The startup formerly known as Rap Genius might currently be on a mission to "annotate the world," but the site itself is still at its best on home turf: offering up snippets of enlightening musical trivia. Rick Rubin is the perfect example of this: three days ago, the superproducer began annotating songs and albums he's worked on or simply likes, resulting in an amazing mix of behind-the-scenes insights and straightforward recommendations of favorite tracks and artists from Slayer to Kanye West.
Imagine if other experts of Rubin's calibre pitched in
We've highlighted a selection of his best annotations below, but you can check out his verified profile on Genius for more. The notes are interesting in their own right, of course, but they also suggest how Genius could gain wider relevance: if experts of Rubin's calibre could be enticed to comment on their particular areas of interest then average web users might have a good reason to regularly visit the site — rather than just forgetting the second verse to "99 Problems." Genius' recent hire of The New Yorker's music critic suggest they know this too.
Jay wrote the first verse in about twenty minutes, sitting in the back of the control room. He would just be kind of humming, and we’d keep looping the track, and maybe after thirty minutes he jumped up and was like "We got it!" And he did it ten times, and every time he did it, it was different. Most of the words were the same, but the phrasing was different. He’d written and memorized the words and then was playing with different ways of doing it. It was incredible.
I really love the solos on that record because they have nothing to do with music. It’s just about speed. How fast can a guitar, or how fast can anything play? We’ll use this guitar, because we have these, but it has nothing to do with guitar playing or music. And also the fact that they had two lead guitar players who would trade off these guitar solos, neither of which made sense. Like: "This thing doesn’t make sense, and now I’m going to out not-make-sense you. You think you can do that? I’ll do this." It’s so insane. There’s one where I think its like five back and forth of just insanity. Unbelievable.
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.
On what attracted him to System of a Down (Rubin has produced all five of their albums):
You’ve got this unbelievable band that don’t sound like anyone else, ever. They’re four Armenian guys. I went to see them live, and every label had passed on them. They were at the Viper Room, it was packed. It was the funniest show. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was intense. The problem with hard music is that it almost all sounds the same. Heavy metal has very strict guidelines. The beauty of System of a Down is that it’s so weird and so groovy but hard as fuck. And the singer is great.
I remember a few days after Yeezus came out, Kanye sent me a message, so excited, like, "I just realized there’s no snare drum on Yeezus until the sixth song! How cool is that?"
On recording "Hurt" with Johnny Cash towards the end of his career under Rubin's American Recordings label:
For all the records we made together, he would play me songs and I would play him songs until we got to the point where we both liked the songs... "Rusty Cage" was mine, "Hurt" was mine. He wouldn’t have heard those. Something like an old Jimmie Rodgers song, chances are he brought it.
What I came to realize about that whole Johnny Cash experience was that he was a great storyteller. The song didn’t matter — all that mattered were the words. All that mattered was if the character of Johnny Cash — the mythical Johnny Cash, the man in black — would say those words. If that’s what you would want to hear him talking about, then that would be a good song to do. So it was never about like melody, it was just about if the lyrics were right.