There’s a lot to learn when one of the highest selling and most awarded artists of all time teams up with one of the most influential producers. Kanye West started work on Yeezus in mid 2012, calling in stellar guests, producers, writers and collaborators. After a year of work in Paris, three weeks from deadline, he called Rick Rubin to ‘play him the album’:

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.

So Rick was about to go on holiday and Kanye recruits him to finish the album. Kind of unbelievable – the list of producers and collaborators is terrifying for an independent producer like me –  Kid Cudi, Charlie Wilson, S1, The Heatmakerz, Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke, Skrillex, Young Chop, Chief Keef, Frank Ocean, Odd Future, Travis Scott, The-Dream, Cyhi the Prynce, Malik Yusef, King L, John Legend, James Blake, RZA, Mase and Pusha T. The album features even has vocals by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Frank Ocean among others. The list goes on. Did I mention Daft Punk yet?

I guess the most interesting quote about the project came from Rick Rubin in an interview with Andrew Romano.

To me it seemed impossible what he was asking. 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.

 
The Top 25 Rick Rubin Songs at Complex music

Even the guys at the top of their game face pretty similar problems. What to say, how to say it, beating deadlines, maximising potential, the right sounds, the right songs to get them where they want to go. So many artists are rushing, cutting budgets, not wanting feedback, honesty, hard work or revisions. Not these guys.

It takes more focus and time than you think it should
Even when the album was mostly finished, he still calls in Rubin, still has massive long days, still rushing to finish. Fifteen hours days? I may not have the team he has, or the money, but I can still take the time, do the process…

You have to be willing to lose great ideas
According to the wiki page James Blake, Skrillex, John Legend, the RZA all made contributions in early stages, though the final songs don’t show the fruits of their efforts. According to the Newsweek article, West was aiming for a double album, and had over three and a half hours of works in progress.

Making something great is pretty terrifying.
Anyone who says otherwise isn’t trying, or is selling something. I like that Rubin is honest enough to say he was ‘panicking’ the whole time. I’ve always believed creativity means pushing yourself to the edge.  I love that quote by Chuck Close :

If it looks like art, chances are it’s somebody else’s art

It’s easy to forget that making something new means doing something that hasn’t been done. There are plenty of arguments about what is and isn’t new, what is and isn’t worth doing. But for me the challenge is always to know I’ve gone somewhere honest and given it the best I’ve got.

For twenty five years I’ve been making albumsmentoring artists, directing shows and collaborating with musicians. It continues to surprise and unsettle. It’s good to be reminded that’s the producer and mixer I want to be.