Recently, legendary producer Rick Rubin sat down for a rare hour-long interview with BBC Radio One's Zane Lowe at his Shangri-La studio in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning mastermind behind such canonical records as Beastie Boys' "License to Ill," Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Blood Sugar Sex Magik," and Justin Timberlake's "FutureSex/LoveSounds" talked at length about a variety of topics, from Eminem ("The best rapper of any emcee") to taking a break from music to get into magic at age eight to artists he'd like to work with (N.W.A., LCD Soundsystem). Check out the highlights below, and then watch the full video.
On Kanye West and "Yeezus": (3:00) "I thought it was coming out in a year. Kanye said five to six weeks, and I said 'Really? I’m working on an album that’s much farther along than this that’s coming out in a year' . . . I can't think of any artist who's been the most consistently great since he started making music."
On recording Black Sabbath's first new album in nearly 20 years: (9:45) "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.'"
On early Beastie Boys: (17:01) "Monty Python, Steve Martin, wrestling. Over-the-top theatricality was an inspiration that filtered in."
On Def Jam's beginnings: (20:05) "I didn’t make that logo thinking it was going to be iconic. We didn’t make records thinking they were going to change the world. 'I know my friends will like it. If 500 people like it, we’ll be a success!' . . . 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."
On Russell Simmons: (22:37) "He was five years older. He had already produced Kurtis Blow. He was the first person I met really in the record business. If you compared him to people that were really in the record business, but he wasn’t, but to us he was . . . When you have wild growth in five years, things get very confusing -- I was 21, Russell was 26. We didn’t know how to handle the pressures of this big thing. There was no structure in the way things worked, so we were played against each other by other people . . . Our interests were different. He cared about making great music, Russell cared about being a successful businessman."
On American Recordings: (31:50) "Our catalog was diverse -- Jayhawks, Sir Mix-A-Lot. When we were partners with Geffen, they wanted me to make rap records because I was so good at them, so why would I do anything else? 'Why would you want to sign the Geto Boys?'"
On Johnny Cash: (32:47) "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. The first artist to come to mind was Johnny Cash, who had been discarded by the country community . . . I'll never forget he said, 'I’ll always trust Rick because he believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.'"
On System of a Down: (39:58) "When I saw them live, I was laughing the whole time. They were so over the top, so extreme -- Armenian folk dancing with heavy metal riffs . . . They transcended not fitting in. KROQ said, 'We will never play them.' A year later, they’re playing them. They're like Rage Against the Machine, another revolutionary band."
On Shakira: (49:40) "She's so successful 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, who writes their own songs and have a vision. They're the artist, not the singer."
On artists' business impact: (54:27) "I’m an independent-minded person, yet there are few examples of totally independent artists who have had the impact on the world as artists who have had relationships with big companies . . . I’ve not yet seen the independent side be able to take it to that level. Even in the case of Radiohead, they were already on a major label, and they had broken on a major label. So for them to do things independently, they already had that platform. I'm open to it happening, but I haven't seen it yet."