Rick Rubin: My Life in 21 Songs

From Rolling StoneRick Rubin; My life 21 songs
From LL Cool J to Kanye West, Slayer to Tom Petty, Johnny Cash to Dixie Chicks, producer reflects on more than three decades of challenging music’s status quo
Rick Rubin’s discography reads like a who’s who of popular music over the past three decades: Eminem, Metallica, Dixie Chicks. The producer has stood at the vanguards of hip-hop and thrash metal, co-founding Def Jam while still in his NYU dorm room and later his own American Recordings, and he would later use his inquisitive, “what if?” approach to inspiring country, rock and pop artists to create chart-topping recordings. He 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 the producer, now age 52, reflects on his career, he speaks with confidence and gentleness, perhaps a side effect of practicing transcendental meditation since he was a teenager. He grew up in Long Island, New York, and still sports the beard he started growing around the start of his career.

He will be honored tonight by the Recording Academy Producers and Engineers Wing in Los Angeles as part of Grammy Week. Past producers whom the Recording Academy has honored in this way include Quincy Jones, Ahmet Ertegun, Jimmy Iovine and Nile Rodgers, among others. When asked what the honor will mean to him, he says it’s difficult to put into words.

What’s easy for him talk about, though, is his history. Going back to the first record he produced, T La Rock and Jazzy Jay’s syncopated 1984 single, “It’s Yours,” through his minimalist approach on Kanye West’s 2013 LP, Yeezus, Rubin can deftly articulate how he worked with artists to help them make career-defining (and sometimes career-redefining) records.

“I don’t really think that much about how I got here,” he says. “I just show up and try to make music that excites me. Sometimes there will be an idea that’ll make a record great, sometimes it’ll just be patiently waiting for a magic occurrence to happen or setting the stage to allow it to happen.”

Here, he tells the stories behind 21 of his most remarkable recordings, as well as the story of how he left his New York dorm for California and how he realized that producing albums could actually be a career.

T La Rock and Jazzy Jay, “It’s Yours” (1984)

I used to go to a reggae club called Negril on Second Avenue in New York City, when I was still a student at NYU. On Tuesdays, they had a hip-hop night. It was one of the first times you could hear hip-hop music without going to the Bronx or Harlem. There weren’t really clubs or parties in lower Manhattan so much. Jazzy Jay was my favorite DJ of all the DJs, and he was one of the DJs who would play at Negril. I just loved, loved his DJ’ing ability, and his taste. I learned so much about music from just hanging out with him. At the club, I loved the music and recognized that the records that were coming out at this time — there were no albums in rap yet, just 12-inch singles ­— and the ones that were coming out didn’t sound like what the club felt like. So “It’s Yours” was almost a documentary-style attempt at what it felt like going to a hip-hop club and experiencing real hip-hop music. That’s what it is.

LL Cool J, “I Need a Beat” (1985)

It was a beat that I programmed at the dorm room on a DX drum machine. I think that was the first one that we ever recorded with LL. He came over with lots of lyrics, just pages and pages of lyrics, though not necessarily arranged into songs. I helped pick some of the lyrics and arranged them into a song.

Back then, I would say LL was kind of a nerdy 16-year-old kid. He was really smart, well read. He came to the dorm room and was very motivated. He’s one of the more hardworking artists I’ve worked with, even from then. And I felt like he really kept to himself. He was friendly with the other artists, but I felt like he was a little bit of a loner type guy. He was in his head a lot. It was different than so many artists that were much more outgoing.

We did the recording at Chung King, a studio whose real name was Secret Society — I decided to call it “Chung King” just because it was in Chinatown. The owner’s name was John King, and it was a really crummy studio and I wanted it to be recorded in this mystical place, so we made up this Chung King place. I can’t remember much about the actual making of the song. We had it all arranged before we went into the studio. The lyrics were all written, the beat was already there; then in the studio it was just plugging in and documenting what we had already figured out in the dorm room.

Beastie Boys, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (1986)

The title came from Adam Yauch. He had a punk-rock, alternative band beyond the Beastie Boys, and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” was a title that he had in that band. I thought it was a really good title and suggested that we use that for a Beastie Boys song.

All four of us always wrote lyrics and then kind of pooled ideas, and we hung out a lot. We would go out to Danceteria pretty much every night and hang out and come up with lines to make each other laugh. Usually we’d only be working on one song at a time, so let’s say that song was the song of that month. So for that month, every time we’d go out, we write rhymes and collect them all. Then eventually, we’d put them all together and try to figure out the best order for it to happen in. I remember there were a lot of really funny lines in that one. It definitely entertained us at the time. Usually, the way it worked was I would make the tracks first, then the guys would come in and do vocals. So I played the guitar on it in the room by myself.

Kerry King from Slayer did the guitar solo. I don’t think he liked the song. I think he just thought it was bizarre. He’s a real, serious metalhead. He really loves metal, and I don’t think he listens to much music outside of metal. At least then he didn’t. I don’t think it spoke to his aesthetic. And honestly, in retrospect, I don’t think he really spoke to the Beasties’ aesthetic. They didn’t really like him either [laughs]. It was kind of mutual.

Slayer, “Angel of Death” (1986)

That was the first record I ever made in California. We recorded it at this little studio. It’s no longer there; it’s now a flower shop on Vine in Los Angeles.

The technical things about recording that song stand out to me now. They played so fast. If you listen to any of the really fast recordings before Slayer, they sounded like rock records. There are certain things you do to make a rock record. But because Slayer played so fast, those things that you would normally do didn’t work so well. If you listened to any other speed-metal, thrash-metal music that was being made at that time — and there wasn’t so much of it — it’s not clear. The reason is, technologically, people were recording it more like it was traditional rock music, which it really wasn’t. It was this new form. People didn’t look at it as its own thing that had to be handled differently. So that was my mission: How do you get across the clarity and articulation and speed and energy?

Dave Lombardo is this incredible, unbelievably great drummer. One thing that we did was make the drums louder. The nature of distorted electric guitars is that they sound loud regardless of how loud they are. Whereas drums, because it’s a natural instrument, depending on how loud they are in the mix really changes that feeling of how hard they’re being hit. If you’re in a room with the drums and somebody’s hitting them hard, they’re much louder. So, psychologically, by making the drums louder, it made everything seem louder.

I also did away with reverb. With their super-fast articulation in a big room, the whole thing just turns into a blur. So you don’t get that crystal clarity. So much of what Slayer was about was this precision machinery.

This was clearly a controversial song. Slayer were kind of the first death-metal or thrash band. I don’t know what the right title is. Metallica and they were going on at the same time, but Metallica were so different lyrically than them. Slayer were more blood and guts and Satan. Anyway, this was a song where the record company refused to put out the record. So we had to find a new distributor. It was the first record I did with Geffen Records instead of Columbia Records.

Run-DMC and Aerosmith, “Walk This Way” (1986)

The rest of the Run-DMC album [Raising Hell] had already been finished. I just had a feeling that there was something more that we could do that would help it. It was a funny time in rap music in that the majority of people didn’t understand what it was at all. People didn’t think it was music. And I thought that if there was a reference point that could both feel honest as hip-hop and be familiar outside of hip-hop, it would help bridge that gap of explaining that this was actual music.

I was just listening through my record collection, and the fact that the breakbeat of “Walk This Way” was already a familiar staple in the live hip-hop world just added to that message. We could take something that was familiar and not change it so much, just through the rappers’ delivery, reframe the song. And unbelievably, it happened. It’s amazing.

Getting Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to participate was easy. It was a funny time for them. They had just reformed, and they put out their reunion record [Done With Mirrors], and it was a flop. So they were kind of at a low point, and it just worked out. Also, they have always have loved urban music. So they were really excited to participate in real, urban street music.

I remember when we discussed the idea of having Aerosmith come in with the Run-DMC guys, and they were really against it. They didn’t want to say words that they didn’t write. They thought they were kind of like, country. It didn’t relate to their mentality. And I remember Russell [Simmons] called them and said, “Just do what Rick says.”

Danzig, “Mother” (1988)

James Hetfield and Cliff Burton from Metallica were the ones who told me about Glenn Danzig’s previous band, Samhain. I’d seen the Misfits earlier in the punk days, but they said, “You’ve got to check out Samhain. They’re the coolest band now.”

I loved Glenn Danzig’s songwriting. I sat in on a rehearsal with Samhain, and I realized the guys couldn’t really play. It felt like it would be hard to record them and make it all it could be. So I asked Glenn who his two favorite drummers were, and he said Phil [Taylor] from Motörhead and Chuck Biscuits. So we called both, and Chuck wanted to do it. So we got Glenn’s favorite drummer, but when he played with the other members of Samhain, it became more apparent that we needed more than a new drummer. So we held auditions and ended up finding John Christ, the guitar player. This became Danzig.

Glenn wrote all the songs, including the majority of the parts, other than maybe the guitar solos. Although sometimes he even wrote those. He had a very clear picture of the songwriting. I remember Glenn being really excited about the song “Mother” and telling me that, content-wise, it’s one that he’d been wanting to do for years and just never really found the way to do it. For him, it was a breakthrough in writing. I remember when we were recording, Glenn had laser-beam focus on all the parts. It was so much fun hearing him sing it. It was a trip. That song has got such a great vibe, and he’s such a great singer.

LL Cool J, “Going Back to Cali” (1989)

LL sometimes likes to say, “Give me concepts,” because he can write about anything. “Going Back to Cali” was more of a personal story for me, because I had been spending time in California and going back and forth. I think that was the last record we made together. He’s still super solid and has a super work ethic.

I like that song because it was a different kind of funk. There’s a slower beat and a faster beat working together to create a counter beat. It created a new feel. I played kalimba on it, too.

I don’t know what the inspiration for the horns was, but that was the first time we used them. Maybe it’s because we would scratch in horn stabs often and thought it would be interesting to do them ourselves. That part was all improvised. I would just say what to play and the musicians would play them. We had a horn solo in it, too, which is an odd choice because it’s typically not something I like. But for some reason we did it.

I can’t think of the song without thinking about the video. It’s was such a quintessential moment in time in our lives. And it was directed by a man named Ric Menello, who was the guy who ran the front desk at the dorm. He was a film-buff friend of ours. The video is one of his great pieces of art.

Andrew Dice Clay, “Hour Back … Get It?” (1990)

That album, The Day the Laughter Died, was at a time when he was the most popular comedian in the United States, selling out Madison Square Garden, and his fans were rabid. But when he was writing and rehearsing material, I would see him do these shows where he would get up at 2 o’clock in the morning, and there would be six people in an audience. It might be tourists who would come from out of town, thinking they were gonna see comedy and getting Dice and being horrified. For us — we worked with a guy named Hothead Johnny — we laughed the hardest at the shows where the audience didn’t like Dice. It was just so funny and combative, like performance art. He’d say these horrible, hateful things. And if you say something horrible and hateful and everybody laughs, it’s a joke. But if you say something horrible and hateful and nobody laughs, it’s kind of scary. It’s really a weird feeling.

So at the height of his popularity, we had the idea we’d put him in front of a small audience that just didn’t like him. It was really counter to what we did, so “anti” his real career. It was very bold of him to do it.

“Hour Back … Get It?” means nothing. It’s a routine he personally found very funny and nobody else found it funny. He had a friend named Auerbach, and it was sort of a play on his friend’s name. So maybe the whole joke might have just been to make one person laugh who wasn’t there. It couldn’t have been more of an inside joke. It wasn’t even a joke.

What you hear is a guy saying things that are sometimes funny, sometimes not. But his commitment to how funny he thinks it is, and how hard he’s selling it to nothing, to no response, is what’s so funny. It’s, like, he’s so convinced that this is funny. In a way, it’s got this existential quality. Of all the Dice albums, it’s my favorite.

Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Breaking the Girl” (1991)

I was living in California at the time, and it was really fun for me to work with the Chili Peppers, because I was new to Los Angeles, and the Chili Peppers were so ensconced in Los Angeles culture. It’s like after the Beach Boys, the next California band was the Chili Peppers. They really were theLos Angeles band. That was like my “Welcome to Los Angeles.” I loved just going out with them. I got to really experience Los Angeles in a local way being with them, and it was really a beautiful experience.

We recorded in this house that was amazing. It was just a beautiful place and a beautiful vibe. “Breaking the Girl” was the first record we made together, and it had a really beautiful John Frusciante guitar part.

Anthony [Kiedis] sang it in one of the bedrooms on the second floor of the house by himself. He didn’t ever want to have anybody see him when he was singing, so he was always kind of in a remote place. We were listening in the control room and speaking to him, and that idea for the rhythm breakdown — I can’t remember if it was Flea’s or John’s idea — but it came up, so everyone played together. So everybody picked their pots or pans or loud metallic instruments for this percussive jam session, and it worked out really cool. It just gave it an interesting flavor on the record and it really stood out.

Queen, “We Will Rock You (Ruined by Rick Rubin)” (1991)

Queen had got their masters back from the record company. They weren’t available for a little while, so they wanted to re-release them, and they wanted to do remixes to go on each of the albums. They reached out to different people that they thought could do something interesting.

I remember thinking, “Wow.” “We Will Rock You” is, like, this is a perfect record. I always had a weird feeling about remixes. We put so much time and effort into making the record that a remix seemed to be tainting what was good about the record. That was my thought then.

I loved Queen, so when they asked me, I thought, “Well, there’s no way I could make it better than theirs. It’s perfect as it is.” So the idea was to go the other way, and not try to make it great, but try to make it ridiculous and try to ruin it. On the real record, it breaks into a jam at the end and it seems so surreal. So because they’d sent all the multi-tracks, at the end of the remix, I played the solo from “Tie Your Mother Down” backwards.

The credit that I took on it was “Ruined by Rick Rubin,” for that reason. I was thinking, “What are the more surreal, bizarre choices I could make to play up the point that we’re not supposed to be remixing classic songs?” The message of it was, “Don’t do this.”

Tom Petty, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (1994)

Tom gave me a demo tape of new songs he was writing. It had, like, five songs on it from the early stages of jamming. It wasn’t like, “These are the great new songs”; it was more like, “Listen to these, see if you hear anything.” None of the songs were particularly memorable, but the guitar riff for “Last Dance With Mary Jane” was between two of the songs, like, after someone tuned up, just the first chords they played. So I call Tom, and was like, “Hey, this whole phrase is really good. You may want to write this song.” And he did [laughs]. I don’t know how he felt about it. I couldn’t read him. Sometimes he would say things very clearly, and sometimes he would not, and feel strongly about something and I would never know [laughs].

System of a Down, “Chop Suey” (2001)

When I first saw System of a Down, I loved them so much, it just made me laugh. There was no point of reference. It was so unusual. It’s hard music, but a lot of hard music sounds very similar. This is hard, but it’s playful, and it’s really danceable and funky. And the emotion of the performances, it really reaches me. I love it.

This song was originally going to be called “Self-Righteous Suicide,” and the record company rebelled. It was Columbia again, like with Slayer. I remember wanting to go to the mat and keep the title, and the band decided, “Let’s call it ‘Chop Suey!'” which I thought was kind of funny.

It’s an unusual song because the verse is so frantic. The style is so broken up and unusual. It’s both difficult to sing and arguably difficult to listen to, but then the chorus is this big, soaring, emotional, surging, beautiful thing. And then it’s got this incredible bridge, “Father, father, father, do you commend my spirit?/Father, why have you forsaken me?” It’s just real heavy, biblical and grand. It’s so unusual that it goes between these crazy rhythmic explosive verses into this emotional, anthemic ending.

It’s just a very unusual song, and the fact that it became a hit is really unusual, because it’s such bizarre music. I was shocked when Serj [Tankian] first sang the verse to me. It’s like, “You really want this to be the verse?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” He loved it. And it holds up. You have no perspective on something like this the first time you hear it. But the thing that’s so exciting about that band is how they take these unusual ideas and execute them on a high level. They can take something that seems really awkward and convey it in a way where you can see it as beautiful. It forces you to open your mind.

Johnny Cash, “Hurt” (2003)

Johnny and I would make collections of songs as possible covers for him to sing, and we’d send them to each other. “Hurt” was one that I sent. There were maybe 20 songs including that one on the mix I made, and it wasn’t one that he responded to. But I had a strong feeling about it, so on the next compilation, I included that one again. Because of the way the Nine Inch Nails song sounds, I think it was hard for him to hear it. So I sent him the lyrics, and I said, “Just read the lyrics. If you like the lyrics, then we’ll find a way to do it that will suit you.”

He listened to it with the lyrics sheet and said, “If you feel strongly about this, we can try it.” We recorded at my house in Los Angeles. We built all of it from scratch. It’s an acoustic song, so it was recorded as a smaller acoustic song than it ended up becoming, and through overdubs, we built all the drama that’s in the song to support the power of the words and the way Johnny was delivering them.

He was at a time where his health was failing, and I tried to pick songs that made sense lyrically for the way his voice was sounding. There were times when his voice sounded broken. He tried to turn that into a positive in the selection of the music. He was awfully troubled by the way his voice was sounding. A lot of times during the process, he would be down on himself. He could always rely on his voice, and at this stage he couldn’t. It was a real struggle for him. But then, when we put everything together and it was done, he would love it.

This is another song where I can’t think of the song without seeing the video. The first time I saw it, I just cried. It really upset me. It’s a really beautiful piece of art and I’m proud of him for letting people see it. When his management first saw they were like, “Nobody can ever see this.” And it was really Rosanne [Cash], his daughter, that made the case to Johnny that, “You’re an artist — this is what you do, and you have to show this.” He was like, “You’re right.” He agreed. And the video came out. She was the one.

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Jeff Buckley Covers the Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over”

Jeff Buckley’s collection of unreleased studio recordings and covers, You and I, is coming out on March 11. Buckley’s cover of the Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over” appears on the album. Directed by Amanda Demme and executive produced by Amy Redford, the video details the relationship between a mother and her anxious young son.

Redford told Rolling Stone, “When I first heard Jeff, he gave me permission to feel fully and with contradiction. He inspired me to fight for authenticity, and to feel confidence in simplicity. To collaborate on these songs coming to life, and to see the community of people who Jeff touched, has been a privilege.”

You and I also includes Buckley’s versions of songs by Bob Dylan (“Just Like a Woman”), Sly & the Family Stone (“Everyday People”) Led Zeppelin (“Night Flight”) alongsie a pair of originals: “Grace” (presented here as the track’s first solo performance) and “Dream of You and I.” “I Know It’s Over” is one of two Smiths covers from The Queen Is Dead that will appear on You and I along with “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side.”

http://cache.vevo.com/assets/html/embed.html?video=USSM21600285&autoplay=0

Sex, Drugs and R&B: Inside the Weeknd’s Dark Twisted Fantasy

Originally From RollingStone.com

Abel Tesfaye used to be a drugged-out R&B mystery man. Now he wants to be your Michael Jackson

By Josh Eells October 21, 2015

So is this swearing or no swearing?” In a darkened soundstage on the outskirts of London, Abel Tesfaye is wondering if he can say “fuck” or not. Tesfaye, better known as breakout pop sensation the Weeknd, is at a rehearsal for Later…With Jools Holland, the BBC music show, about to soundcheck his smash hit “The Hills,” a four-minute horror-movie booty call featuring more than a dozen f-bombs. For Tesfaye, that’s relatively clean, but he knows the pensioners in Twickenham might disagree. So when the verdict comes back “no swearing,” he nods and smoothly pivots to a censored version — a small gesture that says a lot about the kind of professional he has become.

“The Hills” is currently enjoying its fourth straight week at Number One, a feat made even more impressive because it took the place of another Weeknd track, “Can’t Feel My Face” — Spotify’s official song of the summer, and the only song about cocaine ever to be lip-synced by Tom Cruise on network TV. Tesfaye is just the 12th artist in history to score back-to-back Number Ones, a group that includes Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Taylor Swift. His new album, Beauty Behind the Madness, has sold more than half a million copies in a couple of months, and he’s preparing to launch a national arena tour in November. “I’m still digesting it, to be honest with you,” Tesfaye says of his success. “But the screams keep getting louder, dude.”

Tesfaye comes over to say hi, dressed in black Levi’s and a Roots hoodie, his tsunami of hair piled high atop his head. “Sorry, I’m sick,” he says, as his handshake becomes a fist bump in midair. Since starting this promo tour a week ago, he’s been to Las Vegas, Paris, Berlin and now London. The cold caught up with him yesterday, during a signing for 500 squealing fans at the Oxford Circus HMV. (Overheard: “I wanted to hug him!” “You didn’t hug him? I kissed him!”)

This scene would not have seemed possible in 2011, when the Weeknd appeared with a trio of cult-favorite mixtapes that established both his sonic template — drug-drenched, indie-rock-sampling, sex-dungeon R&B — and his mysterious, brooding persona. A press-shy Ethiopian kid from Toronto who has given only a handful of interviews, he has cultivated a near-mythical image as a bed-hopping, pill-popping, chart-topping cipher. “We live in an era when everything is so excessive, I think it’s refreshing for everybody to be like, ‘Who the fuck is this guy?'” Tesfaye says. “I think that’s why my career is going to be so long: Because I haven’t given people everything.”

Spend just five minutes with him, though, and he reveals himself: sweet, soft-spoken, surprisingly earnest. When I tell him he’s not what I expected, he nods. “When people meet me, they say that I’m really kind — contrary to a lot of my music.”

When talking about his art and his career, Tesfaye is blessed with a towering self-confidence and has no hesitation about declaring his own greatness. “People tell me I’m changing the culture,” he says. “I already can’t turn on the radio. I think I’m gonna drop one more album, one more powerful body of work, then take a little break — go to Tokyo or Ethiopia or some shit.” Hearing him boast about talking shop with Bono, or name-dropping “Naomi Campbell, who’s a good friend of mine now,” you may be tempted to see a diva in the making; or you may see a 25-year-old guy who’s stoked and incredulous to be in the position he’s in. Continue reading

Eminem Annotates Lyrics for Genius: His 10 Best

From RollingStone.com

EminemEminem has joined the likes of Rick Rubin, Grizzly Bear, A-Trak and The-Dream by becoming the latest Genius-verified artist. The rapper has annotated more than 40 lyrics for tracks from across his own catalog and select songs by other artists. Throughout his annotations, Eminem gets candid about his life and career, discussing his addiction to pills and sometimes-fraught relationship with his colleagues.

The annotations follow his recent celebration of Shady Records’ 15th anniversary. His personal notes on the lyrics and songs range from recollections of how they were produced to his mental state at the time he recorded them. Plus, the rapper offers some insight on his humor, detailing how his more surreal quips come about. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are 10 of Eminem’s best Genius annotations.

1. “Biggie/Tupac Live Freestyle” (1999)

Lyric: [Entire Notorious B.I.G.’s verse]

There’s people who rap to make songs, just because they enjoy doing it and want to express themselves. And then there are people who rap competitively. I believe that anybody who competitively raps — like Drake and Kendrick and Jay-Z — raps to be the best rapper. People diss each other, but it’s more in the vein of “How can I kill you with record sales? Or with a flow? How can I be better than you at making records, at punchlines, metaphors, wordplay, syllables?”

But when you have two rappers like Biggie and Tupac getting into it, you get the hip-hop community torn. No one wants to see something real happen. If for a second you entertain the idea of that being entertaining, if something ever happened out of that? No. That’s not healthy.

2. “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” (1999)

Lyric: “So put my tape back on the rack / Go run and tell your friends my shit is wack”

When we put [Eminem’s 1996 debut album] Infinite out, it was local. We pressed up under a thousand, initially. We expected we’d be able to get something with it, though. When that didn’t happen, it was really deflating. People were saying that I sounded like AZ and Nas. I was upset. Not to say that I didn’t love AZ and Nas, but for a rapper to be compared to someone, for people to say that you sound like someone else — nobody wants that. I had to go back to the drawing board. So I remember getting mad. I was like, “I’m gonna rap like I don’t care anymore. Fuck it.” I started to write angry songs like “Just Don’t Give a Fuck.”

3. “Just Don’t Give a Fuck

Lyric: “Slim Shady, Eminem was the old initials (bye bye!)”

Coming out with an alias was part of Proof’s whole idea. He said, “Let’s be in a group called D12, and there will be six of us, and we’ll each have an alias. We’ll each be two different people.” When I started rapping as Shady, as that character, it was a way for me to vent all my frustrations and just blame it on him. If anybody got mad about it, it was him that said it. It was a way for me to be myself and say what I felt. I never wanted to go back to just rapping regular again.

4. “My Name Is” (1999)

We saw [the video] for the first time on MTV. It came on really late at night. That’s when it was like, “Okay, this isn’t a joke anymore.” We had kind of felt that, being in the studio with Dre and shit. But once that single came out, my life changed like that. Within a day. Just going outside. I couldn’t go outside anymore. In a day. It went from the day before, doing whatever the fuck I wanted to do, because nobody knew who the fuck I was, to holy shit, people are fucking following us. It was crazy. That’s when shit just got really — it was a lot to deal with at once.

5. “Lose Yourself” (2002)

Lyric: “Food stamps don’t buy diapers, and there’s no movie / There’s no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life”

Putting the name of the actor right there in the lead single was just about the rhymes. I had started with this syllable scheme — “somebody’s paying the pied piper” and “Mekhi Phifer” ended up fitting. That was all it was.

That was one of those songs where I remember telling [manager] Paul [Rosenberg], “I don’t know how to write about someone else’s life.” Because the movie is not me; the movie is Jimmy Smith Jr. So I’m playing this character, but I have to make parallels between my life and his, in this song. I gotta figure out how to reach a medium. It would sound so corny if I was just rapping as Jimmy Smith Jr. How is that going to come from a real place?

If I’m telling you that my daughter doesn’t have diapers, I need this amount of money to pay my bills this month, and it’s some real shit I’m telling you, then you know that it’s just coming from me. That was the trick I had to figure out — how to make the rhyme sound like him, and then morph into me somehow, so you see the parallels between his struggles and mine.

6. “8 Mile: Final Battle” (2002)

This is Rabbit’s battle, not mine. I had a big battle of my own, and it was definitely not like Rabbit’s.

We had pressed up The Slim Shady EP and it was doing pretty well in Detroit. At some point, [Rap Coalition founder] Wendy Day called me and said, “I want you to be on the battle team. I got you a ticket to the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles.”

I went to the Olympics, got all the way to the end, and then lost to the last guy. The guy who won was Otherwize, from L.A. It was a local thing. They had a bunch of crowd support there. When I rapped, he went and hid behind a video screen. He walked away while I was rapping. I didn’t have anyone to battle! I’d never been in a situation like that before. I went through a lot of people to get through to the end, and then he walked away while I was rapping. I’m like, “What the fuck do I do?” I was devastated.

I come off stage. I’m like, that’s it. It’s over for me. This kid from Interscope, Dean Geistlinger, walks over and he asks me for a copy of the CD. So I kind of just chuck it at him. It was The Slim Shady EP. We come back to Detroit, I have no fucking home, no idea what I’m gonna do. Then, a couple weeks later, we get a call. Marky Bass said, “Yo, we got a call from a doctor!”

7. “Sing for the Moment” (2003)

Lyric: [Verse 1]

This is where I was dealing with critics who didn’t understand why people were identifying with me. I realized I was becoming like the rappers that I looked up to as a kid. I identified with and loved LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. I felt like if everybody didn’t understand their music, it didn’t matter — they were speaking to me. So that’s what I was trying to make people realize on this track. I may not be shit to you, but there’s a kid in fucking Nebraska, or somewhere, that I’m talking to. I don’t care if you’re listening, because he’s listening. That’s who I’m directing my material at.

8. “Fack” (2005)

It was a goofy fucking song. I was taking a lot of fucking pills at the time. Ambien will make you do crazy shit. Imagine if you took it all day long.

9. “Rap God” (2013)

Lyric: “Ungh, school flunky, pill junkie / But look at the accolades, these skills brung me”

I don’t ever want to be too braggadocious. If I’m going to brag, let me pull it back with lines like “school flunky, pill junkie.” I’m a fucking waste of life. I’m a waste of sperm. I am a fucking outcast of society, I am a piece of shit. But I know how to rap. Other than that, I’m a fucking scumbag. I’m worthless. Or this is what I’ve been told.

10. “Shady XV” (2014)

Lyric: “I slap Linda Ronstadt with a lobster, throw her off a balcony / Just so happens she’s fond of algae”

Let’s say I’m writing, and I lock onto Linda Ronstadt. I’m in the studio and I chuckle. Someone hears me and is like, “What the fuck are you laughing at?” It’s because I thought of something funny that rhymes with something. I’m not gonna not say this, because it’s funny, regardless of whether or not it’s fucked up. If it happens to connect and there’s some kind of humor in it, some reason for it to rhyme with something else, then I’m going to say it.

When I’m pushing boundaries, I want to make sure that I keep myself in check. I want you to know that this rhyme might be fucked up or funny or not, or whatever. I’m aware of it and I know I’m probably fucked up for saying it.

I don’t think it’s any different than what comedians do. Have you ever seen Lisa Lampanelli? She takes the piss out of herself while she says these ridiculous things. You’re like, “That was fucked up,” and then she comes right behind it with some self-deprecating thing about herself. She’s figured out a way to weave certain things together that’s very clever.

Graphing the Grammys: How 2015’s Record of the Year Nominees Stack Up

Originally posted on Rollingstone.com 
BY  | February 4, 2015

Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Iggy Azalea, Sia and Meghan Trainor by the numbers

This year, the five Grammy nominees for Record of the Year — the most prestigious award of the evening — are all monster singles — hundreds of millions of YouTube plays, Platinum certifications and at least three Hot 100 chart-toppers.

To compare the similarities and differences between the five nominated songs, we plotted them by nine sets of data: social media dominance, lyrical content, speed, duration, accomplishments and more — and finally, we just threw our hands up and said who we’d like to see win.

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Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2014

U2 unleashed a brilliant surprise, Bruce Springsteen hit a new peak, St. Vincent made deliciously weird noise and more

This Day in Music History — November 9

1956 : Buddy Holly begins his first solo tour, opening for country singers George Jones and Hank Locklin.

1966 : According to the “Paul Is Dead” rumors, this was the day Paul McCartney “blew his mind out in a car,” meeting his doom and being replaced with a lookalike.

1967 : The first issue of the rock periodical Rolling Stone hits the shelves in San Francisco, CA, with a cover featuring John Lennon, in a still from his upcoming movie How I Won The War, and a free roach clip with every issue.

1998 : Rick James suffers a stroke after a blood vessel ruptures in his neck while he is head banging during a performance in Denver, Colorado. A spokesman later comments, “The doctor called it a result of rock’n’roll neck, the repeated rhythmic whiplash motion of the head and neck.”

1999 : The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announces the biggest-selling artists of the century in the United States: The Beatles have sold the most albums (106 million), Garth Brooks is the best-selling male solo act, and Barbra Streisand the best-selling female. Elton John’s 1997 “Candle In The Wind” is the best-selling single of the century, and the best-selling album is the Eagles’s Greatest Hits 1971-1975.

 

RIP Janice Joplin

Today in History: Rock singer Janis Joplin, 27, was found dead in her Hollywood hotel room. Here is one of the best long form articles written about Janice. Also click here for the essential Janice Joplin playlist.

Janis Joplin On Her Own Terms

Her transformation rom the ugly duckling of Port Harbor to the peacock of Haight-Ashbury

 Janis Joplin on the cover of Rolling Stone.
David Gahr
Janis Joplin on the cover of Rolling Stone.

BY | November 18, 1976

Janis Joplin was born in 1943 and grew up in Port Arthur, Texas. She began singing in bars and coffeehouses, first locally, then in Austin, where she spent most of a year at the University of Texas. In 1966, she went to San Francisco and got together with a rock band in search of a singer. Big Brother and the Holding Company. The following summer Big Brother performed at the Monterey Pop Festival; Janis got raves from the fans and the critics and from then on she was a star. ‘Cheap Thrills’, Big Brother’s first major album (there had been an early record on a small-time label), came out in July 1968. By then there were tensions between Janis and the group, and she left soon afterward.

With her new backup band she made another album, ‘I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!’ But the band never quite jelled, and in the spring of 1970, Janis formed another, Full-Tilt Boogie. They spent most of the summer touring, then went to Los Angeles to record an album, ‘Pearl’. It was Janis’s last. On October 4th, 1970, she died of an overdose of heroin.

* * *

The hippie rock stars of the late Sixties merged two versions of that hardy American myth, the free individual. They were stars, which meant achieving liberation by becoming rich and famous on their own terms; and they were, or purported to be, apostles of cultural revolution, a considerably more ambitious and romantic vision of freedom that nevertheless had a similar economic foundation. Young Americans were in a sense the stars of the world, drawing on an overblown prosperity that could afford to indulge all manner of rebellious and experimental behavior. The combination was inherently unstable – Whitman’s open road is not, finally, the Hollywood Freeway, and in any case neither stardom nor prosperity could deliver what it seemed to promise. For a fragile historical moment rock transcended those contradictions; in its aftermath our pop heroes found themselves grappling, like the rest of us, with what are probably enduring changes in the white American consciousness – changes that have to do with something very like an awareness of tragedy. It is in this context that Janis Joplin developed as an artist, a celebrity, a rebel, a woman, and it is in this context that she died.

Joplin belonged to that select group of pop figures who mattered as much for themselves as for their music; among American rock performers she was second only to Bob Dylan in importance as a creator/recorder/embodiment of her generation’s history and mythology. She was also the only woman to achieve that kind of stature in what was basically a male club, the only Sixties culture hero to make visible and public women’s experience of the quest for individual liberation, which was very different from men’s. If Janis’s favorite metaphors – singing as fucking (a first principle of rock and roll) and fucking as liberation (a first principle of the cultural revolution) – were equally approved by her male peers, the congruence was only on the surface. Underneath – just barely – lurked a feminist (or prefeminist) paradox.

The male-dominated counterculture defined freedom for women almost exclusively in sexual terms. As a result, women endowed the idea of sexual liberation with immense symbolic importance; it became charged with all the secret energy of an as yet suppressed larger rebellion. Yet to express one’s rebellion in that limited way was a painfully literal form of submission. Whether or not Janis understood that, her dual personalusty hedonist and suffering victim – suggested that she felt it. Dope, another term in her metaphorical equation (getting high as singing as fucking as liberation) was, in its more sinister aspect, a pain-killer and finally a killer, Which is not to say that the good times weren’t real, as far as they went. Whatever the limitations of hippie/rock star life, it was better than being a provincial matron – or a lonely weirdo.

For Janis, as for others of us who suffered the worst fate that can befall an adolescent girl in America – unpopularity – a crucial aspect of the cultural revolution was its assault on the rigid sexual styles of the Fifties. Joplin’s metamorphosis from the ugly duckling of Port Arthur to the peacock of Haight-Ashbury meant, among other things, that a woman who was not conventionally pretty, who had acne and an intermittent weight problem and hair that stuck out, could not only invent her own beauty (just as she invented her wonderful sleazofreak costumes) out of sheer energy, soul, sweetness, arrogance, and a sense of humor, but have that beauty appreciated. Not that Janis merely took advantage of changes in our notions of attractiveness; she herself changed them. It was seeing Janis Joplin that made me resolve, once and for all, not to get my hair straightened. And there was a direct line from that sort of response to those apocryphal burned bras and all that followed.

Direct, but not simple. Janis once crowed, “They’re paying me $50,000 a year to be like me.” But the truth was that they were paying her to be a personality, and the relation of public personality to private self – something every popular artist has to work out – is especially problematic for a woman. Men are used to playing roles and projecting images in order to compete and succeed. Male celebrities tend to identify with their mask-making, to see it as creative and – more or less – to control it. In contrast, women need images simply to survive. A woman is usually aware, on some level, that men do not allow her to be her “real self,” and worse, that the acceptable masks represent men’s fantasies, not her own. She can choose the most interesting image available, present it dramatically, individualize it with small elaborations, undercut it with irony. But ultimately she must serve some male fantasy to be loved – and then it will be only the fantasy that is loved anyway. The female celebrity is confronted with this dilemma in its starkest form. Joplin’s revolt against conventional femininity was brave and imaginative, but it also dovetailed with a stereotype – the ballsy, one-of-the-guys chick who is a needy, vulnerable cream puff underneath – cherished by her legions of hip male fans. It may be that she could have pushed beyond it and taken the audience with her; that was one of the possibilities that made her death an artistic as well as human calamity. There is, for instance, the question of her bisexuality. People who knew Janis differ on whether sexual relationships with women were an important part of her life, and I don’t know the facts. In any case, a public acknowledgment of bisexual proclivities would not necessarily have contradicted her image; it could easily have been passed off as more pull-out-the-stops hedonism or another manifestation of her all-encompassing need for love. On the other hand, she could have used it to say something new about women and liberation. What makes me wonder is something I always noticed and liked about Janis: unlike most female performers whose act is intensely erotic, she never made me feel as if I were crashing an orgy that consisted of her and the men in the audience. When she got it on at a concert, she got it on with everybody.

Still, the songs she sang assumed heterosexual romance; it was men who made her hurt, who took another little piece of her heart. Watching men groove on Janis, I began to appreciate the resentment many black people feel toward whites who are blues freaks. Janis sang out of her pain as a woman, and men dug it. Yet it was men who caused the pain, and if they stopped causing it they would not have her to dig. In a way, their adulation was the cruelest insult of all. And Janis’s response – to sing harder, get higher, be worshiped more – was rebellious, acquiescent, bewildered all at once. When she said, “Onstage I make love to 25,000 people, then I go home alone,” she was not merely repeating the cliché of the sad clown or the poor little rich girl. She was noting that the more she gave the less she got, and that honey, it ain’t fair.

Like most women singers, Joplin did not write many songs; she mostly interpreted other people’s. But she made them her own in a way few singers dare to do. She did not sing them so much as struggle with them, assault them. Some critics complained, not always unfairly, that she strangled them to death, but at her best she whipped them to new life. She had an analogous adversary relationship with the musical form that dominated her imagination – the blues. Blues represented another external structure, one with its own contradictory tradition of sexual affirmation and sexist conservatism. But Janis used blues conventions to reject blues sensibility. To sing the blues is a way of transcending pain by confronting it with dignity, but Janis wanted nothing less than to scream it out of existence. Big Mama Thornton’s classic rendition of “Ball and Chain” carefully balances defiance and resignation, toughness and vulnerability. She almost pities her oppressor: “I know you’re gonna miss me, baby . . . You’ll find that your whole life will be like mine, all wrapped up in a ball and chain.” Her singing conveys, above all, her determination to survive abuse. Janis makes the song into one long frenzied, despairing protest. Why, why, why,she asks over and over, like a child unable to comprehend injustice. “It ain’t fair . . . this can’t be . . . I just wanted to hold you . . . All I ever wanted to do was to love you.” The pain is overwhelming her, “draggin’ me down . . . maybe, maybe you can help me – c’mon help me.” There are similar differences between her recording of “Piece of My Heart” and Erma Franklin’s. When Franklin sings it, it is a challenge: no matter what you do to me, I will not let you destroy my ability to be human, to love. Joplin seems rather to be saying, surely if I keep taking this, if I keep setting an example of love and forgiveness, surely he has to understand, change, give me back what I have given.

Her pursuit of pleasure had the same driven quality; what it amounted to was refusal to admit of any limits that would not finally yield to the virtue of persistence – try just a little bit harder – and the magic of extremes. This war against limits was largely responsible for the electrifying power of Joplin’s early performances; it was what made Cheap Thrills a classic, in spite of unevenness and the impossibility of duplicating on a record the excitement of her concerts. After the split with Big Brother, Janis retrenched considerably, perhaps because she simply couldn’t maintain that level of intensity, perhaps for other reasons that would have become clear if she had lived. My uncertainty on this point makes me hesitate to be too dogmatic about my conviction that leaving Big Brother was a mistake.

I was a Big Brother fan. I thought they were better musicians than their detractors claimed, but more to the point, technical accomplishment, in itself, was not something I cared about. I thought it was an ominous sign that so many people did care – including Janis. It was, in fact, a sign that the tenuous alliance between mass culture and bohemianism – or, in my original formulation, the fantasy of stardom and the fantasy of cultural revolution – was breaking down. But the breakdown was not as neat as it might appear. For the elitist concept of “good musicianship” was as alien to the holistic, egalitarian spirit of rock and roll as the act of leaving one’s group the better to pursue one’s individual ambition was alien to the holistic, egalitarian pretensions of the cultural revolutionaries. If Joplin’s decision to go it alone was influenced by all the obvious professional/commercial pressures, it also reflected a conflict of values within the counterculture itself – a conflict that foreshadowed its imminent disintegration. And again, Janis’s femaleness complicated the issues, raised the stakes. She had less room to maneuver than a man in her position, fewer alternatives to fall back on if she blew it. If she had to choose between fantasies, it made sense for her to go with stardom as far as it would take her.

Discography

Janis Joplin, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! (Columbia 9913; *5, 1969). Pearl (Columbia 30322; *1, 1971).

Joplin in Concert (Columbia 33160; *4, 1972). Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits (Columbia 32168; *37, 1973). Janis (Soundtrack) (Columbia 33345; *54, 1975).

Big Brother and the Holding Company, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Mainstream 56099; *60, 1967). Big Brother and the Holding Company,Cheap Thrills (Columbia 9700; *1, 1968).

(Chart positions taken from Joel Whitburn’s Record Research, compiled from Billboard Pop and LPs charts.)

But I wonder if she really had to choose, if her choice was not in some sense a failure of nerve and therefore of greatness. Janis was afraid Big Brother would hold her back, but if she had thought it was important enough, she might have been able to carry them along, make them transcend their limitations. There is more than a semantic difference between a group and a backup band. Janis had to relate to the members of Big Brother as spiritual (not to mention financial) equals even though she had more talent than they, and I can’t help suspecting that that was good for her not only emotionally and socially but aesthetically. Committed to the hippie ethic of music-for-the-hell-of-it–if only because there was no possibility of their becoming stars on their own – Big Brother helped Janis sustain the amateur quality that was an integral part of her effect. Their zaniness was a salutary reminder that good times meant silly fun–remember “Caterpillar”? – as well as Dionysiac abandon; it was a relief from Janis’s extremism and at the same time a foil for it. At their best moments Big Brother made me think of the Beatles, who weren’t (at least in the beginning) such terrific musicians either. Though I’m not quite softheaded enough to imagine that by keeping her group intact Janis Joplin could somehow have prevented or delayed the end of an era, or even saved her own life, it would have been an impressive act of faith. And acts of faith by public figures always have reverberations, one way or another.

Such speculation is of course complicated by the fact that Janis died before she really had a chance to define her post-San Francisco, post-Big Brother self. Her last two albums, like her performances with the ill-fated Kozmic Blues band, had a tentative, transitional feel. She was obviously going through important changes; the best evidence of that was “Me and Bobby McGee,” which could be considered her “Dear Landlord.” Both formally – as a low-keyed, soft, folkie tune – and substantively – as a lyric that spoke of choices made, regretted and survived, with the distinct implication that compromise could be a positive act – what it expressed would have been heresy to the Janis Joplin of Cheap Thrills. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” is as good an epitaph for the counterculture as any; we’ll never know how – or if – Janis meant to go on from there.

Janis Joplin’s death, like that of a fighter in the ring, was not exactly an accident. Yet it’s too easy to label it either suicide or murder, though it involved elements of both. Call it rather an inherent risk of the game she was playing, a game whose often frivolous rules both hid and revealed a deadly serious struggle. The form that struggle took was incomplete, shortsighted, egotistical, self-destructive. But survivors who give in to the temptation to feel superior to all that are in the end no better than those who romanticize it. Janis was not so much a victim as a casualty. The difference matters.

This story is from the November 18th, 1976 issue of Rolling Stone. 

RIP Jimi Hendrix

unreleased jimi hendrix tracks

Jimi Hendrix dies on September 18, 1970 at 27 years old.

Hailed by Rolling Stone as the greatest guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix was also one of the biggest cultural figures of the Sixties, a psychedelic voodoo child who spewed clouds of distortion and pot smoke.

A left-hander who took a right-handed Fender Stratocaster and played it upside down, Hendrix pioneered the use of the instrument as an electronic sound source. Players before Hendrix had experimented with feedback and distortion, but he turned those effects and others into a controlled, fluid vocabulary every bit as personal as the blues with which he began.