American Recordings (record label)

American Recordings is an American record label headed by producer Rick Rubin. The label has featured artists such as Slayer, the Black Crowes, ZZ Top, Danzig, Trouble, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, The Mother Hips, and System of a Down.

Company history

The label Def American Recordings was founded after Rick Rubin left Def Jam Recordings in 1988. Among the first acts to be signed were Slayer, Danzig, The Four Horsemen, Masters of Reality, and Wolfsbane, as well as indie rockers the Jesus and Mary Chain and controversial stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Rubin continued his association with hip-hop music as well by signing artists such as the Geto Boys and Sir Mix-a-Lot. Def American had its first major success with The Black Crowes' 1990 debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, which was eventually certified quintuple platinum by the RIAA. The group’s 1992 follow-up, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, gave the label its first No.1 album. Rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot obtained a number-one hit with the song "Baby Got Back" as well as a platinum-selling album entitled Mack Daddy. Heavy metal acts Slayer and Danzig also enjoyed notable commercial success, with Slayer in particular having several gold certified albums. Rubin produced many of the recordings on the label, as well as directing other related ventures.
Rubin changed the name of the company from Def American Recordings to American Recordings in 1993 after reportedly seeing the word "def" in the dictionary. The company was reportedly renamed because he believed that finding the word in a notable source was against the anti-establishment image that he was trying to project. A was held for the word "Def" on August 27th, 1993. The guest list included Black Panthers with prop shotguns, The Amazing Kreskin, Tom Petty and Rosanna Arquette, The Red Hot Chili Peppers flea, Sir Mix-A-Lot and Warner Bros. Records chairman Mo Ostin. Before Def was lowered to its final resting place, some of the 1,500+ mourners placed flowers and various musical and personal memorabilia in the open casket. With Def laid to rest, shenanigans were afoot. Mourners followed a 19th Century-style horse-drawn hearse and a six-piece brass band playing “Amazing Grace” to the after party, cleverly named “Ciao Def,” at a bowling alley.
The new birth certificate was obtained and the company name changed to "American Recordings".
American had several sub-labels over the years, including Onion Records, Ill Labels, Wild West, Whte Lbls, and Infinite Zero. The latter was a partnership with Henry Rollins that specialized in reissues of obscure albums. None of these labels made the distribution transition after American Recordings left Warner Bros. Records in 1997, and its recordings were deleted.


The first Def American release was Reign in Blood by Slayer, which had a Def Jam Recordings logo on its first pressing. It is known by fans of heavy metal music to be one of the most critically acclaimed and important albums in the genre's history, and continues to obtain much high praise from fans and critics. A Def Jam Recordings logo was also present on its follow-up album. However, because Russell Simmons felt that Slayer's music was not in line with Def Jam, and because Def Jam's then-distributor Columbia Records refused to release it, it was released through Geffen Records, and Rubin took the rights of the release to the new label with him after the split. Danzig's 1988 debut album was the first release to actually bear the Def American logo. Initially, the label was distributed by Geffen through Warner Bros. Records, but when Geffen refused to distribute the self-titled album by the Geto Boys and the controversy it caused, distribution was absorbed by Warner Bros. proper, which released all subsequent Def American titles.
American's distribution has been handled through several labels over the years. American's first incarnation was distributed by Geffen Records through Warner Bros. Records from 1988 to 1990. After a falling out with Geffen over the content of the Geto Boys' only Def American release, Warner Bros. itself took over distribution duties from 1990 to 1997. However, sub-label Ill Labels was distributed by hip-hop specialist and former Warner Bros. subsidiary Tommy Boy Records as part of its deal. For a brief time during the 1990s, the label also distributed Too Pure Records in the US.
Rubin signed a distribution deal with Columbia Records in 1997, which distributed the label's titles until 2001. That year, Universal Music Group, through its Island Def Jam Music Group division, took over distribution. In 2005, with the exception of the recordings of Johnny Cash, the label returned to the aegis of Warner Bros. Records. Non-US distribution was handled by Sony Music Entertainment until the deal with Columbia expired.
In 2007, Warner Bros. Records, which was American's home from 1990 to 1997, acquired the rights to the extensive American Recordings catalog, which included Johnny Cash, The Black Crowes, The Jayhawks, Slayer, and Danzig. However, American's current roster was transferred to BMG successor Sony BMG in mid-2007 after a legal battle between Warner and Rubin over the details of their former arrangement, in which American Recordings would sign and provide creative services for artists, while Warner Bros. was only to handle promotion, sales, marketing, and distribution because Rubin was prompted to move his label with his appointment to co-chairman of Columbia Records in the spring of 2007.
In 2012, Rick Rubin, upon his exit from Sony Music Entertainment, signed a new deal with Universal Republic Records for a new incarnation of American Recordings. The first albums to be released under this new deal were ZZ Top's La Futura and The Avett Brothers' The Carpenter.
American also moved all of its catalog to Universal Music Group ; the two exceptions being System of a Down, which remained with Columbia Records & Sony Music Entertainment and Chino XL, which 1996's debut studio album, Here To Save You All, remained with Warner Records & Warner Music Group.

Current artists