Imagine for a moment you’re in 1987 and listening to your favorite FM rock radio station. It’s playing Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly,” the band’s post-Roger Waters #1 comeback hit. As the hypnotic song coasts along, capturing its intended feeling of soaring through the air, suddenly at the 3:50 mark where David Gilmour’s memorable guitar solo is supposed to start, suddenly a beat drops and Gilmour instead throws down a rapid-fire verse about flying high. Pink Floyd… rapping.
It could have happened.
But it didn’t, despite super-producer Bob Ezrin’s efforts to introduce Pink Floyd to new sounds. At the time Ezrin, a co-writer of “Learning to Fly” and co-producer of the Floyd album A Momentary Lapse of Reason along with the band’s Gilmour, was deeply into this new form of music called rap. He even approached Gilmour about including some rap-like elements on the album.
“I became fascinated with it in the Afrika Bambaataa days,” Ezrin tells Spinner of his beats ‘n’ rhymes appreciation. “I’m an early adopter. I actually brought some in when we were doing A Momentary Lapse of Reason. I brought some in to David Gilmour’s thing going, ‘Boy, I think this stuff with a rock beat would be awesome.'”
While Ezrin’s visionary combination pre-dated the rise of rap-rock by more than half-a-decade, Gilmour was having none of it.
“He said, ‘Oh my God, that would be terrible,'” Ezrin recalls with a laugh. “He couldn’t believe it. He hated the idea.”
A Momentary Lapse of Reason was a top ten album around the world, and it did make extensive use of samples — mostly spoken word clips — so perhaps Gilmour took something out of that early rap after all. Though Gilmour probably made the right call considering the album’s success.
Perhaps lost in this whole fanciful adventure, however, is something unfamiliar to most rock ‘n’ roll liner note readers — Bob Ezrin, one of classic rock’s great producers and the man who built his reputation on game-changing albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare, KISS’ Destroyer and Lou Reed’s Berlin, is a huge rap fan. It’s a side to Ezrin’s work that’s often overshadowed, but it’s always been there.
“First of all it’s not really a secret,” says Ezrin, who’ll be one of the keynote celebrity interviews at Canadian Music Week in Toronto on Saturday, March 23. “It’s not what I’m noted for… I’m an old white guy. I’m not noted for that stuff, but then a lot of old white guys have been involved in urban music and been very important to it in that. Jimmy Iovine [Interscope, Beats by Dre co-founder] is an old white guy too, but without him the modern rap business would be entirely different.”
Ezrin’s rap roots actually run quite deep. At Nimbus, a music school he helps run, “Beats and Urban Music Production” is one of the marquee programs. He has a producer credit for helping out on Jay-Z’s 2004 documentary movie “Fade to Black,” and worked with Aceyalone’s Freestyle Fellowship on an underground internet radio channel years ago. He’s also helped out with Beat Kangz Electronics, who make “the best production work station for hip-hop producers in the world.”
Mostly, though, Ezrin says it’s about working with “artists,” whatever their stripe. One of his current faves is folk singer/poet/rapper K’naan, who Ezrin helped on the “Wavin’ Flag” Young Artists for Haiti charity single in 2010.
“I met him the first time when I saw him onstage at Live 8 where I produced the finale with Neil Young and all the different artists,” Ezrin starts. “But I was around for the whole day and I saw him onstage and basically went backstage immediately to meet him because I just thought he was so exciting and refreshing and pure and honest and beautiful. I just thought this was greatness, I saw greatness there. So we stayed friends over the years. We stayed in touch and we’ve finally had a chance to work on a few things. I did something on his current album and of course he and I did ‘Wavin’ Flag’ for Haiti, which was a great pleasure. And I consider him a friend and an artist and I’m always there to support in any way I can.”
Ultimately, that’s what Ezrin says he’s after, whether it’s introducing Pink Floyd to rap, composing rock operas with Lou Reed, or making charity singles with K’naan.
“I love to work with those people who can honestly call themselves artists,” he says. “I haven’t been able to at every turn, but mostly I have.”
This story originally appeared March 19, 2013 on the Spinner Canada website.