In a new interview with The Daily Beast, production god Rick Rubin (it almost seems pointless listing his credits, but let’s start with LL Cool J’s Radio, The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill and Johnny Cash’s American series) opens up on how he came to work on Kanye West‘s new album Yeezus, and just how close to the wire things came.
First, probably the coolest anecdote you’ll hear all week: when asked about how he came to work on Yeezus, Rubin explains that “[Kanye] called up and said, “Can I just come play my album?” And I said, “Sure.” I always like to hear what he’s working on. So he came over to my house in Malibu. We listened. I thought I was going to hear a finished album, but actually we listened to probably three and a half hours of works in progress. Kind of meandering, unfocused, usually without his vocals. I assumed that the album was scheduled to come out next year. So I said, “When are you thinking of finishing up?” And he said, “It’s coming out in five weeks.” Like completely confident and fine.”
“To me it seemed impossible what he was asking”, Rubin goes on to explain. “I remember I wasn’t feeling that well that day, and I was thinking, Is the music making me sick? I don’t feel good about this. We ended up working probably 15 days, 16 days, long hours, no days off, 15 hours a day. I was panicked the whole time”.
“There was so much material we could really pick which direction it was going to go. The idea of making it edgy and minimal and hard was Kanye’s. I’d say, “This song is not so good. Should I start messing with it? Can I make it better?” And he’d say, “Yes, but instead of adding stuff, try taking stuff away.” We talked a lot about minimalism. My house is basically an empty white box.
“Three days before Kanye had to turn the record in he tells us, “I’m going to Milan tonight.” There are probably five songs that still need vocals at this point. Two still need words! So he says, “I have to go to this baby shower before I go to Milan. I’ll be back at 4 p.m., and from 4 to 6 I’ll do the vocals. Then I have to go.” I say, “OK,” thinking it’s not OK, and he says, “Don’t worry. I’ll score 40 points for you in the fourth quarter”. Again it just seemed impossible, but that’s basically what he did. He didn’t come back until after 4, and we probably didn’t start until after 5. He said, “I have an hour and 10 minutes. Let’s go.” And then it was full-on NBA finals [laughs]. It probably ended up taking two hours. Five vocals. He wrote two lyrics on the spot.”
As for Yeezus II, Rubin later reveals that “Initially, [Kanye] 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!”
And then, when asked if another Yeezus is a possibility, Rubin simply replies “Might be”.