It’s not every day you get to interview a true hip-hop legend, someone who has paid their dues ten times over and always held on to their core values despite the ever-changing musical landscape. That kind of strength and character not only made Preem’s signature drums and crisp scratches great but immortal, destined to live forever in the same vein as Miles Davis, James Brown and Bob Marley. And sure, DJ Premier has been doing more interviews as of late to promote his upcoming compilation Year Round Records: Get Used to Us, but it’s not until you hear his scratchy, deep baritone vibrating through your cell phone speaker that it really hits you that you’re carrying on a conversation with THE DJ Premier, the man responsible for crafting countless classics as one-half of Gang Starr while still snapping necks with the likes of Jeru the Damaja, KRS-One, the Group Home, Notorious B.I.G, Jay-Z, Cormega, Screwball and Nas (among many, many others).
As Primo’s voice battles the static on our phone connection, I can tell he’s excited about where his talents have been taking him lately, as he’s wrapping up his compilation album along with albums from NYGz, Khaleel and MC Eiht and Young Malay while continuing work on signee Nick Javas’ debut album Destination Unknown, DJ Premier Versus Pete Rock and a new KRS-One album Return of the Boom Bip. But right now, Premier is more hyped over what just transpired in his day. DJ Swa, a talented DJ from France, was hanging out with Premier and asked to go to Queensbridge to sit on the same park bench where Nas once sat to write Illmatic. Not only did Preem take Swa to QB, he took him to Nas’ old apartment. The current tenant, upon recognizing Premier, invited the two of them into Nasir’s old stomping grounds for a makeshift tour that reduced Swa to tears.
As soon as Premier drops Swa off at the airport, it’s back to the grind, which means answering questions that I’ve been mentally storing ever since I heard his first scratch. Thus began an interview that flowed more like a conversation that ranged from his upcoming projects to staying motivated to why Busta Rhymes hasn’t been able to find a suitable banger from the production god. Read on for the full, unedited DJ Premier HipHopGame interview.
You must be really excited about the upcoming releases you have on your label Year Round Records because you’re one of the hardest interviews to get.
Oh, damn, son, I didn’t even know that! I’m glad I know that. I’ll have to be a little bit easier to find. But yeah, what I’m mainly excited about is for the simple fact that my market has already been established and I want to prove, not even prove, but show that hip-hop has gone from age 5 to age 65. There are 50 and 60 year-olds…You gotta look at it…The people that started the hip-hop culture like Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc are in their 50s. They were the teenagers hanging out.
Just like me, I’m 44 and I’ll be 45 next year. I still love banging out beats and making hot shit so why is there an age limit on keeping it funky? James Brown worked all the way up until he died. He had tons of money but he did it because he loved his job. I love my job. I don’t want to quit and I don’t want to hang it up because I’ve seen what hip-hop has gone to when we left it in the hands of the youngsters and I’m not mad at the younger generation ‘cause we have to pass the torch, but you still gotta maintain the pureness and the rawness.
It’s like when I took DJ Swa to Queensbridge. Every kid there wanted to kick a verse and every verse was about how there were no lights in their ‘hood and all you hear in their hood is shootouts in the park and everything is dark. They still see darkness and not a lot of happiness but they’re still living the life and maintaining who they gotta be. If they’re still talking about how dark the ghetto is and how fucked up the ghetto is, somebody’s gotta still make sure that it’s dirty and it’s where hip-hop originated, which was in the ‘hood. You gotta make sure that that part of it still exists until there’s no more ghettos and if there’s no more ghettoes in New York then there’s going to be ghettoes in Haiti and there will be ghettoes in L.A. and there’s gonna be ghettoes in Ghana and ghettoes in Nebraska somewhere.
Until there’s no more, you’ve got to make sure that you maintain that level of the music because that’s where it was born from and that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to represent the have-nots, the poor people. I know I’m not poor, but somebody’s gotta be an advocate for them. That’s why there’s advocates like Bono from U2 and artists like that give so much of their money and their time to show people that we do have a bigger heart than just our stardom and our financial situation and our level of success. And you don’t have to do it, it just makes me feel good to do something on that level when I can.
Do you think that’s also why you work so well with artists who think the same way as you, like Cormega, Blaq Poet and the NYGz?
I’m very selective based on what I know an artist could bring to me. I know by myself I can do it all. I can MC, I can DJ, I can run a label, I can score films, I can do anything because I’m a DJ first, always first. I’m a producer second. I only became an artist because people took interest in me like Guru who wanted me to be a part of a group. I was already a part of a group but that was not my dream. My dream was just to be able to produce artists and give them hot music that would make them banging and make something that people would want to play. That’s all I wanted to do.
When I joined Gang Starr it took me to a whole different level but I still wanted to do what my dream was, which was to produce all of my artists that I wished would like me. I wanted EPMD to like me. I wanted Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One to like me. I knew if I could get them to say, “Yo, I think you’re dope,” then I made it. I wasn’t thinking about the money and all that because that comes along with it. Every one of them saw me in some circumstance, whether it was me and Guru hanging out at the Apollo or whether it was at the underground clubs like Mars or The Milky Way or The Amazon or the car wash called Quando where Leaders of the New School had to get their stripes when they were unknown. And every one of those artists like Just Ice, they used to call Guru “Gang Starr” and me Premier. They would ask me where Gang Starr was at!
But they would still recognize us and say they liked our shit. I remember seeing KRS-One in Music Factory buying every 12” on the wall. “I’ll take that, I’ll take that. I’ll take that.” And he goes, “Oh, Gang Starr, I’ve been looking for that!” He didn’t even see me standing there and he grabbed my record, my 12” for “Words I Manifest.” I was like, ‘KRS just grabbed my record!’ And so when I walked up to him and told him who I was, he told us, ‘Yo, y’all shit is dope. Just make sure you’re never wack.” And that shit stayed in my head .that means a lot coming from him. He’s the teacher. I was going to stay following in those footsteps.
I saw Rakim when he did “Let the Rhythm Hit ‘Em” and he told me he loved what I was doing. I met Prince one day at a private performance for D’Angelo because D’Angelo’s my homie and Prince told me he loved Daily Operation. Prince? He loved Daily Operation! I don’t give a fuck if I’m broke as a joke right now. Prince loved Daily Operation! Sade said when she tours, Daily Operation is one of the albums that she takes on her tour bus. This is Sade! That’s solidifies everything I do, even if I never did it again. I got solidified by people that mean something to me. So I’m going to continue to give more of what I’ve already been doing. Like Guru said, I just update my formula.
You have projects coming up with the NYGz, Nick Javas and Khaleel. What made you want to take them on as your three main artists?
Different reasons. The NYGz are homies that I met when I moved to the Bronx with Guru. It was the first apartment that me and Guru had together with our dancer H.L. Rock. He’s still down with us and I met Khaleel through H.L. In the “Positivity” video, the guy that’s got the puppet strings and he’s dancing with the white face and the makeup, that’s H.L. Rock and the “Words I Manifest” video, H.L.’s the dancer with the flattop and the other flattop dancer with the other kid where they have the same shirts on, that’s my label manager’s brother, we call him Mr. President or Prez and that’s Gary and he has his own company Saw Films. And those were our dancers. Back then having dancers was a very vital part of hip-hop and it still is but it got to a point where everybody thought you weren’t too cool if you had dancers and it kind of phased out and came back in.
But H.L. was down with us and we all lived in the Bronx and Panchi was one of the guys hugging the block and getting money in the streets. He was the funny guy on the block. He could be beating somebody up on the block one hour and the next hour he’s got everybody laughing because he’s that funny. He’s on my radio show Live from HeadQCourterz on Friday nights on Hip-Hop Nation, which is on channel 40 if you’re on Sirius and channel 67 if you’re on XM. I’ve been doing it for over five years. I used to just pre-tape it and now I do it live. Our caller volume is heavy and we only play new music that I think is dope because that’s how I was taught from Marley and Chuck Chillout and the Awesome 2. That’s how they used to do it. They played banging independent stuff because the majors were just starting to get into that groove and they didn’t know a lot about hip-hop yet. It was such a new phenomenon and they just knew that they needed to get a piece of it.
When it came down to Panchi and Shabeeno, who’s also in NYGz, he’s from Dyckman, which is where Black Rob and all of them are from. He’s from Dyckman but we call it Uptown. That’s not Harlem. Harlem is Harlem. But Sha was really more the rhymer and Panchi always just knew so many lyrics. I remember Guru said, “If you do a record, you would come off. There’s something about you.” So we were up on 183rd St. in the Bronx and we had a little studio apartment and I had all my records and all my turntables. We would see Panchi every day and buy a little smoke from him and go to the studio to work with him and record our album. Guru put them out first. They were called Operation Ratification and they were on Guru’s Ill Kid label and they had a record called “Tray Pound God” and then they put out another 12” called “The Rotten Apple.”
Things didn’t work out and Guru moved on to other things and I told them I would give it a shot and see if I could make something happen. NYG’s was their original name but we knew we couldn’t do that because of the team and they are fans, but I said if we just put the letters and you didn’t call yourself the New York Giants and add a “z,” that one letter changes it all.
So they went back to NYGz instead of Operation Ratification and they did Welcome to G-Dom when I was on tour with Big Shug to promote his Street Champ album in Europe. I left the studio with them with one of the greatest producers and engineers, King of Chill. He’s a legendary producer who produced MC Lyte, Audio Two, The Alliance…King of Chill also does engineering and now he works with us and he ran all the sessions while I was on tour and when I got back, they had a whole body of work done and I was actually impressed. They did 15 songs in two weeks and they never had any experience doing a studio session without somebody who knows what they’re doing. It came out good and then I told them, “Look, the first NYGz official album, I would make sure that I produced all of it.” It’ll be my first all-produced Premier album since Gang Starr’s The Ownerz LP. I did the entire album. We’re actually one song away from turning it in and getting it mastered and ready to go.
With Nick Javas, I ran into his man Spence and he knew who I was and he wanted to introduce me to Nick. He wanted to give me his demo. At that time, he was Nicky J and they called him Nicky Javas. Even around the way they call him Nicky. We kicked it and he kept staring at me with this kind of stalker look and he was like, ‘Yo, man, I’m telling you I’m nice.’ And I’m like, ‘All right, whatever. People always say that and usually you’re disappointed.’ He was like, ‘No, I’m telling you, I’m nice.’ I was like, ‘All right, man. Whatever.’ I wasn’t really turned on by that approach how he looked at me with so much confidence that he was that dope so I just paid it no mind when I left the party and put the demo in my bag and it got lost in the sauce until I started through my demos a year later and I ran across his and I wanted to listen to it to see if he really was what he says he is.
Once I heard his wordplay and his delivery of rhymes and his subject matter, he had so many different topics to talk on, I liked what he was doing but the production didn’t give him any justice to stand out. He did a freestyle to “Nas is Like” but it didn’t match him. We talked for over two hours on the phone and we clicked and I told him we had to find a way to make him stand out. We had to do a couple of demos to just test the weather and see where we’re at.
He doesn’t try to sound Black. You can tell in his voice he sounds White and we had to make a record that I could stand by and is a Premier record. There’s a lot of White rappers that have wanted to work with me for years like Esoteric, who I’m working with now. Eminem, we never got the chance to do anything. Jojo Pellegrino has been stressing me to do something with him for years. He’s like, ‘You never do nothing with me.’ And now all of a sudden I’m working with this guy and even on the internet there’s some haters. But he’s the total package. He’s beyond just rapping and doing records. This guy, every day, shows just how much he wants to do this. His work ethic is insane.
Doing his album, Destination Unknown, is going to be a lot of fun, but in order to launch him to the world, “Opportunity Knocks” was the perfect record to launch him because it’s showing that I’m giving him a chance to audition for the label and I’ve never done a record like that where I let somebody audition and then they get a deal. It might make other people think they’re going to get the same chance and they’re not. It just happened to be mainly because he’s White. I knew that with people like Eminem and Dre having their success, if I’m going to touch a White artist and it’s ghetto music and you have to respect Black and Latino people, you have to come off in a way. I like other White artists like Apathy and Vinnie Paz and Non-Phixion and Ill Bill and Necro and everybody, but there’s still a certain thing that has to fly for approval when it comes to artists outside of Blacks and Latinos because I judge them by what they speak on. What you speak on should be real to what your life is about, even if you’re just having fun. Talk about the realities of your life.
What I like about Nick Javas is he doesn’t try to be Black. He doesn’t try to be gutter. He sounds like himself and we’re making records that match his personality. We’re not trying to bring him to the world of where he does not come from and I remember when he was about to beat up a guy in Amsterdam. The guy came backstage and asked for an autograph and everything. Nick Javas doesn’t dress like the typical B-Boy. He doesn’t sag his pants and he doesn’t dress like the typical MC. The dude was telling him to let his pants hang off his ass a little bit and Nick was saying that wasn’t him. He was telling him, “I’m saying though, you gotta look the part” and Nick was saying that he was just going to look like himself and he didn’t have to look like no part. And the dude was just going on, “If there weren’t so many White people in here, I would say what I really feel.”
Nick Javas said, “Yo, Premier, I’m not being disrespectful because this is your dressing room, but I’m about to beat this motherfucker’s ass.” And he said, “What?” And he’s looking at me like, ‘I know you’re not going to kick me out because this is your dressing room’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I am kicking you out because you’ve been talking shit ever since you walked in here and you’re out of order. Get the fuck out of my dressing room.’ He was like, ‘It’s like that?’ Yeah, it’s like that. He was out of order. I’m not going to just stand up for my artist because he’s my artist. If he’s wrong, I’m going to tell him he’s wrong. This dude was out of order because he’s telling a dude how to dress and that’s his style. It takes nothing away from his presence as an artist or who he is. He’s a former athlete and played four years of college football. He’s always working out in the hotel because he says he wants to look good all the time. He’s doing what most artists need to do. A lot of artists aren’t in shape and that’s why we have the worst health issues and everything. Most MCs are fat and a lot of MCs that were slim have gotten fat because they’ve let themselves go and that’s one thing that can crush your career. This guy cares about everything that’s going to make him the total package and he’s going to be a star. That’s why I invest my money in him. I know how to pick stars versus people who are going to be a waste of time. That’s why I signed him.
Working with Khaleel, I met him when he was on another label. It was a Texas-based label and they had some problems within their structure and some people were stealing money from the owner and he had an inheritance because his grandfather owns one of the main banks in Houston. So he got a trust fund and whatnot and he wanted to start a rap label. Khaleel, he paid me a grip of fucking money to produce Khaleel and he wanted Lord Finesse and he wanted Showbiz. I hooked him up and we all made a nice little grip of cash.
And then as time passed, I kept checking in and asking when that record was coming out that I did for him. He was telling me he was having problems and he thought he was going to have to close the label down. The owner was like, ‘If there’s a way you could try to get him connected with some people, I would really appreciate it, whatever you could do to help.’ I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve got my little small label and I’m down to try one album with him and if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll keep it moving but I’ll do at least one album because I like him enough.’ And everything with Lord Finesse and Showbiz came out good too and he showed us his versatility. I told him I’d take him under my wing and that’s what I did.
And now we’re about to put that album out as well. Nick Javas’ single, NYGz’ single, MC Eiht’s single and Khaleel’s single are all on this compilation album that’s dropping, so we’ll be having videos constantly back-to-back dropping.
And I have my specialty projects that I’m going to put out like MC Eiht. The album is done but the mixes were bad so he’s sending me all his sessions and my engineers are mixing it. We’re going to put it out and it’s called Which Way is West? We did a cut called “Fine by Me” and he’s shooting a video for it. Khaleel is putting out a video for “Hot Flames.” Nick Javas’ album Destination Unknown is the one that’s the farthest one from being done but he does the most viral stuff. He has the NFL Reel he does on my blog. Check out Week 8 and see who his costume is. You’ll definitely be surprised.
What’s the typical way most up-and-coming rappers approach you? What line do you hear the most?
“My shit is ill. You’re gonna love it, man. You’re gonna love it.” How can you know I’ma love it when I haven’t even heard it yet? And, “Let me get your number.” I’ll give you the office. “No, I want your number.” Why would I give you my number? I don’t owe you that. I’ll give you the number to the office but when you call, be serious. They will hang up on you. We’re not here to play games. We’re here to keep the music hot. Most major label artists like a Dre or Eminem or G-Unit, most of the major label artists that do Hip-Hop are not popping right now with any good music so it’s back to independence where we can do it however we want. My label manager wanted me to drop this compilation album in January but I wanted to drop it in December so people would get a taste for what we’re dropping in the next year and that way when all of their albums drop, everybody’s ready for them because they got a taste for it because every project is on the compilation and there’s still projects that I didn’t get to put on the compilation.
Me and Freddie Foxxx are doing an album called The Kolexion. It’s a collection of everything I’ve ever produced with him and we did four new joints that we’re about to put out along with it. One of them is called “The Gang Starr Bus,” which I’m actually mixing today and I’m going to leak it out this week on my show. He’s really talking about everybody that was around when we did our Moment of Truth tour with Busta and Wyclef and the Black Eyed Peas before they were even known yet. They were the opening act and that’s how we got cool. Mya was on the tour and Canibus was on the tour and Public Enemy and Alchemist was just a roadie, blowing up the big buddha doll for Cypress Hill. He would ride on our bus and we would ride on their bus and that was one of the best tours ever. And I took M.O.P and my homie HeadQCourterz, Rest in Peace, to sell all our merch. I took Freddie Foxxx, Bumpy Knuckles, with us and we had the best time. And we were on the Rage Against the Machine tour in 1999 together.
He’s talking about where were you when we were on the Gang Starr bus? It’s a message out to people who were never really with us and to all of the people who have been negative in regards to Guru’s passing and everything. He’s asking where were y’all when we were on the bus? We were touring and arguing and fighting and playing cards and Mike Lowe is doing push-ups on the tour bus when it’s moving and falling over when he slammed on the brakes. It’s almost like the Just Ice record “Going Way Back.” It proves that you weren’t down if you wasn’t on that bus. Even though me and Guru have been on many a tour before all of that happened, that was one of our greatest memories of our career with Big Shug and M.O.P and all of us together.
I’m going to put that record out and it’s going on the Bumpy album. It’s actually a Gang Starr beat that we didn’t finish for the Moment of Truth album and I put it on Beats that Collected Dust Volume 2 that I’m releasing in a couple of weeks of just other instrumentals that other people turned down. I didn’t even tell Bumpy that that was a Gang Starr track. He called me and told me he wrote a rhyme about Gang Starr and when we used to be on the bus together. I told him that it was a Gang Starr track that Guru never finished. It’s just dope that it made him write that and he didn’t even know it was a Gang Starr track. It’s spooky how things com about but you gotta love it because at the end of the day, these things are positive energy that you can not deny and I’m all about positive energy 24/7.
Do you have any regrets with what happened with Guru after The Ownerz dropped and not making more music together?
No. I would never have any regrets because Gang Starr is our foundation. That’s our foundation and that’s what built me and him. I made him famous and he made me famous. We weren’t enemies when he broke off to do 7 Grand and do the next part of his career. He just didn’t want to reunite and get an album done at that period of time and six years passed and his last email said he would record the next album but he wanted to do it at his studio and I could mix it in my studio. And I was like, ‘I’m cool with that. We ain’t gotta record here. We can record in the bathroom for all I care just so long as I can mix it where our sound still sounds correct after all these years being at D&D.
HeadQCourterz is still the same studio as D&D. When D&D went out of business, I took it over and renamed it to honor my homie that passed away and that’s why we call it HeadQCourterz Studio. I had to spell it the same way HeadQCourterz spelled his name. No regrets. I got to see him in the hospital before he passed and I spoke at his private funeral because his father asked me to speak. Me and Shug spoke and had everybody laughing about all of our memories of him and the funny stuff that happened when we used to live together.
If anybody can ever do a life story on Guru besides his family and Shug I would have to be involved because I lived with him for six years before we branched off and our history is way too long. We spent 18 of 23 years together and 18 of them, we had albums out. You can’t never take that away. There’s no regrets at all.
And the letter was fake. It was bogus, which I knew it was. The lawyers stepped in and that letter didn’t even exist. And I know how he writes. I have all his rhyme books and whatnot. I know how Guru writes. He’s not going to call me his “ex-DJ.” He’s going to call me “Premier.” If he don’t wish for Premier to do something, he’s going to write, “I don’t wish for Premier to have any part of whatever.” He’s not going to call me his “ex-DJ.” That makes it sound like it’s an old boyfriend or something. That’s not how he writes.
And plus, why would you put your son in a letter once but mention everybody else that you’re running with 11 times in the same letter. He loved his son. Again, I’m not a fool. I know Solar and I know Guru. We’re not talking about anything that’s strange on my part because through all these years, I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing and nothing but good things come out of people’s mouths when you mention my name. I may be slow when it comes to turning music in. I’ll take that. I’ll take that, which I’m actually working on to fix, but I’ll take that punch with being late when it comes to turning music in, but other than that, there’s not a bad thing about me in the history of hip-hop about me being a bad guy.
Is the reason you take so long on certain songs because you’re so careful with the sound and trying to have it sound as good as it can?
Absolutely. I really care about every little note, every little sound, every little kick and pop. It has to be that right because I pride myself on quality. I want people to rely on the fact that if Preem would do it, then it’s going to be hot. It’s like how Def Jam used to do it in the ‘80s. Even if we didn’t know who the artist was, if it said Def Jam, we’re just buying it because it’s Def Jam. Now you can’t trust the label. You have to hear it to know if it’s good. I shouldn’t have to.
Look at Redman. If Redman’s dropping an album tomorrow, I don’t care if everybody says that it’s wack. I’m a Redman fan and I know that Redman comes with the rhymes and the boom-bap beats and originality. I don’t need to hear it. I don’t need to wait. I’m going to buy it because I know he’s consistent and he’s going to bring something to the table. That’s what I do. It’s the same thing with my label. If it’s Premier-produced, it has to be where everybody’s happy. It should have scratching and cutting, for the most part. Not all songs will have it all over, but there has to have some type of turntablism on it. What I heard coming up like Cutmaster DC with “Brooklyn’s in the House” and Mix Master Ice from UTFO, who was the king of cutting the “Ah” scratch. He cut it the most back then. Howie T with “Whistle” and Chubb Rock and Special Ed and all that stuff. These are legends that would always scratch on their records. Jam Master Jay always scratched on his records. Flash always scratched on his records. I wanted to make sure that I always did the same thing because that’s how the records sounded and the MC always said, “My DJ this, my DJ that, check out my DJ on the scratch.”
If I wasn’t raised that way, I probably wouldn’t be doing that steadily, but that’s how it was. If it was that way when I was coming up, that’s how it is when I still do what I do. And I’m intricate and I really, really think that deeply. Like Large Professor, I’m a mad scientist.
What’s the longest you’ve ever spent tweaking one song?
The most? It’s different every time. The record “Project Boy” with Joell Ortiz, I mixed that thing 10 times and I still am not as happy with it as I want to be because I like the track so much and I’m fighting with the vocals to sit right in the pocket to where you can really understand the sound of the sample but still get a strong taste of the lyrics and the way he spit, all combined. All of that, that took me a long time. I’ve never had to mix a record 10 times ever and it was just one joint. It never took me that long to even make an album. That was one record I was stuck on for a long time.
Also “Represent” from Nas. I had to keep on mixing and mixing and mixing it because I wasn’t happy with it. And I still wish I could have mixed it again to make it a little bit brighter and crisper but when it comes on in the club, everybody still goes crazy so I guess it’s right to them.
How do you decide what vocal samples to use when you’re scratching a hook in a record?
It just depends. A lot of times the lyrics or the title of the song make me just start coming up with ideas. As a DJ, we pretty much know every rhyme to almost every record because if we’re in battle mode or whatever mode we’re in, we think, “I can scratch that line. That would be ill.” So depending on what the song is about or what the title of the song is, that’s what makes me go, ‘Ooh wee!’ And the lines just start coming in my head. Sometimes I get the lines in my head. Jay-Z always gave me the scratches to scratch. Guru always told me, “Scratch this, scratch that.” Biggie told me, “You should scratch R. Kelly “It’s unbelievable” in the hook.” I was like, ‘All right, I’ll try it tomorrow. I’ll go get the record.’ At the time we didn’t have Serato where we could just download it and throw it in. You had to go pull the 12” on vinyl or the album and do that. You couldn’t just sample it and try to cut it up in Serato. You had to physically have that record.
So it’s either way. If an MC tells me to scratch it, I’ll try it and if it doesn’t work to my satisfaction, then I’ll tell them, “Yo, it ain’t working.” But when I did “D’Evils with Jay, he did it over the phone. He told me, “I want you to scratch “Dear God, I wonder can you save me? Illuminati got my mind, should and my body.” He was doing it over the phone. And then at the end he said, “I can’t die, I can’t die.” I was like, ‘All right, got it.’ Came to the studio, had the beat laid, had the scratches laid and he just went in there and laid the vocals and it was dope.
Like I said, Guru gave me a lot of scratching ideas and then I do my own ideas. I’m open to anything but most of the time, I just go off of what the lyrics say and they make me come up with cuts that I want to use.
You’ve used a wide selection of artists not everyone is familiar with from Akrobatik and Murs to the well-known artists. You really run the gamut with the voices you choose to scratch.
Yeah. But that’s how much I really, really know my hip-hop. I still study now. I know Waka Flocka’s biggest records and I know what’s popping with Gucci Mane. I met Gucci Mane backstage getting ready to go onstage to rehearse at the BET Hip-Hop Awards and he was like, ‘Aw, man, DJ Premier! DJ Premier, you a legend!’ I thought he was short. That motherfucker’s tall as fuck. That motherfucker’s like 6’1”! I was like, ‘Damn, you tall!’ I thought he was like short and stocky. I didn’t realize he was a big old tall basketball player-looking motherfucker. And he was like, ‘Yo, I love everything you did with Gang Starr.’ And this is Gucci Mane! And we know he’s not the most lyrical but I respect him for his hustle and his grind and he gave me my respect. I didn’t have to introduce myself. It was me and Shug and he knew Shug too.
I respect that because that means he’s up on what I do and I’m up on what he does. I can talk to him about “Lemonade” and sing the lyrics. He can be like, ‘Premier knows my shit!’ Now that’s not a style of hip-hop that I would do but he’s another piece of the hip-hop puzzle. I just stay in my lane and do what I do. They can do what they do and Jay-Z does a little of both. He’ll take a southern swag style of record and make it his own because that’s what Jay always did. But he can do that because he knows how to make a perfect rendition of those records and I’m the same way. If I had to do a bounce record, my version of a bounce record was “All for the Cash” because you could bounce to that even though it’s in regular 4/4 count. Certain people can do those things and certain people can not. I’m deep-rooted in hip-hop and there’s not a style of hip-hop that I can’t do.
It’s cool that you have a level of appreciation for all types of hip-hop.
I love and respect the culture. When you love and respect it, you’ll always be able to do it. That’s why I know with me being 44 years of age, there’s no limit because I’m older. If that was the case, I would be like, ‘Aw, man, that rap stuff was cool when I was younger. I’ve outgrown that.’ You can not outgrow culture! You can’t outgrow a culture, period! The fact that I am a part of the culture, I’m going to keep banging out until I don’t want to do it anymore but I still fiend for an ill-ass sample and an ill-ass beat to make.
When you’re adding voices to a scratch, like Method Man, does that ever make you realize that the artist might sound dope doing a song with you?
Oh, absolutely, which is why we did “Rap Phenomenon” on Biggie’s Born Again album with him and Red. We’ve been trying to get in the lab together but our schedules kept clashing. The last time I saw Redman, he said, “Aw, man, you ain’t got no love for me, man.” I said, “Red, I’ve just been busy, dawg, I’ve been on tour and I haven’t been around and I don’t carry drum machines on the road and records to sample. I’m focusing on doing my gigs and covering all the ground I can cover while I’m over there. It’s a grind being in Europe and flying on a plane every day for 22-23 days straight and then getting there and doing interviews and doing all the stuff.” He knows.
But I so bad want to do original songs that aren’t for a tribute album or for anything. Eventually hopefully me and Red will get it in and hopefully on the next record me and Meth will get it in. I’m going to keep on making sure that I keep my mind on making sure that happens one day.
But yeah, sometimes a line from a record will make me realize they sound good over that beat and imagine if we do a whole song. One day we will.
What are the most popular requests you get from fans for who they want you to work with?
Definitely Busta Rhymes. And I’ve been sending him beats fresh out of the oven and he’s been turning every one of them down but he was like, ‘Yo, I need more intensity. I need more of this.’ And it’s a challenge to me. Me and Busta are really great friends from way back and I told him, ‘All right, man.’ Every song that he’s turned down has already ended up with another artist. It’s been put to use. I’m actually going to work on another one this week to see if I can get it cracking again because I really want to make his album.
And also, a lot of people want me to work with Ghostface and I told Ghost after the Rock the Bells tour and he told me, “Yo, man, you know “Mass Appeal” is what inspired “Criminology.”” I was like, ‘For real?’ because “Criminology” is a banger for Raekwon’s first Purple Tape. “Criminology” is an ill record and for him to say that “Mass Appeal inspired that…I’m a big Ghostface fan and I can already imagine what he’s going to sound like over a Premier beat. So Ghostface, Busta Rhymes…Who else is always mentioned? Off the head, it’s those two as far as people asking me if I would ever work with them.
Is it ever hard keeping up with the artists who reach out to work with you? Do you ever get any hurt feelings?
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Busta keeps saying, “I don’t think you’re taking me seriously.” How can you even say some shit like that? I can’t just drop everything and do it just like that. There’s other things involved. There’s business involved. If I got a paid gig that somebody’s paid me to do, I gotta put those priorities first. If I gotta give you a track for free until we handle business off ‘spect, it’s business. I can’t put that in front of what’s gotta be taken care of first because there’s business and if the shoe was on the other foot, I would respect the same thing.
Game reaches out to me and says, “Yo, I got a small little window. Can you still squeeze me in a joint?” I said, “Well, I got some joints that are not being used now and they’re still in skeleton form.” I sent it to him, he loved it and he sent me the vocals back on the same day and I just made the Game album. And he paid me! I told him how much I wanted and there was no hesitation. He said, “Done!” Now he just sent me a text message asking me if I had time for one more and I’m like, ‘Shit, if it’s gonna pay as quick as the last one, then yeah, I’ll squeeze one more’ because again, it’s business. It’s the end of the year and I have other priorities I want to do and take care of my staff and my family and sometimes that’s what the issue is.
A lot of these artists now, with the way budgets have been cut and the way a lot of the majors won’t cut a check until the song is done first, but my time and my energy is being put into creating a banger and we used to get paid upfront. Half upfront, half when the song is done. That doesn’t apply anymore. That just doesn’t apply anymore. Being that that’s the case, the paying customers get first shot.
That’s not to take anything away from Busta. That’s my homie and I love him to death and I’m still going to work on beats this week for him, but I’ve done 10 already so it’s not like I haven’t made the effort. It’s not like I’m avoiding him or I’m not taking his calls. Every time he calls, I immediately tell him what the status is and I’m not going to sugarcoat the news. He’s a man that I respect and I’m very deep when it comes to my beats.
I want them to be really unique so I don’t just go in there, hit a button and it’s done. I really think, “Damn, that sounds like something I did on this record. Ah, scrap it. I’ll erase it. That sounds or reminds me too much of that bassline. Scrap it.” That’s what I do. My assistant Gem will tell you the same thing. He’s witnessed me make joints for artists and he’ll say, “I never would have used that record” because he makes beats but he’s seen me use records just off the ground with the cuts and scratches and I don’t mean cuts and scratches from DJs. I’m talking about somebody stepping on it and scraping it all across the street. He won’t even play it and I find a little niche right in the middle where it doesn’t have any dirt or scrape marks on it and make a beat out of it. I really look to be that unique with my style.
Some of these artists may not get it, but I can’t sit there and constantly have to explain myself because I know I’m doing a positive thing and doing God’s work as a human being. If they don’t get it at the end of the day, that’s really their problem. But me and Busta are going to make it happen. It’s gonna happen.
How have you noticed your production techniques changing over the years?
I just make sure that I stay in the lane that works for me. I know as a DJ, I love playing my songs when they’re brand new. I don’t really like to hear my music when I do records after they’ve been out there for awhile. I don’t like listening to my own music. I like to play other people’s music. But when it’s a brand new joint that I just did I’m fiending to play it because I know you can’t front on it because the beats are there and the rhymes are there and you’re going to heart the tradition that you expect.
When I get off the phone for this interview, I got so many beats I gotta do. I gotta do one for Esoteric that’s overdue. He paid me my money right way, no questions asked. I told him how much it would cost him for cash and he gave me the money. I gotta get his beat done. He said he wants something angry and mean. It’s going to have the Premier style because I can’t avoid getting rid of that because I already laid that down and I know people want more of that.
When I say I update my formula, I just work on making sure that the sample is new and different from what I’ve done in the past or it’s chopped a certain way where even if I take a record that you would recognize from back in the days, it’s going to be chopped in a way where you’re going to say, “Oh, shit, did you hear what he did to so-and-so?” I’ve used “Nautilus” before for “My Mind Spray” for Jeru. I used a different version than everybody else used and everybody’s used “Nautilus” in one way or form or another but my approach was always like a real quick rewind to everything I’ve already done.
Even with all the records I’ve done, I can’t hardly remember because I’ve done so many, but I still have all of that in consideration with everything I’ve done in the past, every Jeru album, every Group Home album, every Gang Starr album, every Rakim record, every Jay record, every Nas record, every Biggie record, every Paula Perry record, every Mos Def record, every Big L record…All of that’s in my mind when I create the beats and it just has to have a certain neck bounce to it where you know you can’t not bounce to it.
And I grade it based on stepping outside of myself where I ask myself, “Would I like this if somebody played this for me?” And that’s how I judge it. I literally act like I’m somebody else. If you ever see me talking to myself, don’t think I’m crazy. I’m just stepping outside of who I am and pretending to be the other person that loves a Premier record that’s being introduced to another joint Premier did. Would he like this? Would she like this? Would they say, “Oh, man, it’s another bouncing banger”? And if it feels that way to me then, then it gets released from the studio. If not, it still stays in the studio forever until that feeling is caught by me and my fake other person! (laughs)
When you’re looking for a sample to chop, do you hear how it’s going to be arranged before you load the sounds into your MPC or does it come to you as you work on it?
It’s both but mainly, depending on the artist and their voice and their flow and the stuff that they’ve done that I liked in the past, I kind of hear it and I start searching for sounds that are close to what I hear. Sometimes it turns out to be a whole different sample style that I wasn’t looking for or when I’m looking for the sample for the song I’m working on, I might find a sample that’s dope but it’s not dope for the record I’m working on. I’ll mark it and put it on a disk and come back to it, which I never did in the past but I’m doing it now because the memory’s not as sharp as it used to be! (laughs) I can’t retain as much memory as I used to! So now I just take the sample, put it on a disk, note it that I have to come back to it and when I come back to it and I make a banger out of that.
But I always hear it and I usually look for the sample. Sometimes I don’t even do that. Sometimes I just put on records and thumb around and just hunt for sounds that sound like it might work for my drums because I usually do the drums first. I used to do the sample first and then put drums around it and I still do that every now and then, but usually I do the drums first and make a pattern that’s fairly simple with just the one and the two and then I surround it once the sample locks in to the kick and the snare and then I start to add the extra kicks or the extra bounce or take one kick away and turn the quantize off and just start doing it manually until it sounds like it’s bouncing enough to loop around and once it feels that way, then I lay it down and I’m ready to cut vocals.
How do you keep your drums banging without getting repetitive?
It just depends. There are certain times when I’ll even use three, four, five different sounds. I guarantee you people say I use the same hi-hat but it’s like, ‘All right, I’m taking the hi-hat out now and I’m going to show you that I can do whatever. But there is something traditional about snares and drums that are now mine. It’s like when I do the clean edits of my records from Q-Bert’s Original Sound Tools vinyl that he put out with all the little space sounds from the video games. I use those sounds so much that now people know when they hear those sounds that Premier did that because I made them mine and I made them signatures. It’s the same thing with certain drums. I can use them again and again and again and make them my signature.
And then I think of the artist and I’m like, ‘I’d use a softer snare for this one’ or, ‘I’d rather have a lighter kick.’ Like Busta, I gotta make my drums snappy. Like Busta said, “Don’t make a Busta Rhymes track, make a Premier track.” All right. And of course, he does what everybody else does. “Aw, make something like “Kick in the Door.” Make something like “10 Crack Commandments.” Take the drums from “10 Crack Commandments” and make a beat with that.” And I don’t want to do that because I did that already. Just let me make a Premier beat and you show me you can do when you come to that table. There are certain things I won’t budge on but yeah, in regards to the tracks, that’s still how I create with the drums.
And now there’s a whole bunch of new drum sounds that I’ve gotten from this kid in Canada who sent me Drum Lab and that has all kinds of kicks, snares, breaks and loops and I’m starting to tamper with those and get even more newer sounds and do a newer style. 2011’s going to be so many new styles but it’s still going to be hardcore raw like the way I’ve been bringing it. And you’re always going to still hear scratching. You’re always going to hear banging beats and you’re always going to hear original samples and if it’s a sample that you already heard from a record that was a hit, it’s going to be chopped up so lovely that you’re going to even like the way I chopped the sample and it’s going to show my versatility in manipulating samples as an artform.
Let’s say you make a complete beat. If you don’t love it, do you not play it for anyone?
If it’s a banger to that degree, you’re going to hear it because I want it to get out. I fiend to get the hot shit out there. If I’m not satisfied with it, then it’s not getting out. It’s not leaving the studio. I got a lot of joints that are not leaving the studio.
How does it feel being on almost every rapper’s bucket list of producers to work with?
It really makes me feel good that I’m still sought-after after all of these years because there’s a whole new generation and wave of producers and MCs and artists that are taking our spot and I’m not in the forefront of being looked at and because of that, not everybody is going to call for me unless it’s the veterans like a Ghost or a Method Man or the people from my era like a Grandmaster Caz or a Whodini or somebody like that.
Because of that, I have to realize that that could happen and when the phone is ringing, even the younger guys are calling me. Diggy, Run’s son, wants me to host his mixtape and I don’t know if I should do that because that’s Diggy but then I looked at what he’s doing and he’s just doing classic rhyming over Pete Rock’s remix to Public Enemy’s “Shut ‘Em Down” and he’s rhyming over Slick Rick. He’s rhyming over Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Stepping” and the “You Know My Steez” instrumental. These are ones that he picked. I’m like, ‘Hold up!’ I just saw the tracklisting and I said I would host it because he’s rhyming over songs from my era and he wasn’t even in existence yet and this is what he picked. That’s really unique that he’s even going there and I think that’s great that he’s even taking it to that level. That makes me want to host it because he’s showing me that he respects what we laid down when he was an embryo. Now I’m down to host the whole thing because all of the tracks were stuff that I grew up on.
Do you feel like the elements of Hip-Hop are too separated today?
They’re all separated on a bigger scale and a mainstream scale because the mainstream doesn’t really care about the culture like we do. In our world, the underground world, it’s all there, the graffiti, the beat-boxing, which is really called the fifth element of hip-hop, the breaking with the B-Boys and the B-Girls and the DJs and the turntables. Turntables are still selling like crazy and vinyl is still being released. I still make vinyl. I’m making some limited edition 45s this year just to be a little different. There are B-sides that are only on the 45.
When I start my website, it’s really going to be on and popping because it’s going to have the DJ Premier store. I’ve always wanted to sell my own t-shirts. I do sell my own merch when I’m on tour but now I’ll have the official DJ Premier store on my website and that’s going to make money because I’ll be able to sell all of my shirts and they’ll be the authentic DJ Premier shirts and not the fake ones, even though people have made the fake ones that looked good. I don’t have to worry about that either because now that it’s coming directly from me, you’ll get quality and you’ll be able to get your size. It’s going to go from 6X to extra small so even the big guys can wear my stuff. And that’s going to be another nice money income that will bring more awareness and we’ll always be able to keep you updated on what we’re doing in the future so that people will know that if it’s coming from me, it will be official. They won’t ever have to worry about being let down because the quality of my work will be presented to all of my supporters and fans because they fiend to get more stuff from me. I’m going to provide one of the best services ever and as consumers, you can trust that you’ll get your money’s worth.
Do you still check for new scratching and juggling techniques today?
It’s still on my mind as far as watching the new cats and watching the juggling and watching all of that. There’s a lot of styles that I can’t do because they’re just way more advanced than what I can do and I’m not as fast anymore, but every DJ that I talk to, I’ll say, “I wish I could do that style” and they tell me, “Man, you don’t have to. We copied your style to become advanced in beat juggling and all that.”
When I look at all the new kids that are coming up and they tell me that I inspired them with juggling and even creating beats with just two records and changing the tempo of something like the X-Ecutioners have done in the past and with the Scratch Piklz and Rhettmatic and Revolution and all of them, it’s like I still attempt it when I hear a dope scratch, but I still make sure I’m really unique in finessing my scratches because I still think I make the best hooks when it comes to DJs doing that.
There’s a lot of cats that beat juggle and battle and they can’t lay scratches tight when it comes to making records, but in a battle they’re ill. My tradition has already been laid, but I still study all of those guys. I still go to the beat battles and I watch every one because a lot of them are still doing what did back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and they’re younger and they still respect the tradition and that’s the reason why I make sure I keep my eye on them. What if NYGz go out on tour and I can’t go? I can find them a DJ because there’s still a lot of them that want to get work.
What DJs stand out to you as innovators today?
I have to take it back to the older guys like Scratch and any of the Scratch Piklz. Rhettmatic is producing beats. He did different stuff for Ras Kass. He did “Goldyn Chyld 2.” You got J-Rocc and all these guys that are still innovative. I like DJ Ruckus who’s Freddie Foxxx’s DJ who’s down with DJ Chaps, Talib Kweli’s DJ. All of them are battle DJs. DJ Finesse, who now does all the mainstream clubs but he does it like the way DJs are supposed to do it. Even though he has to play a lot of the music that he doesn’t like, he still applies his battle style when he plays his gigs. It’s the same thing with Riz. DJ Riz does the same thing.
A lot of these younger guys, they’re not really making records. They’re just still beat juggling and doing battles but they’re not really record makers. Rob Swift still makes albums that are just so unique and different. I keep my eye on all of those guys. I remember when A-Trak was a little youngster and he was all skinny and then he became Kanye’s DJ and now he has the big record “Barbara Streisand” that’s popping. So he’s moved on from being a battle DJ and to this day, if he had to battle, I know he could still tear somebody to pieces.
How much do you think being a DJ helps when you start to make beats?
It helps a lot because I was a DJ first. I didn’t know how to make beats at first. I knew how to DJ and I knew how to blend and mix and how to keep timing on the records. So when it came to joining Gang Starr, Guru said, “Yo, in order for you to make 50% of the money, you gotta produce everything.” I said, “Okay.” Got on top my SP 1200. At the time it was the SP 12. I had to practice and practice and practice. As a DJ I knew what I liked and I was influenced by so many great artists like Public Enemy and everybody. I just started applying those same methods to the drum machine being that sampling was already a new form that had taken shape from the actual snares and sounds that come built in the machine. And then from there I started to get better and better at it because I would practice every day and get nicer and nicer.
When we did “No More Mr. Nice Guy” I don’t take credit for that solely because that was me, Guru and the engineer all pressing the buttons together. I just brought the samples. And we were all hitting kicks, snares and hi-hats together. “Hit that one!” We were standing there together with our fingers on every button. We didn’t have automation back then so we would have to stop it and do it over if we made a mistake. There was three of us with our hands on the button to mute the music and bring it back in. We messed up eight or nine times and we had to start over because we didn’t have automation. If we had automation, we could fix it on the spot but we didn’t have that advantage at the time so we had to join hands and do it together. I come from that era when everything was straight to tape.
Does the technology today make it easier?
Oh, super-easy! We didn’t have Pro Tools! Everything went to tape and then if you messed up on a punch, you had to relay the whole vocals. Now if I accidentally record over somebody’s vocals, all I have to do is hit “Undo.” If I mess up three times, hit “Undo” three times and it puts you back to where you were. If we had that, we probably would have had so many more records done back then but we were on 2” tapes and it only holds three songs per reel so if you’re planning on doing 17-18 songs, that’s a lot of money. Them reels were $120 a pop. No discounts, no nothing. And then if we did skits, we had to have enough tapes to do skits.
I was around when 8 track tapes were here and cassettes were here. I remember when CDs came out and it was like, ‘Oh shit, they have rap CDs with Run-DMC.’ That was a big deal because I worked retail at that time back in the ‘80s and it was rare to see a rap CD. It was rare to see a rap album. It was just 12”s and that was it. If you didn’t have a turntable, you did not have no cassette singles. There was none of that. You had the 12” vinyl or you had to hear it on the mixshow. And most people that didn’t have vinyl or were DJs, they had the mix and the mix was going to be tight anyway because you had Marley on Friday and Saturday on BLS and you got Red Alert on Saturday but you got Chuck Chillout on Friday. I would have two tape decks running and you’re going to get nothing but new shit. New Ultramagnetic. New Kings of Pressure. New Public Enemy. New MC Shan. New Roxanne Shante. New Sparky D. New Flash and the Furious Five. It was nonstop fresh hits every weekend.
And I still do everything by that method. Everything. My radio show, beatmaking, everything is by the method of the great mixes that came back then. That’s when DJs were always cutting. You would just pray that they would cut your record on the air. I remember when Marley said he was going to play “Words I Manifest” and debut it and he started the show with it and he was starting it over and scratching the beginning and he would be bringing it back. I was listening to the way he was cutting it up and I knew I would go far from there and I am still going far from there.
Was that the moment when you knew you could make a career in hip-hop?
Oh, without a doubt! Without a doubt! With-out-a-doubt. The day that Stu Barnes said that Marley Marl was going to play the record and debut it and start the show with it, we were like, ‘For real?’ We stood by the radio like little kids waiting to heart the outcome of who won the election or something. And all of a sudden you just heard “do-da-do-do-da-do-da-do” and it was the album version, not the video version that we did the remix of. WE didn’t have a remix yet. It did so well. Stu told us we should do a remix and make it a little more spiced up and make it a little faster and not so slow and we did that and that became our first hit. And we never declined from there. Every album sold more than the last album and every album from Moment of Truth to Full Clip went gold in less than a month.
How do you judge success today?
For one, having the radio show. That’s millions of people that subscribe to hear uncensored radio and on top of that, they can call me live on the air and our call volume is crazy. We usually take a break every half hour and during that half hour, we go to the phone lines and we’ll go to someone like Rich from Nebraska and he’ll say how excited he is to talk to us and how he listens to us every Friday. It’s crazy calls. I try to bang at least 20 songs a week and I just get it in. I’m not playing around. I’m really there to give it to you raw and uncut like the way Marley and them did it but also when my site opens up in a couple of weeks, I’ll be able to put more out there because I’m already a name that people will follow.
And then I just go on Twitter. It’s called “RealDJPremier.” Now that I jointed Twitter, I can also Tweet that I have this coming out on this day and I got this going down and I got this going down and people will follow that and they’ll get that firsthand. I’m talking advantage of technology and how music can be spread out. And I’m doing all this viral content like the videos with Nick Javas and NYGz and people know they have to be on the lookout for that. People know that when they buy something and they pop it in, they get that quality and they expect that.
What’s been your favorite radio freestyle that’s happened over the years?
Definitely all the ciphers that I do for BET every year for the Hip-Hop Awards. We use the traditional breaks and everybody has to write a dope 16 and do their rhymes. Everybody usually messes up but we cut it and edit it to where you would never know that. And on my radio show, we would have live freestyles. I remember eMC was up there and everybody was there, Masta Ace, Punchline, Words and Strick. Everybody got busy. I’ve had Edo G. with Special Teamz and Slaine killed it. I even had MC Eiht and Young Malay from the West Coast up there and they freestyled. Who else? Illa Ghee was up there with Eternia. Eternia can spit. It was a lot of people who were just ready to destroy the mic. KRS-One, who always loves to rhyme. There’s just so many different avenues of that. But as far as freestyles that are traditional aside from my radio show are the BET ciphers every year. That’s always a big deal.
What was your favorite cipher this year?
Definitely Wiz Khalifa with Yelawolf and Bones Brigante. I like them. Of course my artist Nick Javas did one with Laws and with this new girl named Reema Major who’s 15 years-old. It was on BET.com but it wasn’t on the actual show. It didn’t air on television but it aired at the show while we were there in between the breaks. Who else was good? Vado was good. He did one with Fonzworth Bentley and all them. Vado I thought was good. Royce Da 5’9” and Kuniva were great. You don’t expect anything less from them anyway. Who else did their thing? Kanye and the whole G.O.O.D. Music crew was good with Cyhi the Prince and Big Sean.
Drake said he got a lot of his style with how he says the punchline first and then he says the name, just like the way Joell Ortiz said, “I got the corner on lock, Darrelle Revis.” Drake said that Big Sean is where he got that style from and Big Sean is signed to Kanye. So now I’m waiting to see if Big Sean comes with it and me and him have to get in the studio and bang something out because I know he’s another person who prides themselves on lyrics and I’m into lyrics. It’s simple. It’s just gotta be good lyrics.
There were rumors that you were going to work with Kanye on his new album. Did anything happen with that?
No. We did a track. He never cut vocals to it but I did scratch on a song called “Mama’s Boy.” It was literally last week. It was a last minute thing, he’s doing a bonus album. But Jay-Z and Kanye are doing an album together so we spoke about it. He kept begging me for two more tracks but my schedule was too tight to really go in and do them before he got done so I told him, “Yo, I’ll make tracks for that project and we’ll hit it again.”
Whatever happened to you working with Eminem?
It was really a point of jumping the gun on locking down everything with Eminem at the time to where it never materialized to where I jumped the gun on the interview. I wasn’t supposed to let it out the bag yet that I was working with him and for me to protect the people I was involved with to do the song with Eminem, I didn’t really want to put their name on blast so I just pretty much said, “Hey, I spoke a little too soon” and I apologized to Eminem when we did the ciphers last year and he said, “You don’t gotta apologize. I still want those beats from you!” I remember he just started jumping up and down like a little kid. “Send. The. Beats. Send. The. Beats.” Jumping up and down to that type of a rhythm. Once we got to talking and knowing each other and being cool, then he showed his silly side and I told him, “I’m going to send you something” for the next project he does. I’m going to definitely send him some tracks.
What do you think about Pioneer not making the Technic 1200s anymore?
From what I heard they’re still going to make the other models. As long as it’s a 12 I don’t care if it’s a 1220 or a 1230. There’s no denying the way we love them. It’s all good. We’ll still have access to them.
Have you kept HeadQCourterz pretty similar to the old D&D Studio?
It’s the same room, it’s just the name’s changed. I still have the same exact room. I won’t even change the tile on the floor. It’s very dirty and rugged. You can feel that dirt and grime under your feet when you walk in there. I wanna leave it like that. I didn’t change anything. All I did was give it a little facelift and put new diffusers in the ceiling and the back wall. Everything else is still the same. And I re-carpeted the vocal booth. But other than that, it’s the exact same.
I renovated the other two rooms. The A Room is now a full-size room capable for a band and Showbiz from D.I.T.C. built a room in my old lounge and turned it into a pre-production studio. So he’s in there almost every day working on his projects and I’m in there working on mine and Charles the Mixologist is in the A Room doing bigger projects with bands and things on a wider scale like that. So we’re a big machine right there in that house. So all is well with the creativity, the sound and all that stuff. I bought the same speakers from D&D. I bought them from them. I said, “Yo, I’ll buy all of those” and put them right back in the same holds being that we never changed the hold. We put it right back and now we’re up and running again. D&D, it’ll always be D&D, but it’s also HeadQCourterz as well. It’ll always be D&D.
What does it take for an MC to get a beat for you?
Come with that bread! Come with that bread and talk to Phat Gary. And if I like you as an MC, we’re going to get it in.
Fat Joe has mentioned doing an album entirely produced by you. Is that a possibility?
I’ve never been approached about doing a whole Fat Joe album, but if it was the right timing and he wanted to do something like that, I would do it. I’m still looking forward for trying to do a Nas and Premier album, to be honest. But if Joe wanted to do it and we could get the scheduling right, then hell yeah, I would do it. Joe’s family.
You mentioned Wiz Khalifa, Yelawolf and Big Sean as up-and-coming artists that you like. Who else has caught your ear?
Yelawolf. Some people don’t like the fact that I mention Wiz Khalifa as a guy that I like because they feel that he’s not as lyrical. But I like that he’s a free spirit. I’ve met him and I like what he’s doing. He’s a free spirit and you have to respect it on that level. I’m not mad at him. I like J. Cole and I like Drake. They write rhymes. They’re not writing little mediocre stuff. They’re writing rhymes. They’re not even 24 years-old. They’re young and they’re putting the lyrics back into enjoying somebody rapping. All of those guys.
Yelawolf has a style all of his own. He’s kind of spooky and weird and stuff from left field but he’s doing what he’s doing and coming with his own style. And when I asked him who inspired him, he said Ice Cube. Oh yeah, Ice Cube killed the cipher. He was dope. And I didn’t tell him that Ice Cube was coming. I knew he was coming. Everybody don’t know but the rappers do different shifts. When he said, “Ice Cube’s my favorite artist who I was influenced by” and Ice Cube’s limo is sitting right in front of me and I said, “Yo, check this out, Yelawolf,” and Ice Cube opened the door and he said, “Oh. My. God.” Like, he was bugging like this was unreal. But I’m glad that Ice Cube was his influence. He didn’t name somebody I didn’t respect. He named Ice Cube. Ice Cube is one of the illest lyricists. He’s definitely in my top 10. Ice Cube is a problem. He’s a lyricist extraordinaire.
Why do you think you and Joell Ortiz have such great chemistry just on the few songs that you’ve done?
Just because I recognize the difference. Again, I’m deep-rooted in this. When you know the history of hip-hop from day one all the way up to now and all the DJs that came before you, you don’t have a hard time connecting with any artist. If anybody’s going to have a hard time connecting, it’s going to be on their part, not mine. I’m very easy to deal with. I just don’t like to put out wack shit.
How were you able to get the masters back on the Teflon album from Def Jam?
Kevin Liles, I gotta big him up. Jay-Z, I gotta big him up. And Lyor Cohen. Even when I needed more money out of the budget when I ran the budget out, they cut me another check with no complaining and no questions. They gave me more money and then the regime changed and Jay-Z took over and Jay was going to put it out and I backed out of the deal that he offered me. When I look back at it now I wish I did take the deal but I didn’t. And when he left, it just wasn’t the same once Jay left. But they let me take all my work with me and I appreciate that, that they didn’t hold it and hold it over my head as ransom, so to speak. They let me go and move on.
Now I’ve updated it and now Joell Ortiz is on the album with Tef. It’s really slamming. It’s going to be another good album and I’ve tightened up the beats and made some of them newer. It’s a really good album and it sounds fresh and a lot of people who are M.O.P fans that love Tef from M.O.P’s family and M.O.P’s on it and they did a banger called “The Thorough Side.” It’s crazy! It’s one I produced. I produced 90% of the album. Also Agallah produced it, a guy named GQ Beats and another guy named Addict Sounds. So we got some cool people. It’s going to be a really good project. Showbiz is on the boards as well. But I did all of them except for five songs. The rest of it, I did the whole thing.
How’s your album Return of the Boom Bip with KRS-One coming?
Well, we’re only two songs deep right now but I pulled a song that we did that day when we were hanging out in the studio. Ice T happened to be on another floor mastering some work. He heard I just went up on the elevator and he asked what floor it was and they told me Ice T was at the door. KRS was like, ‘Word?’ Ice T comes in and we all start kicking it. Ice heard the beat. It was a beat for Rakim that we never finished using for when he was on Aftermath with Dre. He was like, ‘That beat sounds like the way y’all did that 5% stuff back in the day.’ And KRS was like, ‘Yo, that’s a good idea. I’m going to write a rhyme right now about that.’ KRS wrote the rhyme. Ice T was like, ‘Yo, you need to get one of the gods on there, like Big Daddy Kane or somebody or Grand Puba.’
We were like, ‘Grand Puba’s real good at that. Let’s get Puba.’ Call Puba, Puba met me at a bar in Harlem. I picked him up. He didn’t want to leave without his drink. It was the wintertime and it was cold. He takes his drink and slips it in his sleeve sideways and walks with his arm looking like it’s broken so that he doesn’t spill the drink just so that he can get in the car and finish his drink and get to the studio and lay the vocals!
He made it down and made sure that everything was right with the facts because he didn’t want any of the older gods saying, “You’re right on that, you’re wrong on that.” There were a couple things in a couple of KRS’ rhymes that he said KRS messed up and there were a couple things that he didn’t want the older gods to say, “Oh, man, he didn’t mention this and he didn’t mention that. That’s not right and exact.” They take that stuff very seriously. So Puba fixed it and then KRS had to go on tour for two months.
So when we come back, he had already told me he had three albums that were coming out, the one with True Master, he had a Kenny Parker and KRS album and he had an album that he did with Freddie Foxxx and then he had the album that he was putting out with Buckshot. He said it was going to have to come out after that. I know the True Master album came out because I’ve been playing it on my show. And now Kenny Parker’s is about to drop before the end of the year.
So at the top of the year, we’ll get back on mine once he finishes up his tour and I can do the songs. The first two we did was “5%” and we did another one where we took a beatbox sample and turned it into a Premier style or version and then Q-Tip came by to do the intro to the album. He just happened to see Q-Tip on the street and he told him, “Yo, we’re doing an album Return of the Boom Bip and we need you to do an intro.” He said, “All right, I’ll come down there. I’ll even do a song.”
But we haven’t done the song yet. But we did the intro where he walks in with an old, classic cassette tape recorder, the kind where you had to hit “Record” and put it next to your speakers and tell everybody in the room to be quiet so you could record into that little cordless mic. He brought one of those and we reenacted the traffic noise and “Premier, whaddup?” “Tip, whaddup? Yeah, man, we’re trying to come up with a title for the album. Return of the Boom Bap Part 2.” He was like, ‘Nah, don’t call it that. Why don’t we call it Return of the Boom Bip?’ And we go, “Oh, yeah, the boom, the bip, the boom, the bip” all together. And then I was like, ‘Yeah, I like that. As a matter of fact, I got a beat for that. Let’s drop it right now!” And I took the sample from Tribe Called Quest, “We’re doing the boom, the bip, the boom bip.” Now once KRS comes back, Q-Tip is going to rhyme on that beat and it’s going to be the intro to the album. We’re already coming up with creative ideas.
hat KRS wants to do when he gets back from his tour for January, he wants to do it like we did Return of the Boom Bap. We did that album in two weeks. We were banging out song after song after song after song. Even when we did “Higher Level,” I was mad at KRS. I wanted to go home. I was tired. I was done. He was like, ‘Let’s do one more.’ He’s talking on “Higher Level” and I said, “Dude, I don’t feel like making no more beats,” and he said, “Make whatever you feel.” That’s why I made it sound all mellow with the Blacula soundtrack, which we cleared, which is the only reason I’m giving the sample. And we got it on there and actually I like how it’s mellow. I like what he said and I like the way it closes out the album.
You’re also doing an album DJ Premier versus Pete Rock, where you’re both taking six MCs and making songs. Can you let us know who you’re looking at for your six?
Nah. It’s a secret. Me and Pete aren’t supposed to tell each other. I got four of them already. I just have to get two more. I’ll tell you one. I got the GZA. We’re going to do a fucking monster. We’re going real underground on this one. I’m not going to go for Jay-Z and Kanye. When I do my other album, I want to go for the high caliber guys like that and Drake or whoever, but for this one I want it to be really underground people like a GZA or the Beatnuts. Somebody like that, I definitely got them. Just don’t tell Pete!
When you look at all your albums that are coming out soon, can you promise us some more classic interludes?
Where I talk shit? If it’s necessary, I’m going to talk some more shit. You never know. Nobody’s pissed me off lately so so far, so good.
What was it like meeting Nelson Mandela?
Oh, my God, man, I still can’t believe that happened. And the beauty of it is [it happened] through the beauty of hip-hop. His grandson is a big Premier fan. He named everything I did. He named Paula Perry and “The First Nigga (Remix)” for Kool G. Rap. This is Nelson Mandela’s grandson and he knows all of this. To get the call from our promoter who says, “There’s this guy who says he’s Nelson Mandela’s grandson. He wants to meet you in person and he said he’ll take you to meet his grandfather.”
Even the promoters from Africa were like, ‘Man, this has gotta be bullshit. This can’t be real. You’re not gonna do it. Mos Def tried to do it and he was denied to meet Mandela. Bahamadia tried to do it and she was denied.’ So now it was the grandson asking me if I wanted to meet his grandfather and when he told us where to meet him the following day, the promoter was like, ‘Yo, that address where he’s telling us to meet is definitely an official street where there’s a lot of money.’ He’s like, ‘Trust me, that’s a really, really big part of town.’
And we went over there and they had the big armed guards with the helmets and they had the metal detectors like at the airports when you run your bag through and it X-rays it. When we got there, we had our belts and our phones on our hips and we know it’s going to trigger off the alarm and right away, Mandela’s grandson Ndaba said something in his African language and all of them put their guns down and just let us right in while the thing is going “beep, beep, beep.” He said we’re good and they didn’t even override him like, ‘We gotta search them.’ We could be some killers trying to get up and close on his man and he said, ‘No, these guys are official.’ His word made it happen. There was no questions about it or nothing.
They immediately let us in and we thought he was going to be introduced, like, ‘We now present Nelson Mandela!’ This man’s sitting on the couch with his shoes off with gold-toed socks just reading the newspaper. And he’s like, ‘Granddad, my friends are here.’ And he was like, ‘Come on in!’ We were like, ‘Wow!’ And he was like, ‘You have to speak loud. He can hardly hear. His hearing is really bad’ and I’m like, ‘I AM SO HAPPY TO BE HERE!’ You know what I’m saying? I just didn’t know what to say. He’s Nelson Mandela!
And at the end of the whole visit, he was like, ‘I now release you’ almost like we were his servants and we’ve been released to leave. And on the way out he let us take a picture as a group because all of the promoters were with us. And then he said, “And who’s the star?” They all pointed to me and he said, “You get to take a picture by yourself.” I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ I, you know, stood behind him, took my picture and it was a dream come true. He signed my books for me and for my family and even for my girlfriend and everybody. He signed the books and we videotaped him signing it and everything. You don’t get that kind of chance. He’s 92 years-old. I’ve been so blessed, man. This is from hip-hop and me representing it right. I get good things like this happening to me.
By Brian Kayser