What Robert Plant Thought of Rick Rubin and Others Who Sampled Led Zeppelin Riffs

With the drum beats of John Bonham, the guitar riffs of Jimmy Page and the howls of vocalist Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin was an ideal band for rap acts to sample in hip hop’s “golden age” (circa 1986-94). And the frat-rap production that was the Beastie Boys’ first album offered a great example.

In fact, the Beasties debut License to Ill (1986), started just about the same way Zep started “When the Levee Breaks” in 1971. Following a quick record scratch, the opening track “Rhymin and Stealin” simply ran with Bonham’s epic drum part on a loop.

Two tracks later, Zep fans might have thought they were listening to Houses of the Holy (1973) because the Beasties’ “She’s Crafty” sampled Page’s “The Ocean” riff. And before the end of License to Ill Zep fans would have noticed a snippet of another Page riff on “Time to Get Ill.”

Clearly, Def Jam co-founder and Beastie Boys producer Rick Rubin was a big fan of the Zep. And while Page let Rubin and the Beasties have those Led Zeppelin samples, the whole thing didn’t sit right with Plant in the ’80s.

Robert Plant wasn’t impressed by Rick Rubin or his Led Zeppelin samples

John Bonham and Robert Plant at a Zeppelin film premiere
John Bonham and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin appear at the West Coast premiere for ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ October 21, 1976. | Frank Edwards/Fotos international/Getty Images

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In March 1988, Plant was speaking with music outlets about his new album Now and Zen. That record was interesting for a few reasons. For starters, it featured Plant embracing his Zep past after stepping away from those sounds on earlier efforts such as Principle of Moments (1983).

In fact, the track “Tall Cool One” featured guitar work by Page and some Zeppelin samples, too (“Black Dog” among them). Yes, Plant was responding to the “nicking” he heard the Beasties pull off on License to Ill. And, when Rolling Stone’s David Fricke asked about Rubin, he pounced.

When Fricke suggested Rubin had taken Zep riffs “out on a different tangent,” Plant had to disagree. “Maybe he ought to write his own riffs then,” he told Rolling Stone. “He’s not particularly an innovator in that way.” At that point in time, Plant had heard others do it better.

“There’s loads of house music from Chicago and rap stuff that steal Zeppelin in far less obvious ways,” Plant added. “I guess if he’s going to nick something, he might as well nick something good.”

Plant also seemed to scoff at Rubin’s offer to produce his album

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page performing onstage with Led Zeppelin
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page perform live onstage. | Mick Gold/Redferns

In interviews in the Now and Zen era, Plant wouldn’t mince words. If asked, he’d light up Zep imitators such as Bon Jovi and Whitesnake. (Plant said Bon Jovi was about as formulaic as Barry Manilow, whom he referred to as “that geezer with the really big nose.”)

Speaking with Rolling Stone, Plant mentioned getting contacted by Rubin. Apparently, he offered to produce Plant’s next album. But Plant smelled a setup. “Jimmy [Page] could […] guest on that, and [Rubin] could just sample the riffs we got this time,” he said. “Take ’em over to those three guys.”

That never happened, of course. And Plant did soften the jabs he sent Rubin’s way. “I can’t have any sort of anger towards Rick Rubin,” he said. “He’s made a lot of money. Maybe he’ll buy me a drink, [though] he owes Page more of a drink than he owes me.”

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