....Are there any artists you wanted to work with but didn’t get to?
I tried to sign N.W.A. I went to the studio when they were recording Straight Outta Compton. I was just a fan, but I developed a relationship with them. And the reason it didn’t work out was ... there have been a couple of cases in my life where I make some plan with the artist, but then they already have an existing relationship with a company and the company ends up doing something different. N.W.A was one of those.
How did you discover Public Enemy, another one of the
greatest rap groups ever?
D.M.C. from Run-D.M.C. played me a tape of Chuck D hosting a radio
show. The show was called “Public Enemy Number One.” And the
first minute of the song “Public Enemy” was his theme song. We
listened to it over and over again. He sounded different. He had that
deep voice, and there was a more intellectual side to him. He didn’t
sound like a kid. He sounded more mature. And angry. So I called him,
and he said that he had already done the rap thing. Now he had a
regular job. He wasn’t interested. He felt like he was too old. He
was probably 20. LL was 16. Chuck thought he’d missed his chance. ‘From the beginning, all I’ve cared about is things being
...You also produced the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik. It was a transitional moment for them. Tell me about the genesis of “Under the Bridge.”
Same as the LL story. I was at Anthony’s house, and he was showing me
some books of writing he had done. And I was going through the
notebooks and I found this “Under the Bridge” thing. And I was like,
“This looks really good. What is this?” And Anthony’s like, “Well, it’s a
poem, and a song, but it’s not a Chili Peppers song.” And I was like,
“Why not?” And he’s like, “Well, that’s not what we do. We’re a funk
band and I rap, and this isn’t that kind of song. This is more of a
personal song.” But I pushed him. I said, “Let’s just explore where it
....Your debut release together on Def Jam was “I Need a Beat” by
LL Cool J. This was 1984. When you first heard LL, what was your
I laughed because he sounded really young. He was 16, and he was
using all these big words. But he sounded like he knew what he was
Where was this?
In the dorm at NYU. It was a cassette he had sent us. Ad-Rock from
the Beastie Boys recognized it and was like, “You gotta hear this.” And
he played it for me.
What was the next step? Did you say, “we have to sign this kid”?
No, I called LL and said we should meet. I remember being in the dorm
and going through his notebook. This was before rap songs really had
structure. Often they could be eight, nine minutes long—one entire side
of a 12-inch. So I would go through LL’s lyric book and say, “Let’s use
these eight bars as a verse, and let’s use these 16 bars as a verse, and
this phrase here is going to be the hook, and that will be repeated.”
...When he (Kanye West) came to you with the record, did you have a sense of what needed to be done?
Initially, he thought there were going to be 16 songs on the album.
But that first day, before he even asked me to work on it, I said,
“Maybe you should make it more concise. Maybe this is two albums. Maybe
this is just the first half.” That was one of the first breakthroughs.
Kanye was like, “That’s what I came here today to hear! It could be 10
So there might be another Yeezus in the pipeline?
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