Richard Russell is a record producer and owner of XL Recordings. His book, Liberation Through Hearing, was published by White Rabbit on 2 April 2020.
Today I have an extract from Liberation Through Hearing.
HOLLYWOOD, 4 MAY 2019
Two weeks have passed. I’m driving down Sunset listening to the
recordings I’ve been working on with CAS. I text him to say how good
they sound. He texts back:
It’s mad u should say that I’ve been playing bits we made all
I have never played my music so much Rich, man. It’s exciting beyond
And a third:
Got my new mask fitting Thursday.
I’m in LA with my wife Esta for Adele’s 31st birthday party. It takes
place in the house where the Godfather horse-head scene was filmed.
Adele has rented the property for the occasion, but should anyone be
house-hunting, it’s on sale for $135 million.
It’s approaching midnight when I hear Esta urgently beckoning. I
wander over to where she’s standing and she introduces me to a tall,
tuxedo-clad man sporting shades and dreadlocks. He exudes a megawatt
charisma. His real name is Shawn Carter but the world knows him as JAY
Z. He is arguably the greatest rapper of all time and definitely one of my
favourite artists, period.
Since making a failed attempt to license his first album for UK release
in 1996 I have spent a great deal of time listening to his music over a
period now spanning nearly twenty-five years. As well as being one of
our greatest living storytellers, he is also a wildly successful
entrepreneur, a former drug dealer who now has businesses
encompassing the worlds of fashion, beverages, real estate and sports,
not to mention his Roc Nation record label and management company.
He would be able to purchase the property we are in should he so
desire. He has a light energy yet possesses an intensely commanding
There is a third member of the huddle. I’ve never met her either but
she is intensely familiar. She is Beyoncé Knowles, and alongside our host
tonight she is the world’s most beloved female artist, or perhaps artist
Before I have formulated my first words to say to Hova, perhaps a
‘thank you’ for the lifetime of enjoyment and inspiration I have got from
his music, he begins to talk to me. He is immediately intimate and
engaged, aware of me and what I do, and full of enthusiastic praise for
XL. I’m wrong-footed and not sure what to say.
The awkward silence is broken by Esta. ‘Look how much he’s smiling.
It’s pathetic,’ she says, of flattered and starstruck me, to the billionaire
B-boy genius christened Shawn Carter, originally of Brooklyn’s
notorious Marcy housing projects. Her bullshit detector ever switched
on, she has decided to challenge JAY Z, saying to him, ‘I bet you can’t
even name three acts on the label.’
But he can.
About the book
When I stopped wanting things for the wrong reasons, they became possible.
For almost 30 years as label boss, producer, and talent conductor at XL Recordings, Richard Russell has discovered, shaped and nurtured the artists who have rewritten the musical dictionary of the 21st century, artists like The Prodigy, The White Stripes, Adele, M.I.A., Dizzee Rascal and Giggs. Growing up in north London in thrall to the raw energy of ’80s US hip hop, Russell emerged as one part of rave outfit Kicks Like a Mule in 1991 at a moment when new technology enabled a truly punk aesthetic on the fledgling free party scene. For most of the 90s identified with breakbeat and hardcore, Russell’s stewardship at the label was always uncompromising and open to radical influences rather than conventional business decisions.
Liberation through Hearing tells the remarkable story of XL Recordings and their three decades on the frontline of innovation in music; the eclectic chorus of artists who came to define the label’s unique aesthetic, and Russell’s own story; his highs and lows steering the fortunes of an independent label in a rapidly changing industry, his celebrated work with Bobby Womack and Gil Scot Heron on their late-career masterpieces, and his own development as a musician in Everything is Recorded.
Always searching for new sounds and new truths, Liberation through Hearing is a portrait of a man who believes in the spiritual power of music to change reality. It is also the story of a label that refused to be categorised by genre and in the process cut an idiosyncratic groove which was often underground in feel but mainstream in impact.
About the author
Richard Russell (b. 1971) is a British record producer, musician and the owner of the British record label XL Recordings. He has nurtured and guided some of the most influential recording artists of our time including Adele, Dizzee Rascal, The Prodigy, M.I.A. and Giggs. As a producer and musician, Russell has made albums with the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Bobby Womack, Damon Albarn and Ibeyi and most recently launched his own artist project Everything Is Recorded, whose self-titled debut album was nominated for the 2018 Mercury Music Prize.