Rick Rubin sitting down with Pharrell Williams and having a conversation is a fascinating thing to watch and is, indeed, the meeting of two great minds. Although they are of different generations, both artists greatly impacted hip-hop in their prime. Rick Rubin made history with his work alongside Russell Simmons and Run-DMC. Years later, Pharrell dominated the airwaves as part of the Neptunes with their stripped-back, offbeat, minimalist production style.
One thing that the two undoubtedly have in common is a love for rock. In their own ways, the two have similarly looked to incorporate the genre into hip-hop and have individually done so to great success, albeit with different acts; Rubin with Run-DMC and Willimas with N.E.R.D. Both musicians have transitioned into the background and explored realms outside of solely music production. Pharrell has made outstanding contributions to the fashion world, and Rubin has invested his time in writing and teaching. Neither of them are as prominent in the hip-hop world as they were in their heyday. However, no one can take away or disregard the effect they made on hip-hop, and in 2019 the two sat down for a conversation about music and more.
Both sharing words of wisdom, the two first discussed how they got to where they are. Speaking on the nature of production, Williams explained that regardless if one is a fantastic producer, the artists (rappers) and fans ultimately determine whether one will succeed. He proceeded to detail how it is the vocalists who first decide to accept or reject your instrumentals. Then it is up to the listeners to determine whether or not they like the music enough to buy it.
As the conversation continued, Williams wisely revealed, “Most producers…they kind like ‘I’m the alpha, do you know how many records I’ve sold?!’ When truth be told, we’ve not sold anything. We only made music, and people chose to stream it and share it, we’re not responsible for our success. There are millions of people who are responsible.”
The dialogue between the two continued. As Williams spoke about his work with different artists, Rubin asked him to “name an artist you liked from childhood, someone you liked as a kid”, to which Williams responded “Stevie Wonder”. Curious about how Williams would approach working with Stevie Wonder, Rubin hypothetically asked Williams how he believed it would work. Williams replied, “That’s kinda difficult ’cause he has done so many different genres. I mean his reggae was amazing, his disco was amazing, his ballads were unbelievable, his Parisienne Burt Bacharach bossa-nova stuff was amazing.” Ultimately, Williams decided that, although he would love to work with Stevie Wonder, exploring a sound or genre he still needed to make would be complex.
Williams revealed he would love to work with Prince. However, as he revealed on the Drink champs podcast with Noreaga, Prince rejected his offer when he presented the singer with the ‘Frontin’ instrumental in 2003. You can watch the conversation between Williams and Rubin in the video below.