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

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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.

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