André 3000 and Rick Rubin talk about creative blocks

By herbertlui on February 9, 2020 — 6 mins read

Image: ModernNotoriety/Twitter

If you talked to me any time in December 2019, you’ll probably have heard me say, “Did you hear the new André 3000 and Rick Rubin interview?!” I might’ve said that more than, “Merry Christmas.” Much like how books hit differently at different times of life, so do conversations; and this conversation really hit deep for me. For other folks too — if I had to guess, it went more viral than André playing the flute at an airport

Image: antoniacere/Twitter 

When I first got into hip-hop, Outkast’s “Roses” music video and Kanye’s “All Falls Down” really blew my mind. “Roses” is still one of my favorite first songs. I first heard Outkast at their peak, and I loved the concept of a two-person group, expressing their individuality through two different sides of music (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below). 

At the time I liked Big Boi’s side just as much (“Ghetto Musick” and “The Way You Move” were nice), but André’s songs stand out to me much more now. 

This conversation is released at Rick Rubin’s podcast, and they talk about everything — including why André 3000 hasn’t made much music lately. Here’s a transcription of one of my favorite parts:

André 3000 (13:55): 

I’ll just go to the piano and sit my iPhone down and just record what I’m doing. Move my fingers around and whatever happens. But I hadn’t been motivated to do a serious project. I’d like to, but it’s just not coming. 

In my own self, I’m trying to figure out, where do I sit? I don’t even know what I am, and maybe I’m nothing! Maybe I’m not supposed to be anything. Maybe my history is kind of handicapping, in a way, so I’m just trying to find out what makes me feel the best right now. And what makes me feel the best is when I just do these random instrumental things, they make me feel the most rebellious. 

I have a really rebellious spirit, I don’t like to go with the flow really, I don’t know why. But I just feel best when I don’t. I have to honor that in a way.

Rick Rubin (15:00): 

So much of it isn’t to be decided. I don’t think it’s to be figured out. I think it’s more to be — I think you start making a lot of things with no thinking of what it’s supposed to be, or who’s it for, or what anyone else is going to think. But just get in the habit of making a lot. (André 3000: That’s what I’ve got to get back to.)

Just make a lot. And then at some point in that process, you’d be like, “Hmm. I really like this.” Through that whole process you don’t know when that’s going to happen. It’s not a decision you make, and it’s not an intellectual idea where “I have a vision and I’m going to make this thing,” it rarely happens like that. It happens more just — having fun, making things. No stakes. Nothing’s on the line. 

André 3000 (16:11):

I’m glad you say that. It’s hard to do when everything is actually — the problem with being an artist, a successful artist, is you have to find a comfortable place to do that again. A comfortable place to feel uncomfortable, is what I’m saying.

Rick Rubin (16:30):

The way that you made the stuff that ended up being successful wasn’t made from a place of feeling any responsibility. It just wasn’t there at all! 

André 3000 (16:42):

Your intention wasn’t there yet, in a way. It’s kind of like you were still proving yourself. I liken it to, if you’re a kid, and you’re in your room, and you’re playing with toys. You have this world going on. The moment when your mom opens the door and says, “André,” that world stops. 

Once the attention is on that world, the world goes way. So, you got to find a way to get back to that place to where you can build those worlds again and not have the eyes, or the judging. 

That’s hard for me, it’s really hard for me. You see it everywhere, now, any little thing I put out is instantly attacked, not in a good or bad way. (Rick Rubin: “I wouldn’t say attacked. It’s noticed.”)

People nitpick it with fine toothed combs. “Oh, he said that word!” And that’s not a great place to create from. It makes you draw back. Maybe I don’t have the confidence that I want, or, the space to experiment like I used to. When the stuff that people loved from back then, it was in a place — you were free, you didn’t give a shit! You didn’t care, ‘cause they didn’t care, they didn’t even like you! So great, don’t like what we’re doing, now we can just do what we’re doing.

Rick Rubin (18:20): 

But the same holds true now. So now, you can make stuff that as long as you like it, it doesn’t matter if they like it or not, because they hated you back then! It’s the same. Do you know what I’m saying? 

The only thing that’s changed is your point of view, really. Nothing else has changed. And that is within your control. You can decide to read what someone else says or give them that power, or you can say, “They can think what they want.” And usually there’s another part of it, this is very interesting. When someone is critical of something you do, usually that’s more about them than it is about you. That’s what they see because of who they are. It has nothing to do with you. 

André 3000 also talks about how getting better at the craft also makes him more discerning and critical, and Rick Rubin talks about how the mark of his ultimate success is making something that he’d be excited to show a friend. 

Later on (42:38), André 3000 talks about how he advises artists mainly to listen outside their own genres, and Rick Rubin responds, “But the beauty of it is, is the new could be made by anybody. You don’t have to be new to make new.” The thought really resonates, with André 3000 and I’m sure with many other listeners. As examples, Rick Rubin talks about Radiohead’s Kid A, Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, Paul Simon reinventing himself after Simon and Garfunkle, and the Beatles making Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Rick Rubin also shares a couple of creative prompts, one of which is to write a song for one of your favorite musicians. It’s something André 3000 has tried; “Prototype” was meant for Janet Jackson.

I’d always assumed that when I hit a certain milestone, I’d be set. A book advance, a place on the charts, etc. But that’s not true — it’s always a struggle somehow, you don’t always move forward, and you’ve got to learn to be happy today because it’s not going to magically happen sometime in the future, even when you achieve your creative and career ambitions.Ultimately, beyond all the strategies I work with companies on, and articles I write for Forge, I want to do as Rick Rubin says; make a lot, with nothing on the line. The Creative Processor is one attempt at doing that, using words to sketch out moments in one of my lifelong obsessions, the creative process.

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