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How Rick Rubin and Kate Tempest were behind Jay Z’s musical epiphany

Tempest and Rubin worked together on her third studio album after Rubin spotted her performing on TV

Spoken-word artist and rapper Kate Tempest was behind a change in direction that culminated in hip hop mogul Jay Z’s 2017 album 4:44, says Rick Rubin.

The producing legend recently invited The Big Issue to the iconic Shangri-La studios just outside LA, where everyone from Keith Richards to Lady Gaga has recorded, and recounted the moment he played Jay some demos from Tempest’s third studio album The Book of Traps and Lessons while she and Rubin were working together.

“In some ways it’s like the rules of rap are fairly strict,” the Def Jam Records co-founder said, explaining that the album’s potential to influence other artists is considerable. “And if a rapper gets to hear this, it just could really open the mind of what’s possible and in different directions.”

Tempest, a 33-year-old from Brockley, says Jay’z visit while she was recording was hard to believe. “When Jay-Z came into the caravan and listened to our songs and said, ‘I’m going to go home and do some writing’,” she recalled. “It was surreal, you know.”


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Rubin says he’ll share Tempest’s album with anyone he thinks will like it. He took the opportunity with Jay who listened to “three works in progress”, he said, and was struck by Jay Z’s comments: “OK, I’m going to go home. I know what I need to do now.”.

Rubin continued: “And then we had a really interesting conversation about his writing and where he was and the next thing that he released was this record where he was really doing new things with his lyrics [4:44].”

Slaves to the Spotify algorithm who rarely see much  money from their work, do artists today have Rubin’s sympathies in their struggles to build a career? “I’d say it might be easier to at least be heard now than ever before, but it may be harder to affect the culture in a way that used to be possible,” he said.

“There was a time when a big release would change the culture. It feels like that doesn’t happen.”

Read the rest of the interview in this week’s Big Issue magazine, available from vendors and The Big Issue Shop now.