From the Vault: DJ Premier

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Photo courtesy of The Real Hip-Hop

Photo courtesy of The Real Hip-Hop

The next installment of The Real Hip’s From the Vault series features the greatest producer in the history of Hip-Hop, DJ Premier. The interview was conducted in February of 2010 during NBA All-Star Weekend in Dallas, Texas.

Preem had just tore down a club and granted me a few minutes of his time. I was grateful, nervous, but grateful. This is Preemo, the architect of numerous Hip-Hop classics!! He’s produced for the likes of Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie Smalls, Rakim, KRS-One, Common, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Heavy D, Big Daddy Kane, Joey Bada$$, Game, MC Lyte, Big L, and Dr. Dre, just to name a few!

His work as one half of Gang Starr with the late Guru is the true definition of classic material. Premier is a genius at what he does and a living legend. It was my first time speaking with him, and hopefully not the last.

Ladies and gentlemen, DJ Premier.

TRHH: What has All-Star Weekend been like for you so far?

DJ Premier: It’s been really great. We just got here today. The funny thing is I’m from New York and we just got a little rough snow but I’m used to it. I shovel my own drive-way, I shovel the side walk, take care of all my neighbors, and make sure all the old ladies get their drive-ways shoveled and get taken care of with salt and all of that. I’m from Texas originally but I’ve been living in New York for 22 years. My sister lives out here and to come out to 9 inches of snow is funny. I’m used to 36 degrees but everybody out here is panicking, flights were cancelled and all of that. We made it here safely. Big shout out to 944 magazine for having us out here, we appreciate it. Shout out to The Boardroom for having us, Russell Simmons, Melanie Fiona, Paul Pierce, Snoop Dogg, DJ Reflex, and Doug E. Fresh. It’s a beautiful thing to be out here. Shout out to Nick Javas who ripped it with me. He’s on my label Year Round Records. Also shout out to all the people that came through, Amare Stoudemire, LeBron James, Chris Tucker, Magic Johnson and also Allen Iverson who couldn’t be here who I’m a big fan of.

TRHH: I read that you were working with MC Eiht on his new album, how did that come about?

DJ Premier: We’ve been friends for a long time. I’ve known him since the 90’s; we came up in the same era. When the West Coast was strong with Death Row, MC Eiht had his own lane—he also became an actor in the film Menace II Society. I did my first gig in L.A. in 1989 with Gangstarr, Compton’s Most Wanted, WC and the Maad Circle, and Ice Cube. This was when Ice Cube first left N.W.A. He got into a big beef backstage. All the action wasn’t out in the crowd it was backstage. It was crazy to witness that and see how many people were mad at Cube for moving and taking that step. It turned out to be one of the best moves that he made. The first person I met in Long Beach at the show was MC Eiht. He had two beepers on his hip, a big fresh jheri curl, and black khaki’s. He said, “What’s up DJ Premier my name is MC Eiht,” and we’ve been friends ever since. I just love his style. He has a unique voice and a unique flow—he has his own lane.

That’s what it’s all about, having your own lane. Everybody always wants to sound like everybody else but when you’re different you always prevail even if it takes a minute to get there. He never switched that up. When I put out an artist named Blaq Poet on my label Year Round Record in June of 2009 we wanted to do a remix. Eiht and I were on the phone talking about new music he was working on and I let him hear the song and he loved it. He was like, “Yo let me get on it.” I let him get on it and then my man Young Maylay who’s down with Dub C. WC and Crazy Toones who is also from the West Coast let me hear his stuff and he’s a great MC. He’s going to be on my label, too. I asked him to get on it too and he sent it to me in a day—done! I said let’s shoot a video because I was working with Christina Aguilera on her new album out in L.A. Gordon Franklin who runs my label said, “Yo, I got some cheap tickets we can get. Let’s bring Poet, fly out to L.A., shoot the video, and go back to New York the next day.”

I stayed out there and worked with Christina. I snuck away…she don’t even know I broke away. I’m going to get in trouble now. I broke away from a session that she’s paying me to be out there for to go and shoot the video with Poet, MC Eiht, and Maylay. It came out really good, it’s called “Ain’t Nuttin’ Changed.” Then they came to New York and did the show for our release party. We flew them up, put them in nice hotels, and took care of them—we’re old friends. I said you know what, we should do an album. Eiht gave me like 40 songs and he doesn’t know how to mix. He gave me like 40 songs all sparse and crazy but the beats and lyrics were dope. I said, “Yo man we could do two albums together! I’m gonna put you on my label and do a couple of one-offs.”

That’s what my label represents, pure Hip-Hop from the bottom up! You gotta start from the bottom and work your way up. Everybody now is so caught up on first week sales and soundscan. Forget soundscan and forget first week sales, it’s all about integrity and quality music. We care about our fans and we care about giving them their money’s worth. That pays more than a payola record. Paying for a record means you’re buying your friends. I don’t have to buy my friends to like me. I want you to like me because I’m real and I’m me. So all those other motherfuckers let them pay for their records, we know that they don’t hold water next to what we do. I don’t care if they get 20 million spins they can’t stand next to us when we drop our stuff. Play yours then play mine—ours is better [laughs].

TRHH: Pete Rock is in town, I think 9th Wonder just left town…

DJ Premier: Family man…all family.

TRHH: I recently saw clips from the show that 9th did to honor you and Pete in North Carolina….

DJ Premier: Yeah man. That’s one of the dopest things I’ve ever experienced. To be honored…. Man I feel like I got so many more miles to go. I’ll be 44 years-old this year. The love that 9th Wonder gave me and Pete was so incredible. The band that played for us mimicking our records and sounding just like the beats we produced from out heart and soul, it was one of the biggest, dopest events ever in my lifetime. I love 9th Wonder, I love Pete. Big shout out to both of them.

TRHH: Are you still using the SP 1200?

DJ Premier: No, I’m using the S950 which is one of the old, old 1984-85 machines. And I’m still using the MPC60! The first MPC! Roger Linn, big up.

TRHH: I watched you deejay tonight, what’s your opinion of Serato?

DJ Premier: I used to be against Serato just because vinyl is the essence of how we’ve developed Hip-Hop culture. Shout out to Kool Herc the father and Afrika Bambaataa the godfather. I was against it for a long time and then DJ’s I respect like Jazzy Jeff and DJ Jazzy Jay from the Zulu Nation were like, “Preem this is what you’ve earned. You’ve carried records, amps, and speakers for years; bruising your legs, being tired, sore, paying overweight fees on planes for your record crates on tour. This is a gift to you–utilize it, learn it, and master it and you’ll be incredible.” I finally mastered it and I can do the same thing I wanted to do which is what I was afraid of losing—the integrity of what makes me great when I do vinyl.

I own all of these records that are actually played on Serato. I have every one in storage with the artwork and the credits showing who produced it, engineered it, mixed it, and shout out to my man Ronnie, Ra-Ra, and Rollo! All that means a lot to us so I don’t want that to go away. I like all the rock artists like Katy Perry, Pearl Jam, U2, and Radiohead that put out vinyl. Jay-Z still puts out vinyl, Blueprint 3 is on vinyl. I love that because they don’t neglect what made our culture great, which was the DJ. Before there was an MC there was the DJ and we are the reason why you dance and party. I stay true to the essence. I can play these types of party’s where it’s cross-over music but I’m really deep rooted in the 80’s, 90’s era of Hip-Hop. I like the grown and sexy stuff, 70’s funk, Parliament, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole you name it, all of that stuff.

TRHH: When you deejay at a club do you try to avoid playing Preemo records?

DJ Premier: Nah, ‘cause I know that’s what they want. I didn’t do it tonight. The gig’s I usually get that’s all I do is do a big segment of Premier and Gang Starr. Then I go into other stuff like breaks and the original records that we sample from. At the end of the day it’s all about your knowledge and respect for music. As long as your knowledge and respect for music is there you will always prevail because I can do any gig from House, Folk, Country, Rock, and everything. We really, really respect music. We don’t just listen to it and love it, we respect it. You gotta respect it to love it and take it to the next level and that’s what I do.

TRHH: I interviewed MoSS a few weeks ago and he said that you guys had a surprise coming this year. Can you drop a hint?

DJ Premier: If it’s a surprise then it’s gotta remain that. Shout out to MoSS, Works of Mart, Toronto, Canada. He’s one of the illest, fiercest, original producers that I really respect. That’s why I signed him to my production company because he brings another piece to the puzzle. And plus I give people their credit. You have a lot of producers that take the credit but other people produced the song—that’s just how they’re structured. With me, if MoSS produced it, it will say produced by MoSS for Works of Mart. If Gemcrates produced it, it will say produced by Gemcrates for Works of Mart. If it’s produced by Premier, it’s Premier for Works of Mart. I’m not gonna take it and put my name on it but they did it. Plus my sound is already embedded and I don’t want people to say, “Ah man now you getting other people to do your beats?” I worry about that stuff. We all have our own style; they’re just another added piece to making solid albums. It’s all about albums, I love making solid albums.

TRHH: This is the 20 year anniversary of Just to Get a Rep. That’s my favorite Premier beat of all time.

DJ Premier: I appreciate it man, thank you.

TRHH: Go back and talk about Just to Get a Rep and how you made that beat.

DJ Premier: We made that record based on that fact that Guru and I had just got our record deal for Step in the Arena on EMI and Chrysalis Records. We both bought brand new whips, he had a 4Runner and I had a brand new MPV. He was actually robbed for his car and he wrote a song about it. The crazy thing is, the guy who robbed him for his car, we found the guy. We chased him and he ran into an ice cream truck, crashed ,and died. God bless his soul. He crashed into an ice cream truck and died, what can you do? Guru wrote the lyrics based on that incident. That’s a very, very sacred and deep record. I remember the day that we went to the precinct to see the car and it was smashed up like an accordion. There was no way he would have survived that crash. It’s unfortunate that the guy got lost but at the same time it’s unfortunate that he took it upon himself to take Guru’s car. At the end of the day we prevailed. God bless his soul and God bless his family. We don’t wish death on anybody.

TRHH: You have over 20 years of experience beat-making. Do you have a favorite Preemo beat?

DJ Premier: Nah. I’m not into riding my own dick. It’s not my style. You know? Not my style.

TRHH: So what’s up for DJ Premier in 2010?

DJ Premier: Year Round Records is my label for 5 years strong. We have a NYG’z album coming out. They have an album that came out in 2008 called Welcome to G-Dom, more of a compilation type of an album with me bringing up the body of it and they did their own thing while I was on tour with Big Shug of Gangstarr Foundation. We’re also working on his album called Blue Collar. Also Nick Javas from Jersey, his album is called Destination Unknown—a very good album. I got Khalil from Houston, Texas–Missouri City to be exact. His album is called “My MC Name is.…” I’m also doing my DJ Premier album, MC Eiht, and Young Maylay. Also KRS-One and DJ Premier, we’re doing Return of the Boom Bip. Not “Boom Bap,” Boom Bip. Shout out to Q-Tip who is already on it. Grand Puba and Ice-T who are on it, it’s going to be one of the illest albums of 2010!

Purchase DJ Premier’s discography:

Gang Starr – No More Mr. Nice Guy

Gang Starr -Step in the Arena

Gang Starr -Daily Operation

Gang Starr -Hard to Earn

Gang Starr -Moment of Truth

Gang Starr – The Ownerz

Gang Starr – Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr

DJ Premier & Bumpy Knuckles – Kolexxxion


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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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