They were just a bunch of high school kids cutting class. He was the inexplicably connected college kid with a sound system, two turntables, and a vinyl library* in his dorm room where they would all hang out. When they started to make music as Beastie Boys, they remembered Rick Rubin making them feel like they could do anything. He was just so confident. It was empowering to have somebody encouraging them to go farther and farther over-the-top.
In a Broken Record interview, Ad-Rock and Mike D asked him where that confidence came from? Rubin couldn’t answer beyond explaining that he knew what he wanted things to feel like and he believed they could make it happen. I’ll step in to propose a theory here. I think it was Rick Rubin’s confidence, as the cool and connected older kid, that gave the Beasties permission to go out and be rap stars. He was confident that if they could all make each other laugh, that feeling could be captured and scaled, and maybe it would make others feel that way too.
This is the Rick Rubin superpower. He hears things and notices how he feels, and then figures out how to capture and share that feeling with others. It takes a lot of bravery to get on stage. It takes a lot of smarts to draw intelligence from a scene or marketplace. It takes an ear to hear what’s resonating. Most importantly, it takes a brazen confidence to help shape a culture by contributing to its body of work.
Rick Rubin gave the Beastie Boys (and so many others) the permission and confidence to get their work out and into the world. They weren’t aiming for worldwide fame when they made those first songs. We don’t have to aim for it either, we can still steal the template. Figure out where you have confidence. Share that confidence via supporting others. Give them permission to pursue what already works, but at a larger scale. If our north star is expanding and serving the cultures we care about, we can make lasting, positive contributions.
*and a bubble machine. Sort of. By extension at least.