Acts like Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Sabbath fill out Rick Rubin’s credits these last few years, but the legendary producer has, in typical fashion, made a grand return to hip-hop with his work on Kanye West’s Yeezus and Jay-Z’s upcoming Magna Carta Holy Grail. In a new in-depth interview with The Daily Beast, Rubin spoke on getting the initial call to work on Kanye’s chart-topping album, “panicking the whole time” to finish it before deadline and Mr. West’s “NBA Finals”-like performance. He also hints at a Yeezus sequel:
When he came to you with the record, did you have a sense of what needed to be done?
Initially, he thought there were going to be 16 songs on the album. But that first day, before he even asked me to work on it, I said, “Maybe you should make it more concise. Maybe this is two albums. Maybe this is just the first half.” That was one of the first breakthroughs. Kanye was like, “That’s what I came here today to hear! It could be 10 songs!”
So there might be another Yeezus in the pipeline?
On almost signing N.W.A:
I 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.
I remember going to see them play. I think it was in Inglewood. It was the first time I saw a lot of guns in hip-hop. Before N.W.A went out on stage, a guy came around with towels, and he opened up the towels and there were loaded guns. And everybody got loaded up to go out on stage. It was unbelievable. And I remember Eazy-E walking around backstage watching a portable TV and holding a machine gun.
On having to persuade Chuck D to start Public Enemy:
D.M.C. from Run-D.M.C. played me a tape of Chuck D hosting a radio show. The show was called “Public Enemy Number One.” And the first minute of the song “Public Enemy” was his theme song. I called him, and he said that he had already done the rap thing. Now he had a regular job. He wasn’t interested. He felt like he was too old. He was probably 20. LL was 16. Chuck thought he’d missed his chance.
I called him every day for six months, probably. He would leave a message with whoever was there, like, “Tell Rick I’m not here.” And then eventually I got a message: Chuck wants to meet. And he comes in, and he’s like, “I’m willing to do it under these terms: it’s called Public Enemy. It’s a group. It’s more like the Clash than a rap group, and it’s me and Flavor Flav, and Griff and Hank are involved.” And I said, “Whatever you want to do is fine.”
On discovering LL Cool J:
I laughed because he sounded really young. He was 16, and he was using all these big words. But he sounded like he knew what he was talking about. [It was] in the dorm at NYU. It was a cassette he had sent us. Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys recognized it and was like, “You gotta hear this.” And he played it for me.
On first getting into hip-hop:
I was the only punk rocker at my high school. And there were at least a handful of black kids who liked hip-hop. Both were kind of the new music of the day, and it was lonely being the only punk. But because of where I lived and because there was no community to be a punk with, I started hanging out with the kids who liked hip-hop. And I learned about it through them. They had cassettes of Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack, which was the one place where hip-hop was on the radio.
[It was] more just a fish-out-of-water feeling. I went to a lot of places where I felt like I didn’t belong. But I think that the oddity of me being there made it OK. Like, something about it was so strange that I was in these places where there were no white people at all.
On the current state of music industry:
The structure of the music industry is rooted in a corporate structure. It’s a quarterly business, but art is not a quarterly business. At Columbia, if Beyoncé didn’t deliver a record one year, for whatever reason, that really affected the whole economics of the company. And it’s impossible to build a music company as if you were selling shoes. It’s a different business. It has a different ebb and flow. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. You have to look at it as a longer-term game.