What can you tell me about Rick Rubin, the eccentric genius behind Johnny Cash’s last records?
—Clay S., North Dakota
Rubin, 41, is head of California-based American Recordings and admits to being a vegetarian who studies Eastern mysticism and follows wrestling. He was born on Long Island, N.Y., and grew up listening to the Beatles, an experience he says taught him everything he knows about music. In 1984, while attending New York University, he co-founded Def Jam, a rock and rap label which boasted the Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C. and the Black Crowes. By the time Cash hooked up with him in 1994, Rubin was known as one of the major figures of hip-hop, rap, and metal. Cash, who died last year, seemed an odd fit in the roster, but Rubin approached him as a fan. “The goal was always to create a safe environment to work in where Johnny would feel comfortable being vulnerable,” Rubin explains. “It was being able to see into that personal side that makes the albums so beautiful.” Cash’s final sessions yielded about 50 songs, still to be released.