Kanye West’s ‘Raw’ Yeezus Lacked ‘Focus’ When Rick Rubin Jumped In

Rubin tells the Wall Street Journal about how 'Ye brought him the unfinished tracks with little time before deadline.

Kanye West invokes his “god name” for the title of his game-changing sixth album Yeezus, but when it came time to complete the project, ‘Ye reached out to “the god” — legendary hip-hop/rock producer Rick Rubin — for help in the 25th hour. The pair worked furiously to strip down and re-assemble the album three weeks before deadline, as Rubin reveals in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Though Rubin is credited as the executive producer of the album, he originally thought that Kanye was presenting him with a completed body of work for critique. “Kanye came over to play me what I assumed was going to be the finished album at three weeks before the last possible delivery date,” he explained. “We ended up listening to three hours of partially finished pieces. The raw material was very strong but hadn’t yet come into focus. Many of the vocals hadn’t been recorded yet, and many of those still didn’t have lyrics.

“From what he played me, it sounded like several months’ more work had to be done,” Rubin added. “I joined the project because after discussing what he had played for me, he asked if I would be open to taking all of the raw material on and help him finish it.”

West has emphasized that this album will be a raw and stripped-down body of work that pushes the boundaries of art, so it makes sense that he turned to Rubin. Besides Rubin’s forward-thinking projects with artists like LL Cool and the Beastie Boys, he is also legendary for his engaging and minimalist work with artists such as Johnny Cash, Jay-Z and Metallica.

“He wanted the music to take a stripped-down minimal direction. He was always examining what we could take out instead of put in,” Rubin detailed. “A good example would be the song that became ‘Bound.’ When he first played it for me, it was a more middle-of-the-road R&B song, done in an adult contemporary style. Kanye had the idea of combining that track with a cool sample he had found and liked — I removed all of the R&B elements leaving only a single note baseline in the hook which we processed to have a punk edge in the Suicide tradition.”

To make it clear just how little time was left as they scurried to wrap the album, Rubin noted that they were recording two days before Yeezus needed to be complete, with five songs missing vocals and a couple more still without lyrics. ‘Ye miraculously managed to lay those tracks, attend Kim Kardashian’s baby shower and then hop on a flight to Milan.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, I will score 40 points for you in the fourth quarter.’ In the two hours before he had to run out to catch the plane, he did exactly that: finished all lyrics and performed them with gusto. A remarkable feat. He had total confidence in his ability to get the job done when push came to shove.”

In addition to his painstaking work ethic, Rubin also gave Kanye credit for refusing to set an official promotion plan for the album, which still has no official radio single and barely there cover art. “He is pure in his art and in a form where so many choices artists make are often the result of business consideration. Kanye chooses to let his art lead,” he said. “He didn’t want a premeditated commercial (single) for his album as he looks at it as a body of work. Kanye proceeds on the road less traveled and I applaud him for it.”

Yeezus is due on Tuesday.

A native of Grenada, a product of Brooklyn, a student of hip-hop.
@neweryork