Six Things We Learned About Rick Rubin
A couple of weeks ago, Black Sabbath‘s reunion album, 13–produced by Rick Rubin–topped the album charts. The following week, it was knocked out of the top spot by Kanye West‘s Yeezus, which was executive-produced by, yes, Rubin.
As a producer, label executive, and cofounder of Def Jam Recordings, the famously bearded and often-barefoot Rubin has been a massive force in popular music over the past few decades. And with a resume that includes albums by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, LL Cool J, Slayer, and the Dixie Chicks–not to mention Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash–Rubin seems able to work with artists in any genre.
During a recent interview with The Daily Beast, he talked about some of his recent, past, and future projects. Here are six things we learned.
1. Jennifer Nettles is covering an ’80s classic on her upcoming solo debut: Rubin is producing the first solo album from the Sugarland frontwoman. The Daily Beast‘s Andrew Romano reported that while he was in the studio, Rubin was adding horns to a track from the record. “The song,” he writes, “is a cover of an underappreciated 1980s classic-rock ballad (I’m not allowed to disclose which), and it sounds incredible.”
2. A Yeezus sequel may be on the way: Rubin signed onto the Kanye West project just five weeks before its release date. Hearing an overwhelming amount of songs, he had a simple suggestion: “Maybe you should make it more concise. Maybe this is two albums. Maybe this is just the first half.” When asked if another Yeezus album is in the pipeline, he said, “Might be.”
3. The Beatles (via Rubin) influenced hip-hop: Rubin recalled going through LL Cool J‘s lyric books and suggesting song structures, instead of freestyling over a constant beat (which was the norm in hip-hop’s earliest days). “I would go through LL’s lyric book and say, ‘Let’s use these eight bars as a verse, and let’s use these 16 bars as a verse, and this phrase here is going to be the hook, and that will be repeated….’ It hadn’t really happened before in rap. And I think the reason I did it was really just my having grown up with the Beatles. That’s how I heard music—in a song format.” And regarding the Fab Four, he said: “For me the Beatles are proof of the existence of God.”
4. The Beastie Boys‘ “Girls” was inspired by The Isley Brothers’ “Shout”: “We wrote the song ‘Girls’ on the train to Washington, D.C. We started with the idea of what the song would be. It was rooted in the Isley Brothers’ ‘Shout.’ What would a rap version of ‘Shout’ sound like? And if you listen to it now, you’ll see it’s really similar.”
5. Rubin tried to sign N.W.A.: “I went to the studio when they were recording Straight Outta Compton. I was just a fan, but I developed a relationship with them. And the reason it didn’t work out was…there have been a couple of cases in my life where I make some plan with the artist, but then they already have an existing relationship with a company, and the company ends up doing something different. N.W.A was one of those.”
6. He thinks Black Sabbath is a “jam band”: Part of Rubin’s approach to producing is to get an artist to write more songs than they need. “They probably wrote more than 20 (songs). We probably recorded 16. And there are eight on the album. But it made sense to me because in the past they were on a roll from album to album, and now they haven’t been a band together in 35 years. The idea that after 35 years the first 10 songs you write are perfect is unrealistic. It took two years, two years from the time we first met to the time the album was finished. Back in the day, Black Sabbath was essentially a jam band. That’s how they wrote. And they had gotten away from that. They were used to making demos: here’s a click track, here’s where the guitar riffs are. But what made Black Sabbath Black Sabbath was the way each of them interpreted what the others were playing. Those reactions create tension—they create the band’s sound.