“Rhyme or Reason” is such a very personal piece of work. Did Em know what that was going to become when he started making the song? The sample sort of leads into the topic.
We worked on the track, he loved the track and then just sat with it and said he had an idea. He wrote the first verse. I heard the first verse and I loved it, and told him how great I thought it was. It took a while to write the whole thing, that one.
Did you bring that Zombies sample to the table?
Did you have any idea of where that was going to head? “What’s your name, who’s your daddy?”
No, I usually have an idea of where it’s going to head musically but not vocally. And especially in Em’s case, he’s got such a clear vision of what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. As far as the vocals go, it’s more a question of me saying when I think he’s there all the way. Or if there’s additional stuff. Or maybe we need another part. Or what would it be like if it had some sort of a bridge? But for the most part, he really has very clear and distinct ideas about everything he wants to do vocally.
Well, that one definitely felt like a catharsis as well.
Let’s talk about “Love Game” with Kendrick Lamar, who’s kind of an amazing artist himself.
Amazing. And, it sounds as if he is almost rapping as Eminem. It’s not… the lyrics are really different than what he seems to usually talk about.
Yes, did you know it was going to be that filthy?
I had no idea, but I love it. [Laughs.]
He’s definitely in Eminem mode. He seems like he might be a fan.
Yeah, for sure.
As competitive as hip-hop is, do you think that deep down, the great lyricists respect one another?
Absolutely. Especially also when one’s now an elder statesman and one’s an up-and -coming guy. I’m sure Eminem was someone that Kendrick looked up to, growing up and listening to MCs for sure.
In Em’s case, he’s got such a clear vision of what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. As far as the vocals go, it’s more a question of me saying when I think he’s there all the way.
Were they in the room together?
They were not in the room together. They were in the room partially together, and it happened in Detroit. And I was not there when they were there. But I know Eminem left Kendrick to do it and when he came back Kendrick had done the hook, which is not what Eminem was expecting. He was expecting a verse. There was a miscommunication. And then Kendrick ended up staying and doing the verse. He thought he was gonna just do the hook.
You must have heard “Control.” How do you feel about what Kendrick did on that?
I can’t remember now. Honestly.
It was a Big Sean song featuring Kendrick and Jay Electronica.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kendrick sort of upstaged Sean and Jay Elec and threw down the gauntlet towards a bunch of other rappers, bringing a spirit of competition back into the music.
Yeah, I didn’t hear it that way. I just thought he was incredible. And I actually quite like Jay Electronica’s verse as well. I loved it.
Really? No one talks about that verse.
No, I loved it.
Well it has been a while since we heard from him.
I like his whole mystical trip. I like the stuff he talks about.
You helped shape the foundations of rap music. What are you hearing in hip-hop right now that excites you?
I would say I don’t listen to hip-hop music specifically. I just listen to everything. And when something speaks to me, I react. I try not to think of it in terms of genre. I just try to listen to different music. So it’s hard for me to think of it even in that way. I guess of current hip-hop artists, one who excites me a lot is Kanye—and, I get to work with him, it’s nice. He excites me because I like how forward he’s willing to move away from everything. I love that about him. It’s really bold and radical to be such an important figure in hip-hop and to be willing to make such non-hip-hop music. I think that’s just awesome.
I love the dancehall influence on Yeezus
Yeah, I also liked the minimal electronic... How hard it was. It’s just crazy.
Right, which to me is a dancehall aesthetic: simple drum machines, hard-edged, unadorned tracks.
Eminem gave a very interesting answer at the end of the cover story. We asked him where he fits in the landscape hip hop. He said, “I don’t know. I struggle with that sometimes. At the end of the day I’d just like to be thought of as an MC.” That seems a very humble answer for someone who’s accomplished as much as he has. Does that answer surprise you?
No. I think it makes perfect sense for who he is, because that’s the guy who he is. He really is an MC first. And, where so many artists get wrapped up in the celebrity, he doesn’t. He leads a very simple life at home in Detroit and tours very little. Basically he is a full-time, full-on hip-hop head. I think it’s amazing. It’s amazing that he’s unfazed by all the amazing things that have happened. Less fazed than anyone.
Less than any other artist that you’ve encountered?
That’s a pretty big statement.
He went on to say in our interview that he wanted to clarify that when records get big and play on certain stations and become very successful and cross over, and people hear them and say, “Oh, that’s not hip-hop.” He said, “I can’t control that. I just want everybody to know that on every record I do, I try to push that record as hard as I can with my pen.” It seems like he really enjoyed just working on some rap joints that didn’t have the baggage of being big pop phenomena.
Like that Black Moon thing he put out the other day. Did you know that was coming?
No, I did not.
He really is an MC first. And, where so many artists get wrapped up in the celebrity, he doesn’t. He leads a very simple life at home in Detroit and tours very little. Basically he is a full-time, full-on hip-hop head.
Anything final thoughts on MMLP2 and Eminem?
I just think he’s a one-of-a-kind MC. And he’s first and foremost an MC. That’s it. I’ve had other great rappers ask me how he does what he does. You know, how does he do that? And I mean really great rappers. It really is him, and it’s natural. And a lot of his greatness come from his work ethic. It’s just on. It’s really an obsession.
Well, you can definitely hear it. Its all on the record.
Yep. Especially, again, when so many MCs get popular, you hear stuff that sounds like it’s phoned in—either performance-wise or writing-wise. It’s like there’s not enough room on a CD for him to get to say all the stuff he wants to say and say it well. It’s unusual 15 years into your career to have that.
Yes, he was revising right up to the deadline wasn’t he?
Did you have any interaction with Dr. Dre as co-executive producers?
Yes, he mixed “Berzerk” and I went to the mix and we hung out and talked about it. And it was great. I’ve known him for a long time. I first came to the studio when they were recording Straight Outta Compton, so I know him since then.
And it’s the first time we’ve ever worked on anything together.
I didn’t realize you all went back like that.
So you were just passing through L.A.?
Yeah, and was a fan, wanted to check out the scene, and liked them.
I bet. Where were they working on that? That must have been a completely different kind of studio.
Completely different. I can’t remember exactly where it was. I know it was somewhere south of Los Angeles. I want to say, like, 45 minutes south. But I don’t really know where it was. I didn’t really know L.A. that well at that time.
Did he say anything about your work?
Yeah, he was a fan. Came up Beastie Boys and Run and LL Cool J. Yeah, he’s been great. He’s always been very supportive and deferential.
I have read interviews where N.W.A talked about Run-DMC as a sort of template for what they were trying to do. That’s great to know that you guys got to chop it up this time. So did you two work on anything aside from “Berzerk”?
I think he only mixed “Berzerk”
So cool to have the dream team on that record.
Absolutely. And I get the feeling… I’m sure we’ll get to work on stuff again in the future. I just know we will.
Well, that’s tantalizing.
I have no idea what it’ll be.
Did you hear of any Detox when you were hanging out?
Have not. No.
Well, that might just be the ticket to get that thing out in the world.
And get back in the room! Cool, man.