Rick Rubin analyses Kanye, Cash and Jay-Z on music annotation site Genius

Superproducer adds insight to some of his most famous songs, and explains that Kanye used to give him ‘anxiety’

If you’ve ever been curious about the intricacies of Rick Rubin’s many musical visions, burgeoning tech startup Genius recently enlisted the super-producer to annotate over 50 songs with details of their creation.

Including Kanye West, the Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash, Slayer and Jay Z, the producer has added some behind the scenes information about many of his most famous songs, as well as waxing lyrical about his favourite artists in general, such as Vampire Weekend, Beck, D’Angelo, James Blake and Simon & Garfunkel.

Honing in on much of his work with Kanye, he describes how Yeezus was “the first album where [Kanye] was happy with the way it came out,” and that the recent Only One single, featuring Paul McCartney, was rush released by the rapper before the single was finished.“That’s how it works in Kanye world,” he writes. “It used to really give me anxiety, but now I just know that’s what it is. That’s how he likes to work.”

Rubin also recounts working alongside Johnny Cash (“People didn’t care about Cash for a minute. People hadn’t cared for long enough that he was dealing with that reality. It’s like that with so many grownup artists. They feel this fear of competing with themselves.”), and recalls clearing the AC/DC sample for Beastie Boys’ Rock Hard: “I remember playing it for Malcolm Young on headphones backstage at an AC/DC concert, and he was like, “Who played guitar on that?” And I was like, “I did.”

Praising James Blake, Rubin credits the former dubstep producer with informing much of contemporary music – “James Blake is spectacular, I love him all the time” – and surprisingly shares his admiration for the No 1 hit by Hozier, Take Me to Church. “It’s a classic, great song. Just the way it makes me feel … The lyrics are dark, but spiritual.”

On Jay Z’s 99 Problems, Rubin explained:

Jay didn’t have any lyrics in place. I played him the track and he loved it.

I told him this idea that Chris Rock had about 99 Problems. He said “There’s this Ice-T song called 99 Problems, and the hook is really great and there’s probably an interesting song to be made with that hook, so talk to Jay about that.”

Formerly Rap Genius, the site specialises in annotating lyrics, and recently hired acclaimed music journalist Sasha Frere-Jones for role of executive editor . With supporters including Kanye West, who gave its co-founders Ilan Zechory and Tom Lehman the idea for the site’s black and gold aesthetic, their eventual aim is to eventually “annotate the world

For more insights into the legendary producer’s world, take a look at his Genius profile.


Guardian music

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