One of hip-hop’s best stories is one that’s been told time and again: how, in 1984, a young Jewish kid from Long Island named Rick Rubin, together with Russell Simmons, started one of the most important record labels in rap history out of his NYU dorm room. Now, to mark Def Jam’s 30th anniversary, Rolling Stone has revisited the label’s earliest days in Rick Was Here, a new documentary that takes Rubin back to that same Weinstein dorm in Greenwich Village for the first time in three decades.
In interviews with Rubin, Simmons, the Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock, and others—plus nicely done animation (à la PBS’ Blank on Blank series)—we hear a number of memorable anecdotes from the label’s formation. Rubin’s roommate-turned-intern explains, “I needed the credits,” and we hear about the future-celebrity-packed parties at their dorm.
It’s nothing serious rap fans haven’t heard before, but to see Rubin give a tour of the residence hall where it all began—even pointing out where Def Jam’s distribution center once stood—is really something.