor Cohen), was timed to coincide with the release of a new retrospective tome. Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label. That’s right, hip-hop is now repackaged for coffee table consumption.

This image has been archived or removed.

Strangely enough, the sold-out engagement kicked off with a spiritual exercise.  An immersion, whereby the audience was asked to close eyes and meditate for three minutes (or five).  The activity was not completely out of the ordinary, though, as the reclusive Rick Rubin is somewhat of a mystic guru. Thereafter, the conversation reached a point of fluidity and never looked back. It didn’t feel like an interview at all, but being a fly on the wall of a few people bullshitting about the old days.

This image has been archived or removed.

The candid reminiscing began with the hip-hop clubs in the early years.  Specifically the groundbreaking parties at Negril, which was located at 181 Second Avenue.  Rubin explained how this downtown hang first exposed him to the music, and became the springboard for his foray into the genre. Growth was organic, and eventually snowballed, leading to the rise of the Roxy.

This image has been archived or removed.

The conversation meandered through the history of the Def Jam artist roster, from Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys through Slick Rick and Public Enemy.  How the label was driven by a desire to release the niche music only heard in the downtown clubs.  An admittedly hip-hop-challenged Paul Holdengraber walked the producers through it all, resulting in some hilarious moments (i.e. the popularity of blow vs. cheeba) and awesome music trivia factoids.  For instance, Rick Rubin’s NYU dorm room (Def Jam HQ) was at 5 University Place, where a full PA system dominated his 9’x12′ space. Floor to ceiling. Or how Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic was at first just a scratch record.

This image has been archived or removed.

There were brief interludes throughout, in which music and video samples were broadcast.  For team Boogie, these multimedia moments were the absolute true highlight of the entire program. Simply watching Rubin and Simmons re-experience the beats they put to wax decades ago was fascinating.  The head-nodding, smirking, eye-closing, and blank stares. All of it. Ah, to be young.

Photo Gallery:

This gallery has been removed.

Recent Stories

At Belse, the New Vegan Brewery on the Bowery

Belse, the Texas-based vegan brewery and restaurant, is now in business on the Bowery. The Lone Star State transplant – officially, Belse Plant Cuisine – takes 11,000 square-feet at 265-267 Bowery, in what was previously the fleeting home of the Paulaner Brauhaus brewery. The renovated space features three sections – a restaurant, bar, and Garden […]

East Village Artist M. Henry Jones, Contemporary of Keith Haring, Dies

M. Henry Jones, a member of the East Village arts scene for over forty years, died last week (either June 16 or 17) at the age of 65. We’re told, though unconfirmed, the cause of death was a form of cancer. Jones was a neighborhood fixture for decades, in part, because of his storefront studio […]

Under the Floorboards at Long-Vacant East Houston Lot

Bereft of substantial activity in nearly two decades, the long-vacant parcel at 49 East Houston Street is in deterioration overdrive. An eagle-eyed tipster notes that the floorboards atop the existing foundation are now busted. Creating a pseudo entryway into the cellar level. Before its demise fourteen years ago, 49 East Houston had been a one-story […]

Developer Begins Demolition of Rutgers Street Playground for Temporary Parking Lot

Demolition work began this week on a Lower East Side park that is a focal point in the tension between the community and developers on the waterfront. The backhoes are out and job now underway at Rutgers Park, the small public space beside the Lands End II residential development. Removal of the playground began yesterday, including […]

The 3 Lower East Side Walk-ups that Sold for $35M

Earlier this month, we reported that SMA Equities, the Long Island real estate firm with controversial history on the Lower East Side, sold a portfolio of its area properties. SMA unloaded three tenement walk-ups to Daniel Fishman of GAIA Real Estate – 102 Norfolk Street, 177 Ludlow Street, and 99 Allen Street – for an […]