In August, a reporter from Rolling Stone sat down to interview the San Francisco-based rapper Larry June before he took the stage at Lollapalooza in Chicago.
June is known for his status as an independent artist. After an early deal with Warner Brothers fizzled, June went on to produce and release almost all of his subsequent work without support from a major label. He’s also known for his productivity. June has released 10 albums since 2018, with his most recent, last summer’s Spaceships on the Blade, reaching number 39 on the Billboard 200. In addition to these projects, June has released 5 collaborative albums, 4 EPs, 5 Mixtapes, and made appearances as a guest artist on singles from artists like Post Malone.
It’s this latter reputation, as an artist who ships original work at a fast pace, that makes what June admitted to the Rolling Stone reporter so surprising:
“Since we’re on Rolling Stone, I’ve go to let y’all know, that for everybody that wants to feature: I only rap three hours a day. You know what I’m saying? I only rap three hours a day. I get in the studio at 6 o’clock and I’m done around 9 o’clock in the morning…I don’t really like rapping too long. It gives me anxiety. I feel energy, I’m in the studio, I knock it done right there.”
As the music producer who originally sent me this clip emphasized, this slow but steady pace is unusual in the industry. “Rappers are notorious for claiming to live in the studio, brag about never sleeping, working 12-16 hrs a day,” he told me. But as June elaborates to the reporter, his technique works because of the miracle of compounding achievement:
“It might take me 3 hours to do one song, I might like just do the intro…and then the next day [record some more]….the thing though is consistency…If I do only 3 hours a day, every day, for 365 days, I just did outstanding numbers.”
Don’t underestimate the power of this productivity arithmetic. During 2020 alone, when June found himself isolated at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, recording each day, free from distraction, in his basement recording booth, he finished six different projects.
In this interview clip, we find a classic example of slow productivity. Spending 16 hours in the studio feels “productive” in an exhausting, performative sense. Retreating to your basement for only a few hours each morning seems somehow diminished by comparison. But as June’s success unambiguously illustrates, accomplishment is often best measured on the scale of years not days, and when you zoom out to this grander level, the advantages of a focused slowness become hard to ignore.
12 thoughts on “Larry June’s Slow Productivity”
At this point, I just don’t believe people’s claims in the creative industry to work 12ish hours a day. The only thing that matters is the work they put out to the world.
I am a wannabe music producer myself and the slow productivity approach is working wonders for me. 3-4 hours a day of uninterrupted work and I can produce a good demo every day (weekends off).
And I used to “work” 12-hour days and even brag about it. But my output was much worse and eventually I burnt out.
Keep going larry
Wow, as a software engineer who listens to Larry June while he works, I never expected to see an article about him here! He might be the only rapper I’ve heard talk about riding his bike daily and eating vegetables to stay healthy in a way that makes it sound super cool.
(Working Girl – classic productivity song).
One of my biggest regrets in the early days of my career is equating time spent directly to productivity. I would have been much better served spending that extra time preparing meals, preparing the next day, relaxing, etc. Instead I burned hours going nowhere.
Maybe it’s because in common workplace the time you spent in the office equate your productivity (even if it’s not true), but you’re paid for the time you stay in the place. In my old job, every morning I have to put my card in the time recorder before siting at my desk. There was a period, my husband wasn’t at home and I had to leave early to grab my daughter at school. My job was done but after few days I was in the boss office to explain what I don’t have enough hours on the time recorder…
As a software engineer that listens to Larry June(almost daily) as well, was not expecting him to be the subject of a post from Cal Newport, whom I’ve followed for over a decade now. His books helped me get started in this career in the first place. Pleasant surprise!
I am also a software engineering and I’ve started listening to Larry June because of this comment. It’s really great coding music. Thanks for the suggestion!
Super dope article. Love that Cal is providing insight on productivity in multiple career paths and industries!
It’s interesting that he says, “I don’t really like rapping too long. It gives me anxiety.” My limit is about 15 seconds.
Hahaha! 15 seconds a day is still a 90 minute album at the end of the year! Keep it up Carl!
What do other rappers do?
Binge rap? Like sit it the studio for a week working on 20 different projects, and then don’t do anything for a week?
Good job Cal! You’re doing good! sock it to me!