DJ Premier’s back catalogue is basically unmatched in Hip Hop, working with such a long list of fine pedigree MCs that it would be easier to name the classics he hasn’t been a part of. With a distinctive style that’s infectiously neck snapping and some of the finest drums about, it’s no wonder he’s considered one of the greatest to ever do it. Everything he’s put out from his involvement with Guru as the other half of Gang Starr to projects with Nas, Mob Deep and Biggie has had such a massive effect on Hip Hop that it’s safe to say it wouldn’t be the same without him, yet he still manages to stay relevant and move with the times, asserting his sound underneath new school MCs such as Mac Miller and keeping an ear to the ground for fresh talent such as Joey Bada$$.
With a Uk tour shortly approaching, we exchanged a few words with the legend ahead of his appearance for The Doctor’s Orders at Plan B on the 28th Feb (see our event page here). He schools us to his favourite producers, talks workflow, creative blocks and even touches on his track Deadly Habitz with Guru. Ladies and gentleman, you are now in the presence of royalty….
Currently I’ve got projects with Nygz, Khaleel, Bumpy Knuckles & O.C., Lady of Rage, Heather B., Pete Rock -vs- Premier, M.O.P., Ill Bill, Czarface, Kool Sphere, Immortal Technique, Venom and Soulkast…
Plenty to look forward to then! What three records couldn’t you live without and why?
1. James brown- In the Jungle Groove
James invented funk…. there’s no other groove and feel that funk gives to you. He was so ahead of everyone in music, this lp defines what soul music really is.
2. Eric b. & rakim- Paid in Full
I never heard an emcee rhyme like Rakim…and to only do 6 songs and 2 DJ cuts with so much originality and skill, when I heard it I knew that I had to make an album one day in my life… Rakim had the most deadly rhymes and attitude unmatched by any one in rap.
3. Parliament- Mothership Connection
George Clinton to me is the next level of James Brown in regards to how far funk had gone into another planet. This LP cannot be compared to anything! If you say you love soul and funk you better have this album, otherwise don’t speak to me until you memorize the lp from intro to outro…
You’ve often been described as one of, if not the, greatest Hip Hop producers of all time. But what producers do you personally admire and what is it that makes their beats stand out?
1. Marley Marl. He’s the James Brown of Hip Hop production and my idol/mentor….
2. James Brown. That one’s self explanatory.
3. George Clinton extended the funk, took it to another planet and never came back. But we found a way to follow him without a spaceship.
4. Prince. He’s a workaholic just like myself and the outcome of creativity is always right and original. I thrive off of originality.
If you could sit in on any recording session throughout history, what would it be?
Prince- Dirty Mind
I’d love to be able to witness what was going through his mind when recording that album. I really understood the rebelliousness of it and wish I was a fly during that moment.
Your mother was a big music fan but you didn’t have any hip hop records growing up, and it’s obvious reading the above that this comes across heavily in your influences. Do you think this early knowledge of music outside of hip hop has been important to your success? What do you think of the fact that many producers nowadays may have grown up almost purely on hip hop?
All of the music that I grew up on before rap is considered original Hip Hop. Without it we may not have come up with sampling and looping and all of the other elements in Hip Hop. I’m greatly appreciative for the music that I grew up on and will remain ahead of the curve because of my respect for music.
The new producers that grew up on mainly Hip Hop have no excuse to not go do the research on the history of music. It’s your job to do so if you want my respect, the music will never go anywhere so they should get to work on finding out on what got them here. I always wanted to know what my peers like and dislike so that I can compare how much we have in common…
Yer, there’s always a danger of genres becoming to insular so it’s nice to see younger producers who are still educating themselves outside of modern hip hop. People talk of the instantly recognizable ‘Premo sound’, how would you personally describe your style? Is it something that came naturally or did you have a vision when you first started on the buttons?
I focused on making a sound that would make people know that it was me every time you heard it. Prince had a sound, James Brown had a sound, Isley Brothers, Quincy Jones, George Clinton, Barry White, Isaac Hayes, Ohio Players, Sly & The Family Stone, Marley Marl, Larry Smith, Rick Rubin… I wanted to be a new piece of that same puzzle.
You’ve not only repped that sound with a lot of incredible mcs, but also managed to translate it to artists such as Christina Aguilera. Although you managed to stay true to yourself on that record and created something dope, did you ever have any reservations about working with an artist like that?
I’m always confident to work with anyone. It doesn’t matter who it is, I will make sure that it comes out great.
So is there a tune you’ve produced that’s particularly close to your heart?
Deadly Habitz is close to my heart. I know Guru as much as his own family, the lyrics and the way he matched the track is heartfelt inside and out. I cherish the day we recorded that.
One of my favourite Gangstarr tunes as well, that shit just clicks! As someone who’s been producing for decades and is consistently busy, do you ever find yourself getting writer’s block where it just doesn’t flow, or are you passed that now? What do you do to get over that?
I get writer’s block just like everyone else; it’s normal. We’re all human so it has to be organic and felt before you can put it out to outside people. When I don’t feel it I just work on something else or watch some classic shows for inspiration. We’re talking Good Times, Sanford & Son, Martin, Living Color, The Richard Pryor Show, Paul Mooney, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, The Jeffersons, All In the Family etc.
So what are essential studio comforts for you?
Just me and the studio, or my friends hangin’ around talking shit, topics pop up from the atmosphere of being around loved ones. Otherwise a lotta water, beer, Jack Daniels, and some brain food.
You’re in the UK on the 28th of Feb, playing a set for The Doctor’s Orders. What do you think differs about playing in the UK as opposed to the US?
For me there is no difference, I play anywhere, anytime and am always ready to kill it.
Are you up on much UK Hip Hop? Who you feeling?
I was more into UK Hip Hop years ago, the only one I still take interest in still is Klashnekoff.
You recently released an ill record with Joey Bada$$, a young MC who’s getting a lot of critical acclaim right now. What other mcs are you rating as the future?
I’m liking Hopsin and Kendrick Lamar at the minute.
Cheers for the time! Any last words or shouts?
Just be original and have style that can be respected by your peers and you’re off to the races.
Catch Premier at The Doctor’s Orders (Plan B, Brixton) on 28th February.