Super producer Rick Rubin is a towering figure in the music industry and not just because of his 6ft frame and magnificent beard. He’s the producer behind some of the most universally loved albums of the past three decades, and now he’s taken to community-annotated lyric website Genius to provide behind-the-scenes commentary on around 50 of those songs or albums, including works by Kanye West, Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash and our very own Angus & Julia Stone.
The commentary, published on lyric site Genius, provides some interesting, albeit scattered context, on a diverse range of songs that bear Rubin’s name on their production credits as well as songs and albums he really loves.
In one particularly entertaining anecdote, Rubin recounts making Malcolm Young listen to the AC/DC-sampling Beastie Boys track Rock Hard backstage at an AC/DC concert. “This was in the days where no one knew what sampling was,” writes Rubin. “[Malcolm] was like, ‘Who played guitar on that?’ And I was like, ‘I did’.”
“There’s samples involved too,” he adds, “but I’m definitely playing. And I programmed the drums.”
While annotating another Beastie Boys track, the anthemic No Sleep till Brooklyn, Rubin writes that Slayer’s Kerry King provided the guitar solo “much to the dismay of Adam Yauch”. “He hated Slayer,” writes Rubin. “He didn’t like metal.”
Amidst the entertaining and revealing anecdotes, Rubin also speaks on his approach to production with specific artists. On helming Metallica’s ninth studio album Death Magnetic, Rubin says that while sometimes it’s his job to help artists break through their limitations, in the case of Metallica he had to reign them in.
“Sometimes it’s the opposite,” he writes, “where artists have gotten so experimental that they’ve lost the core of what makes them them. And then in those cases, I’ll try to redirect them back. The example might be Metallica. They were kind of lost before and we helped get them back to being Metallica.”
Rubin also provides a little insight into the creative process of Kanye West, while at the same time revealing that two differently mixed versions of Kanye’s latest single with Paul McCartney were released within hours of each other.
“One guy mastered it, because it was due, and they turned it in,” writes Rubin. “I had another guy master it, and it was better, but it was already too late. I think it switched the following morning. It was in real time! Like as soon as it was better, we had to switch it.”
“That’s how it works in Kanye world,” he adds. “It used to really give me anxiety, but now I just know that’s what it is. That’s how he likes to work.”
Having recently produced Angus & Julia Stone’s latest album A Heartbreak, Rubin explains he heard the duo’s “fantastic” music whilst at dinner in New York, describing it as “the best music I’ve ever heard” and decided to reach out to them.
“It turned out that they broke up,” he continues. “So I met with Julia, and she was really cool. I said, ‘You know what? How do you feel about making an Angus & Julia album?’ And she started crying. She hadn’t talked to Angus in two years. She said she didn’t know if she could do it. I said, ‘Think about it. I think it could be really good.'”
Rubin provides even more commentary on a range of songs and artists from likening Slayer to The Ramones, professing his admiration for Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires Of the City and Beck’s Morning Phase and revealing that he hasn’t liked any record more in the last 15 years than he has D’Angelo’s “spectacular” Voodoo.
Read Rubin’s full Genius profile with all of the song annotations here.