Rick Rubin: My Life in 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

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.

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