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The Tao of Rick Rubin

The Ezra Klein Show

February 10, 2023

89 minutes

Reading Rick Rubin’s production discography is like taking a tour through the commanding heights of American music over the past few decades. Jay-Z. Run-DMC. Beastie Boys. Slayer. The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Johnny Cash. Kanye West. Neil Diamond. Brandi Carlile. Eminem. Adele. And it’s not just his production credits: Rubin co-founded Def Jam Recordings and was a co-chairman of Columbia Records. What’s allowed him to work with so many different kinds of artists, across such a stunning range of genres, so successfully?

In his new book, “The Creative Act: A Way of Being,” Rubin turns his philosophy of creativity into a manual for living. It is not, to be honest, the book I was expecting. It is less about music than mind states: awareness, openness, discernment, attunement to nature, nonjudgmental listening, trust in your own taste. It is at once mystical and practical, alive to the tensions of creation but intent on holding them gently. I found it unexpectedly moving.

We discuss how Rubin listens to new music, the importance of staying open to the natural world, the difficulty of appreciating art that’s different from what you already like, the rituals that artists like Carlos Santana have when recording, why minimalist composers like Steve Reich are just as “extreme” as heavy metal bands, how Rubin helped Johnny Cash strip down his sound and revive his career, what it takes to level up your taste, the difficulty and gifts of awareness, the relationship between speed and art, how streaming culture is changing our taste, the kind of music that makes Rubin stop and pay attention and oh so much more. This one’s a delight.


The Tao Te-Ching by Lao Tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell

American Recordings by Johnny Cash

"Pulses" by Steve Reich and Erik Hall

Music for Wobbling. Music Versus Gravity. by F.S. Blumm and Nils Frahm

Album Recommendations:

Forever Changes by Love

The Beatles by The Beatles

Ramones by Ramones

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of “The Ezra Klein Show” at, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Emefa Agawu, Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld, Rogé Karma and Kristin Lin. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Mixing by Sonia Herrero. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser. Special thanks to Jon Caramanica, Dan Charnas, Jack Hamilton, Felix Grimm, Carole Sabouraud and Kristina Samulewski.

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