Master-producer Rick Rubin gave LL Cool J a beat, urged Run-DMC and Aerosmith to “Walk This Way,” convinced Johnny Cash to love “Hurt” and brought Adele a perfect “Lovesong.” He’s won eight Grammys and two CMAs along the way.
“I don’t really have any control over what’s going to happen with a recording,” Rubin tells Rolling Stone. “It’s more just experimentation and waiting for that moment when your breath gets taken away. It’s an exciting, exhilarating thing when it happens. But it’s not anything to master. You just have to recognize it when it happens and protect it evaporating. It takes luck, patience, a strong work ethic and being willing to do whatever it takes for it to be great. It’s a bit of a process we have to go through to get there.”
When it comes to Star Wars music, it’s time to follow a teaching from Yoda: you must unlearn what you have learned. Introducing Star Wars Headspace.
By Hollywood Records and American Recordings, Star Wars Headspace is a new compilation of original electronic dance music infused with Star Wars sound clips and effects — executive produced by the legendary Rick Rubin. Coming February 19 to all digital outlets and March 18 to retail stores everywhere, Star Wars Headspace gathers some of the biggest names and emerging talent in electronic music for an entirely new take on a galaxy far, far away. Pre-orders open today, and StarWars.com has an exclusive first look at the striking cover below.
The album opens with “C-3P0’s Plight” by Kaskade; the track pulsates and builds into a soundscape, iconic Star Wars samples like blaster fire and Wookiee roars enveloping the listener, while C-3P0 laments…“How typical.” It captures the humor of Star Wars, the melodrama of C-3PO, and is a kinetic, dynamic production that sets the stage for what follows.
In addition to contributions from GTA, Flying Lotus, and others, Star Wars Headspace features an original production by Rick Rubin: “NR-G7,” complete with a driving beat, R2-D2 bleeps, and much more. Also included is a remix of J.J. Abrams’ and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fan-favorite “Jabba Flow” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, called “Jabba Flow: Rick Rubin Re-Work (feat. A-Trak).” This version transforms the song into something completely different — a true house track — and is a must-hear for Star Wars and dance music fans alike. Check out the full track listing for Star Wars Headspace below.
STAR WARS HEADSPACE TRACK LIST:
1. C-3P0’s Plight Kaskade
2. Help Me! GTA
3. Force TroyBoi
4. Cantina Boys Baauer
5. Jabba Flow: Rick Rubin Re-Work (feat. A-Trak) Shag Kava
6. R2 Knows (feat. Barry Drift) Claude VonStroke
7. NR-G7 Rick Rubin
8. Ghomrassen Bonobo
9. Bounty Hunters Röyksopp
10. Sunset Over Manaan ATTLAS
11. R2 Where R U? Flying Lotus
12. Druid Caravan of Smoke Shlohmo
13. EWOK PUMPP Rustie
14. Scruffy-Looking Nerfherder Galantis
15. Star Tripper Breakbot
After changing music, oh, about five or six times, by working with The Beastie Boys, JJ Cool J, and Johnny Cash, Rick Rubin hit Genius to share the wisdom he’s gathered in his 30-plus years of producing. He annotated some of the classic songs he’s produced on—from Jay Z to Kanye West—as well as work he’s simply a fan of. You can tell he’s still a big music fan, drawing on memories of his start, and what he’s listening to now.
You can check out all of his annotations here, and here are a few to obsess over.
On Kanye West’s “Only One” feat. Paul McCartney:
I was in St. Barths two days before the single came out. Kanye said, “I’m thinking about putting out ‘Only One’ tomorrow at midnight.” I said, “Should we mix it?” He was like, “It hasn’t really changed — it’s pretty much what it was.” I hadn’t heard it in almost two months, so I asked him to send it to me, and he did. And I said, “I think this can sound better than it does.” We never really finished it finished it.
So we called all the engineers — and I’m trying to get all this to happen all remotely — and we got maybe three different engineers. This is the day before New Year’s Eve, and we’re all finding studio time, getting the files. Then they all start sending me mixes. I thought one was better than the others, and Kanye agreed. One guy mastered it, because it was due, and they turned it in. 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. It used to really give me anxiety, but now I just know that’s what it is. That’s how he likes to work.
…Kanye is a combination of careful and spontaneous. He’ll find a theme he likes quickly, and then live with that for a while, not necessarily filling in all the words until later. At the end, he’ll fill in all the gaps.
He was upset at one point when I said that he wrote the lyrics quickly. He’s right — they percolate for a long time, he gets the phrasing into his brain, lives with it, and then lines come up. It definitely starts from this very spontaneous thing.
On “Only One,” a lot of those lyrics came out free-form, ad-libs. The song is essentially live, written in the moment. Some of the words were later improved, but most of it was stream of consciousness, just Kanye being in the moment.
On Jay Z’s “99 Problems”:
Jay came into my studio every day for like a week, I kept trying things that I thought would sound like a Jay record, and after like three or four days he said, “I want to do something more like one of your old records, Beastie Boys-style.” Originally that’s not what I was thinking for him, but he requested that vibe, and we just started working on some tracks.
Musically, there were a couple of different ideas that [engineer] Jason [Lader] and I were working on independently that we played back together, and the way the beats overlapped was really interesting. It wasn’t planned out, it was more experimenting.
There was a part where it really sounded crazy and the beats were fighting each other. Jason was operating the Pro-Tools, and I’m saying “Move to the left, move to the right, try this beat, add this, do this,” and then he makes it do it. There’s nothing live on the track.
It’s a combination of three samples — “The Big Beat” by Billy Squier, “Long Red” by Mountain, and “Get Me Back On Time” by Wilson Pickett — and two programmed beats coming in and out.
On James Blake’s “Retrograde”:
There are so many records now where it’s about really, really heavy sub-bass, maybe a hi-hat, and just a voice.
I think a lot of it is the James Blake influence. I feel like he’s really influenced everybody a lot. I know in the artist community everybody loves Blake. James Blake is spectacular, I love him all the time. Live, he’s even better than on record.
On LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells”:
It was never about proving anything, it was just that this is what I like and this is true to who they are. The only reason those first records were so aggressive, it had little to do with me. That was the good music at that moment. It wasn’t because it was that, it was the music. If the best music in that moment was folk music, that’s probably what I would have done first. I mean, I like all kinds of music, I always have, I’ve always listened to all kinds of music.
On Dr. Dre’s “Nuthin’ But a G Thang”:
I never really listened to The Chronic. I guess I never liked smooth? Same with Puff, who really brought R&B into it. I preferred hip-hop when it was nothing like R&B. I love breakbeats and B-boy style drum machines. I never liked the slick stuff.
On Kanye West’s “Bound 2”:
Something we talked about with Kanye was doing an alternate version of Yeezus,because there are so many versions of songs, great versions. There are versions just as good as what’s on the album, just different. I know as a fan of the album, I’d like to hear that. Maybe some day, whenever he wants. But it exists! That shit exists.
… “Bound 2” was a track that initially wasn’t a sample-based track. It was a band track with singing, no idea who. I got involved late in the game.
He came in one day and said he got inspired driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, on the way to my studio. He thought it would be a good thing to try the sample he found, so we tried that and the whole song changed. The chorus was still the old way, where it was sort of a band version. I took everything out of that and reduced it to one sort of ugly sounding synth. I would say the old version was more like MOR, R&B. That’s just an example of one song on Yeezus that changed a lot. Some of them changed a little, some of them changed a lot.
On Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves”:
I think he worked mostly out of an apartment in Paris, but I don’t really know the details, I never went there. I do know that it was a large space, because you could hear the reverb of the space in a lot of the tracks even when you didn’t want it. I think he liked the vibe there more than thinking it was a good place to make a good-sounding recording.
On Kanye West’s “I Am a God”:
When he played Yeezus for me, it was like, three hours of stuff. We just went through it and figured out what was essential and what wasn’t. It was like deciding a point of view, and it was really his decision to make it minimal.
He kept saying it about tracks that he thought weren’t good enough and needed work. If he was going to leave me to work on stuff, he’d say, “Anything you can do to take stuff out instead of put stuff in, let’s do that.”
On Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”:
Kanye played at some festival after the release of Yeezus, and his whole rant was something to the effect of “I turn on the radio and nothing speaks to me, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it, and I don’t want my music on the radio because I don’t like what the radio is.” So in that mindset, it makes sense that he makes a record that isn’t for that. It’s not about that. It’s so anti. It’s almost anti-hip-hop. It’s crazy.
On the Beastie Boys’ “Girls”:
Adam Horovitz and I wrote “Girls” on a train. We trained down to DC to record with the Junkyard Band, this band of kids who played D.C. go-go on garbage cans. We put out a Junkyard Band single on Def Jam.
On the train back, we wrote “Girls”. It was rooted in an Isley Brothers song, “Shout.” It was written with that music in mind and then we sort of did our version of what that would have been. We just wrote really stupid, offensive words.
Def Jam was founded by Rick Rubin in his dorm room in Weinstein Hall at New York University and its first release was a single by his punk-rock group Hose. Russell Simmons joined Rubin shortly after they were introduced to each other by Vincent Gallo. The first single released with a Def Jam Recordings logo was T La Rock & Jazzy Jay’s “It’s Yours.” The first releases with Def Jam Recordings catalog numbers were LL Cool J’s “I Need a Beat” and the Beastie Boys’ “Rock Hard,” both in 1984. The singles sold well, eventually leading to a distribution deal with CBS Records (which would later become Sony Music Entertainment) through Columbia Records the following year. This created a short-lived subsidiary label called OBR Records, catered toward R&B artists — the first artist signed to that imprint was Oran “Juice” Jones, who enjoyed success with his hit single “The Rain”.
Watch founder Rubin go back to the place where it all began for the very first time.
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 highlight below, and then watch the full video.
“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.”
In an interview with BBC’s Zane Lowe that will air next week, legendary producer Rick Rubin confirmed that he’s working the follow up to Kanye West’s Yeezus. NME reports that they are currently “looking at vocal ideas” for the album.
In the interview, Rubin also recalls how surprised he was at West’s speed in releasing Yeezus:
“There were loads of great ideas and there were many many tracks and we listened to everything together. He originally came over and said ’I wanna come play you my new album’ and I thought we’d be listening to a finished album. Then we listened to about three hours of music, most of which didn’t have vocals, and at the end I was like ’wow, so what’s it gonna be?’ I’m thinking it’s a year away and he was like ’well, I’m putting it out in like 5-6 weeks.’ It was just a funny conversation because it was completely normal to him, it’s just the way he works … today, Kanye West is coming in and we’re starting looking at vocal ideas for things for the next album.”
From Rolling Stone:
Talk a little about your daily TM practice.
Typically, I’ll wake up, sit up in bed, and do 20 minutes. When I wake up in the morning, usually the remnants of dreams are still very present in me, and it takes me a minute to get to be me again. I’m a little lost when I wake up. TM helps me center and ground myself. When possible, I do it again before dinner. Then the evening starts as more of its own time, and not just a continuation of the busy work day. Although sometimes it’s a busy night.
What, go in a studio in night?
I try not to do that anymore. Now, we typically start working at noon, and are usually out of the studio at six — if things are really going good, seven. If things are not going so good, five. We don’t beat a dead horse. I meditated in the car on the way here, and I missed the exit.
Do you think your own creativity has changed over the years?
It’s always intuitive, but over time, the craft becomes better. In the beginning, I was a complete novice, and now I’m a complete novice with 30 years of experience. There’s wisdom that comes with experience. I would do certain things in the early days that wisdom would have prevented me from doing, and those were probably good things too! When I started in music, it was only about a drumbeat and words. That was about my level of understanding, and then over time, I started understanding more of the elements that could be used. It’s just more tools in the toolbox: this song would sound good if it had a bigger production, and this song would sound good if it was stripped down, and knowing the difference.
Beggars Archive has set a July 30 release date for a two-disc set from The Cult on CD and vinyl called “Electric Peace”, which will pair “Electric” with the abandoned “Peace” album, tracks from which have been released over the years on “The Manor Sessions” EP, as “Electric” B-sides and on 2000’s “Rare Cult”.
In 1985, The Cult enjoyed breakthrough success with the single “She Sells Sanctuary” and the album “Love”, establishing themselves as a new breed of alternative rock band. When it came to recording a follow-up, the band booked into The Manor studios in Oxfordshire with Steve Brown again producing the album. By the end of October 1986, the album was recorded, the masters assembled and it was given the title “Peace”. However, the band weren’t happy with the final results, which seemed too polished. Appreciating the rawness of RUN-D.M.C.’s “Walk This Way”, the band contacted producer Rick Rubin to remix the lead track, “Love Removal Machine”. Rubin agreed to work with the band but only on condition that the track was entirely re-recorded. The result was a sparse, dry, riffing version that captured the sonic excitement the band were looking for. Enthused by the results, the decision was made to abandon the expensive “Peace” recordings and re-record the entire album in New York with Rick Rubin. The new tracks would become The Cult’s third album, re-titled “Electric”, and a multi-million seller.
Tracks from “Peace” were used as single B-sides and some of the alternative versions were issued on an early CD, “The Manor Sessions”, but it wasn’t until the limited “Rare Cult” box set in 2000 that fans got to hear the full album correctly sequenced. The box rapidly sold out so “Peace” has been unavailable for 13 years.
“Electric Peace” track listing:
CD/LP 1 – “Electric”
01. Wild Flower
02. Peace Dog
03. Lil’ Devil
04. Aphrodisiac Jacket
05. Electric Ocean
06. Bad Fun
07. King Contrary Man
08. Love Removal Machine
09. Born To Be Wild
11. Memphis Hip Shake
CD/LP 2 – “Peace”
01. Love Removal Machine
02. Wild Flower
03. Peace Dog
04. Aphrodisiac Jacket
05. Electric Ocean
06. Bad Fun
08. Zap City
09. Love Trooper
11. Groove Co.
The Cult will promote the release by performing the entire “Electric” album at shows in the USA (starting late July) and Europe (October).