Legendary producer Rick Rubin has the midas touch; he’s stuck his finger in just about every genre pie and pulled out the biggest of blockbuster releases. (Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adele anyone?) That’s not to mention that he is the founder of Def Jam and American Recordings and was once a Co-President of Columbia Records. Pretty tidy CV, right?
The larger than life figure, renowned for his stripped-back and overall crisp production techniques, recently sat down for a rare one-hour long interview with BBC Radio One’s Zane Lowe, openly discussing the myriad of incredible artists that he has worked with over his career, schooling us on whom he believes are true standouts within the industry and why, as Billboard points out.
Join us as we break down Rubin Vs. Lowe, highlighting the rad lessons we learnt about the rappers, rockers, popstars and music legends the famed producer has worked with over 30 years, or you can dig the full video interview at the bottom.
Eminem Is The Best Rapper Ever
Having been recruited for Eminem’s eighth full-length record, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Rubin was emphatic in his starry-eyed praise for the Detroit MC.
“He may be the best rapper. He’s very hyper-critical of detail and hears the music in a very deep way and hears internal rhythms in tracks. He writes words to work on so many different levels rhythmically within what’s going on musically, to where if we change a little thing in the track to better the track it might not work in his mind how it relates to what he’s saying and how he’s phrasing.”
“His phrasing is so glued to the music and written that way. Like he just sees it as not just riding the flow. It’s much more complex. And he’s always writing, he’s always writing in life. He’s got these notebooks he carries around and he’s always writing. And he said to me he knows probably 99 percent of it, 98 percent of it will never be used for anything. But he wants his facility to be there so that when he needs to write something it’s like practice.” (Watch 5:20 mark)
Kanye West Kills It Under Pressure
Kanye West initially presented Rubin with three hours’ worth of music for what was his-then upcoming record Yeezus, with the intention of putting out the final product in five-six weeks, max.
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Rubin, with another record already in the making, humorously recalls just how such a feat could be achieved. “It’s just a funny conversation. ‘Cause it was completely normal to him. It’s just the way he works. At the end of it he said ‘would you just help me finish it? Let’s go in together.’ He said ‘I think we can probably do it in five days.’ It ended up being more like three weeks or a little over three weeks.”
“I love him, the guy is super smart. From a creative standpoint, I can’t think of anyone else who has come out, who has been more consistently great from the time they started making music until now. I think he’s the most consistently great person in music right now.” (2:55)
Shakira Is Rick Rubin’s Favourite
Rubin expresses the sheer joy and admiration of working with the Colombian superstar, and why she’s one of his all-time favourites.
“She’s unique in that world because she’s competing with all these manufactured pop artists, and she’s not a manufactured pop artist. She’s an artist, like Lady Gaga, they are essentially rock musicians, write their own songs know exactly what they want it to be and have a vision. They’re the artist, not the singer.” (49:15)
Johnny Cash Bought Rubin To Tears
The bearded genius opened up to Lowe about how he greatly assisted in rejuvenating the country legend’s career in 1994.
“We had all these young artists, Glenn Danzig, Slayer. I thought it would be interesting to find a grownup artist who’s really talented but hasn’t been doing good work for a while and help them regain what they were. The first artist to come to mind was Johnny Cash, so I went to see him play and he was everything I thought he would be, amazing, and he had been discarded by the country community.”
“We spent a lot of time together, I would get him to play me songs in my living room, telling him ‘just play me the songs you love.’ I think he thought I was crazy! After his funeral, a friend speaking of Cash told me Cash had said ‘I’ll always trust Rick because he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.’ I remember that made me cry when he told me that.” (32:25)
System Of A Down Created A New Form Of Heavy Metal
The mixmaster stepped in to produce what would be the band’s sophomore release, Toxicity, the record that ensured their international superstardom.
“System of a Down were a heavy metal band who didn’t follow those rules, they didn’t have the rhythms, you wouldn’t hear a Metallica rhythm, you would hear a System of a Down rhythm which was different, different gallops. They took elements from folk music and bought in into heavy metal music. They were so over the top, so extreme, Armenian folk dancing with heavy metal riffs, wild political lyrics and screaming, it was CRAZY music!” (40:23)
Black Sabbath Tried To Write A New Record – 15 Years Ago
Despite producing Black Sabbath’s first record in 20 years, the wizard was originally called upon over a decade ago to lend a hand on some fresh material the band were writing.
“I had a meeting with them about 15-years ago, we talked about making a record and then they started writing together and then it just never came together and they went off to do their own things. I was surprised to get a call from them saying ‘we think the time is now, we’ve been doing a little bit of writing’ I was like ABSOLUTELY!”
Speaking of the difficulty of working with such a bold influence on his career, he states to Lowe, “I try to imagine what them at their best is, and set up whatever situations we have to allow that to happen. It’s like fishing: you can go out fishing but you can’t say ‘I’m going to catch three fish today.'” (8:29)
Def Jam Was Built On Punk Spirit… In A Dorm Room
A label founded over 30 years ago, Def Jam was established by a baby-faced Rubin churning out punk/hardcore/hip-hop sounds in his college dorm room.
“The initial energy of Def Jam was a more urban version of punk rock. It was in my dorm room for at least 18 months, my room was stacked with records and a full PA system and DJ setup it was a tiny cell. The dorm governing body held a meeting to decide whether to throw us out. It was interesting, but I didn’t want them to throw us out.” (20:00)
Watch Zane Lowe’s full interview with Rick Rubin below: