Today, my guest is DJ Premier. It's impossible to overstate his importance to hip-hop history. Actually, just music history in general and it would also be impossible for me to overstate the importance of his musical influence on my own career. He's my favorite hip-hop producer of all time, and in fact, for the first 10 years of my career, I was just a straight DJ Premier clone. All I knew how to do was emulate this man, because like millions of hip-hop heads, I was in love with his beats. He single-handedly changed the sound of New York rap in the nineties with his signature boom-bap style. Rugged drums, rare samples chopped up in his MPC drum machine, and replayed in his signature field. Iconic choruses he would construct from impeccably scratching snippets of other voices, stringing together the phrases like some kind of musical ransom note. A few words from Erykah Badu here, a couple of lines from Wu Tang and voila; he would make some iconic, Mos Def chorus. Like the one in "Mathematics."
His sound has been imitated innumerable times, but it's never the same as the real thing. That beat that I talk over at the beginning of each episode, that is a DJ Premier beat. Funky, emotive, New York to the core. Premier came into the game in the late eighties with the rapper Guru and they formed the group Gang Starr. And album by album they cemented their reputation as one of the greatest rap groups of all time. Premier's musical evolution, album to album, being a huge part of that. Then as an outside gun for hire, he gave Nas, Biggie, Rakim, KRS, Jay-Z, some of their greatest records ever, and certainly their grimiest. He was the go-to hitman when you needed that gutter song that somehow could also play in the club and on the radio. Premier graced the cover of The FADER very early on. In fact, it was issue number two, winter, 1999.
It was a joint feature with Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine, and Rev. Run of Run-DMC, of course. The cover itself is so remarkable it almost seems photoshopped. You can't believe these three people were in the same place at the same time. It's a fantastic picture, and I highly recommend Googling it. We've crossed paths quite a bit over the past few years. He was a very big part of Watch the Sound, the music doc series I hosted and co-created for Apple TV.
But I still can't help the super-fan part in me from geeking out when I'm in the presence of this master. I mean, you only have to ask him about how he made "New York State of Mind" for Nas, one of the hardest beats of all time. And before you know it you're in the middle of some story that literally feels like hip-hop history is playing out. Like it's a movie. 'Yeah, me, and Nas, and Big were all hanging out at that time. And Nas needed a ride to the studio and he played me this demo beat that Q-tip had for "One Love." So I knew that I had to up my game and I went back and I made "New York State of Mind."' I mean, this is Mount Olympus stuff to us fans. To Premier, it's just his life.
DJ Premier: He said 'Yo, I got to go to Puff's studio. Can you give me a ride? I was like, 'yeah.' Cause we were all hanging out in '94. Me, Big we were all hanging, all the time, cause I lived in Big's neighborhood.
Mark Ronson: Yeah.
So it was like dropping him off was no big deal. He said, 'Yo, pop this cassette in.' And Q-Tip just gave me this joint. He said, it's just pause mixed right now, but he's programming the drum machine. And then it was kind of jumping. Some of them were on, some were off. We were like, 'Where the fuck did he?' I didn't know who the Heath Brothers were at that time, and I was like damn it. I got to change my beat. Cause "The World is Yours" already had me open, like I said, I was there for that, to watch Pete [Rock] lay the scratches, like just hit record. And he just did it through the whole song. Even "It's Yours" on the hook, that's not programmed in, he's just hit record, and he's just doing it. No serato just the record.
And so if it was a little off or whatever, it was one take and we were like, 'wow, this shit is dope.' And then boom. So...
I know, cause I heard Q-tip go on the Cipha Sounds and Rosenberg's Juan Ep Is Dead podcast, and I didn't know this in...
Yeah. Oh, was "Memory Lane" originally different too? Because that's what they were talking about. Q-tip called in and was like...
Q-tip said Premier might get mad?
Yes. That was it.
He was incorrect. I didn't put it out there.
He was confusing it with maybe with "Represent" in the remix?
Not at all. "Memory Lane," the album version, I didn't like the sample, Nas liked it. Because he was making fun of the cover.
He says, look at this dude. They're laughing at him. We're thumbing around we find the sample, and I'm like, nah I want some hard shit. And he goes, we already got some hard shit. We got "New York State of Mind." This is different. We ain't got nothing like this. I said, let me hear how you rap to it. And when he did the rhyme, I was like, ooh, this is dope. So with that said, we went with it. And then I said, since your album is out now for the streets and the DJs and mix show guys, since we were still heavy on running radio, let me do a mean remix. And that's a remix Tip said, that that's the original, and it wasn't, but I ain't correct him. I was like fuck it.
Going back to "Represent" for a second. I heard you tell this story about how, and I never knew this, that Nas would go in the booth with 10 or 15 people with him. And they were in the booth, even not just doing the chorus, like they would just be always in there.
I'm like, yo, you got to be quiet. We're recording. 'All right. All right. Yo, yo, yo pass that henny, don.' I'm like, yo, you got to be quiet. Cause he was so excited to be there, and it was fine, but that's what really happened.
You know, there's a lot of, I don't know, stories and stuff. Just when you just said that, like 'it was me and Nas and Big and Puff, and we all rolling together.' Obviously after that shit happened, there were beefs and those relationships splinter. But that's just so incredible to me that everybody was just, and you were almost like the glue between a lot of this stuff going on.
Yeah. Kind of. Yeah, I'd be around Nas. I'd go to all the sessions when he was still programming "One Time 4 Your Mind." And when he did, it ain't hard to tell cause he had it using just the regular "Human Nature" just throughout the whole shit. And then he's like, 'yo, I'm going to make it a little more funkier.' And then he did... So I was there when he's re-doing it. Cause other ones had already just kind of leaked out just for people to play. And then when he re-did it with the new drums and the boom, boom, kah, boom boom.
I was like, 'Ooh man,' cause he was so consistent "Halftime" had us fucking blown away. Obviously you already know what "Barbeque" did for us. So I was in the studio with Lord [Finesse], and we were together a lot. We'd go over Ms. McKenzie's house, which was K-Cut and Sir Scratch from Maine. So that was their mother and she owned the label they were on before they went to Wild Pitch. So I'd be over there all the time. And then I helped them get on Wild Pitch because Stu was like, 'yo, I really want them, can you put in a good word for me?' And I put in a good word and say, 'yo, he's going to really work your record,' which he did.
Because you've talked about Marley being a big influence, but was Large Professor also somebody that you learned production from as well?
Cause of Guru. Guru was like, 'yo, you got to check this, this group called Main Source. And this guy Large Professor raps, and he does the beats.' And he played me "Atom," and "Think." So once I heard that, because Guru was always tapped in to who's new. But he put me on to them.
And you had already done the first Gang Starr album, No More Mr. Nice Guy. Or was this about the same time?
No, we were still talking about me joining the group around that time. So I wasn't officially in the group yet. Cause I was still with the group that I wanted to get signed, but they didn't like my MC.
Yeah. The other crazy thing as well, is that, I'm such a fucking huge fan and you think you know everything there is to know. But one story that I just read about that blew my mind was at one point because Jeru obviously came out, was on this super conscious thing. And he even did the song "Ya Playing Yourself" and he was going right at Bad Boy.
Nah that one wasn't. That one wasn't. Nah, they thought it was. The only reason why we did it that way is because we were about to put out this exact same loop, same way as "Players Anthem," same exact way that Clark [Kent] did it. So the fact that they beat us to it, and we didn't know they were coming out with a version. So when it came out, I was like, 'damn this shit is dope.' And we were still all cool with each other. So Ru was like, 'damn man, we was just getting ready to put that same loop out.' As he's getting near the end of Wratch of the Math being finished, we always do singles last.
So when it got down to like the last one or two songs, I was like, 'yo, I still want to use that sample.' I said, 'let me see if I can chop it a different way,' took the end, put it at the front, put the front at the end, and just chopped it and chopped the bottle clinking.
So I had that on the pass, I could do the tink, tink, tink, tink, you know. Obviously the creative brain part was always just a thing that competitively... that how my brain always worked because that's how Pete and all them were. Next thing you know, they're like, 'oh, he's hating.' It's like, no, it has nothing to do with play it, play it. It had nothing to do with "Players Anthem." None of that. None of that. "One Day" was even specific. It's whoever we spoke on, he spoke on, but I supported it and I still do. Especially for, at that time, I mean, we were younger. So we were on some fuck that shit because that's part of hip-hop, and all he was doing was saying, what hip hop looks like right now. And that's what it was.
It's kind of amazing too, because there's that story. I never heard that you guys were all in the early days on tour together and Jeru says it. What was the story about going in? And you guys are all staying in this motel and Big is just naked on the bed?
Well he's in his boxers. He wasn't butt-ass.
Right. And he's eating...
He has a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. And then everybody's in the room cause we all smoked together, smoked some good blunts. We're about to drive back to New York, and we had already done the gig. And Jeru was just starting to be on this whole 'I'm not eating meat no more. I'm changing my diet.' So he was like, 'yo, Big, you need to stop eating that chicken man. You need to change the diet to be in, get healthy.' He goes, 'man, fuck that. My name is Biggie, not Barkim.' And that's how funny Big is man.
I love this picture of like Jeru like really concerned like 'Big, man you got to watch your health. You got to be around for a while.'
And my name was Biggie. Not Barkim. I was like this motherfucker's hilarious, man. Him and Big L, just fucking naturally funny.
Yeah, because obviously you did so much incredible shit with Biggie, but the "Kick In The Door" story is amazing because that was when the beat that you made, that Biggie kind of wanted to go back at. You were the reason that everybody was settling that shit on wax in some ways, as opposed to you were like, almost like the UN, but what that story Puffy didn't originally like the beat to "Kick In The Door"?
He didn't originally like the beat. And it's crazy because being as today is the anniversary of Ready to Die. 27 years, 27 years, right? I think Puff's office called and told me that my Ready to Die plaque is ready so come pick it up at the office. So I'm all happy like, 'Ooh, I got a platinum plaque.' Going to pick it up, and I had already dropped off the beat for Big to hear on the little 10 minute cassettes. So when I got in the reception office, they gave me my plaque and I'm walking to the elevator and Puff sees me. He goes, 'man, I need to speak to you real quick.' He said, 'yo, man, I need you to work on another beat for Big, because I'm not feeling that one that you dropped off.' I'm like 'that beat is dope, Puff.' And he's like, 'nah, I'm not feeling these. And now I need that tunnel banger.' I said 'it is a tunnel banger!'
Yeah. Cause "Unbelievable" was just, it was such an incredible... Cause it was the B-side to "Juice," it gave all these things. So Puff is just thinking like, yeah, of course. So.
And Puff's got a good ear. I mean when it comes to producing, I know he's not tapping the drum machines, but he does understand. He understands hits and you got to tip your hat to him on that. So he understands the vision of how to make a superstar. So my thing is Big, always said, and Jay, all of them, 'yo, I need that gutter joint from you to round out my album.' They may have a radio record that wasn't in my lane, but when they need the gutter, which is what I'm a fan of as a fan, that's what I want to make. So when you need that gutter come to me. And of course I was one of the go-to. So to me, "Kick In The Door" beat sounded like that same lane.
It was. I mean it was incredible.
So when he said, 'yo, nah, man, I need you to make something else.' I said, 'okay, give me another day and I'll make something else.' I wasn't even like, 'no, I'm not doing it.' I was like, 'cool. Let me go back to the drawing board and see what I come up with. I'll bring something tomorrow.' And he's like, 'cool.' That was it. Maybe three, four or five o'clock that afternoon, Big calls me directly and says, 'yo.' And when he tells me to come in tonight, I'm like, 'yo man, I got to, I told Puff, I'll do the beat tomorrow.' And he goes, 'nah, I want to rap on the one that you left this morning.' I said, 'but Puff don't like that one.' He goes, 'fuck that I'm going to go eat.' He goes, 'I got to get at your man though.' I was like, 'all right, this is rap.' And like you said, it ain't turning violent. Say what you got to say.
Yeah. And when he said your man he was talking about Jeru?
Yeah. Of course. Because him and Jeru was close. You know what I'm saying? We all were. Me, him, dap, all the Gang Starr Foundation, Shug. I remember we'd all go down there, hang out with them on the weekends. Cause they would always be there on Fulton and Washington. And we were Washington between Lafayette and Green. So we were right there. And we always go there to get our 40s. Cause we were all 40 drinkers back then.
And Big, when he was starting out, he came to you. Didn't he ask you... That's how "Unbelievable" came about. He was like, 'I need a record from you.' And you were kind of like 'not right now.'
I just didn't have time based off of... Because what it was when we were going to maybe the Gab or Jack The Rapper, or one of those. Big had already given us cassettes of the earlier versions of Ready to Die.
And what was on it? What did you hear?
"Warning" was on there. I lost my mind because Easy Mo Bee lived down the block. We all lived in the same neighborhood and we all hung. Lady Of Rage and Nikki D lived together and Shot The Terrible T, that's Nikki's sister. The three of them lived together. I remember they used to have purple Def jam jackets with the purple leather sleeves. And I remember one day I walked up on Rage and said, 'yo, one day I'm going to rob you for that jacket.' She goes, 'oh yeah.' She pulled out a .45 and then Nikki D pulls out her and says, 'yeah me too. Try to take the jacket, just joking around. But that's how I roll.'
I just assumed she was a west coast, California?
She wasn't at Death Row yet. Nah, she wanted me to help her get her demos popping. But at the time she was having me loop up Michael Jackson stuff and I was like, 'nah, you need to do some hardcore shit.' She said, 'but I could do hardcore over that.' And I was like 'nah.' We just ended up just still being cool as just friends and hanging together. And next thing you know, she said, 'yo, I'm going to the west coast. I'm going to find Dre. And I'm going to get a deal out there.' And I'm thinking, she's just talking because he's frustrated. She goes, 'watch, I'm going to get a deal.' We had a Gang Starr show at the Palladium. This was months and months and months and months later. And we go out there and I'm like, 'is that her waiting for us at the backstage entrance?'
And she got the yellow jacket and it says security on the back with the black letters. I'm like, 'yo, what you doing? You made it out here.' She goes, 'yeah. I just got signed to Dre. It's a new label called Death Row.' And she's like, 'he's coming out with a record called The Chronic. You're going to be seeing it soon.' And then all of a sudden The Chronic dropped, and I saw the Death Row inmates at the bottom left corner. It said, Lady of Rage. I was like, 'yo, she's on there.' And then I heard "High Powered." When "High Powered" came on that side. She's the first verse. I said, 'she made it.' Next thing you know, she's on everything. "Let Me Ride" video, making the low-rider hop and all that. I was like, 'wow.' And then she was on her way.
But during that time it was Rage, Chubb Rock, Nikki D, Easy Mo Bee, Big, April Walker from Walker where it was two blocks behind us. Another girl named Nicki Nicole, who I toured with. She lived down the block and that's pretty much it, but we were all popping at the same time. Even though Rage wasn't yet. But Nikki D was cause she was the first lady of Def Jam. That was a good time.
And then Big was like, 'hey, let me get a beat.'
So when the first Ready to Die was done, Puff had it updated. It was a new "Machine Gun Funk." The original album had "Come On Motherfuckers" that Lord Finesse did, and they took that one off. So when he said, man, my album's done, I updated it. I just need that one primo banger, and I was like, 'man, there's no way to even squeeze it.' Cause I make them right on the spot, which you've witnessed. So I don't have things just sitting there to just play him. He's like, 'man, I don't care if you take "Impeach The President" and just put some notes on it. And I was like yeah? come meet me right now. And that's...
That's how it happened? Fuck. I didn't even think that that's cause... so you just took some little notes and put them on the pads, different tunings or something?
To different tunings. And he was like, 'yo,' he was the one that said 'yo put the R. Kelly line, "Unbelievable" from "Your Body's Calling" in there. I said, 'man, that shit might be out a pitch.' And it just, and it is, but it works. Yeah.
I mean, it truly is unbelievable. This song by Biggie Smalls produced by DJ Premier is one of the greatest strangest, almost atonal hip-hop bangers of all time. And it almost never was. I also love this story because it's a testament and an insight into Biggie's musicality. "Impeach The President" is an obscure 1970s soul song with a very iconic isolated drum part at the top. Biggie knew that all Premier had to do was maybe sample those gems and quote unquote, "play some notes over it." And it could be something. I mean, my mind is still blown. I mean, this is a song I've been listening to for 30 years and this is its Genesis story and the fact that Premier's sound and style, the way he would take the same sample of a piano and make different tunings of it and essentially make a new melody from that one tiny sample. He was so good at it and obviously firing from another level at that point in his career. That sweet spot when you're just in the zone and everything you do is magic. He could fire up that machine and in 15 minutes cook up some banger that still moves us 30 years later. That combination of raw talent, Biggie's vision and insane lyrical skill and presence, with Premier's gutter production sound. It's like one plus one equals 2 million.
I'm sure many people think "Valerie" was my idea to cover, but I actually didn't know this song until Amy Winehouse brought it to me. I didn't even get it until we started recording it. I love hearing these stories because it's music history, but it's also insight into how an artist's vision can inspire the producer. Taking even an established visionary, like DJ Premier into a place they didn't see coming. Biggie was obviously so much more than just a rapper and the songs he and Preemo made together are all time classics.
Him and Jay-Z who says anything, 'okay vocals good.' All right, just do the Preem thing and give me a mix. They leave, they're not sitting there waiting.
That's incredible. And also it is a little uncharacteristic. I never knew that was Bigg's idea to use the R. Kelly, because usually you don't go for like a obvious R&B tune except for maybe the Aaliyah and "One In A Million", which is so great.
That doubt. Yeah.
It's amazing to think that Biggie had that idea. And then it just reminded me of something that I also didn't know about your creative process that you say sometimes you hear the melody in your head before you even know what sample you're going to find.
I think that's just some DJ shit, man. I mean, especially when it comes to cuts, because either the artists, they might say, I want... like Jay always said, here's the song I want to do. He would describe it. So I would always make sure the music matched that description.
And he would do the verses, sometimes he would call you on the phone and just do it down the line?
The only ones he did on the phone were "D'Evils," cause that was the first time we really did something, "Friend or Foe" I'm just a D&D program and he hears the beat and he's like, yo, turn the mic on let's go. And he just did it. "Bring It On," he says I'm going to have Jaz-O and my man Sauce Money, he's from Marcy. They going to spit on. It's going to be all three of us. So I just did a beat and they were like, yeah. I even thought it was a little too emotionally laid back. They were like, nah, we wanna rhyme to that.
They just went in and did it. But yeah, "D'Evils," he rhymed it over the phone. He gave me all the scratches in order, how he wanted it to be, all the way to "I can't die." He did all of that on the phone.
Two of the obviously greatest rappers of all time considered two of the greatest debuts in music history, Reasonable Doubt and Illmatic. Did you have a feeling that these are just like incredibly special people who are going to be like changing the face of music? Are you just in it because there's like 800 other sessions going on that week and you just like, was there moments when you were just like, this is something you know?
Nah, it was definitely because of who they were because they're younger than me and they were on the come up. When KRS calls and says let's do a project called Return of the Boom Bap, he's one of my idols that I'm like, wow, KRS wants to work with me. I was happy Jay and Big and Nas wanted to work with me either. But they're new guys that are probably looking at the opposite where it's like, 'wow, I get to work with Premier.'
Now I'm not looking at them like down at them, 'yeah, y'all better be lucky.' We not in that way. But that's why it was easier for me to approach them. But if also if Rakim wants to join, I'm like, 'oh my goodness.' It's a different thing where with Big and Jay and Nas, it was like, 'okay, yeah, yeah, come on in.' Because they were looking to get to where we were.
And something else that I had didn't really consider it ever until I saw this quote from you that was really cool. It was very beautiful. Also giving Guru that credit. It was like if Guru hadn't have really encouraged the more left field side of your music and allowed you to do these beats that maybe you wouldn't have found your sound and you wouldn't have had the confidence to then go and be this superstar solo producer as well at the same time.
Yeah, that's the thing with Guru, I could do experimental stuff. I couldn't give it to those other artists. They'd be like, 'nah, I need that banger that one's going to hit in the club or just hitting the streets.' With Guru, he'll take "Robin Hood Theory." That was the first song we recorded on Moment of Truth.
Like I said, we always do singles last.
So "Robin Hood Theory" was a beat I just always liked and it wasn't something I could get to another MC that's looking to get a track for the album. I knew with Guru it would work. Soon as he heard it, he wrote it... boom done.
We did "You Know My Steez" and "The Militia" last, and K-Ci and Jojo "Royalty." We did those last.
There must have been beats where Guru was like, 'damn how did you give that one away?' Or was...
Yeah but the thing is it wasn't like I gave it away, because I made it.
He must've teased you like, 'yo you can't be giving these to people.'
The thing is, and I always say this to people, it ain't like I'm giving like Nas and KRS and Big and Jay better records. When we do Gang Starr now I'm on the cover with you.
Yeah, of course.
I'm in the videos with you. We got to have bangers too.
And we did.
Every album has successful singles "DWYCK," "Just to Get a Rep," "You Know My Steez," "Manifest," "Royalty," "The Militia."
"All 4 Tha Ca$h" is one of my favorites.
They've all been successful. Then again, it ain't like I had "New York State of Mind" and I just held onto it until I got with Nas. It was never made.
We're looking around for samples. Nas is sitting right there with me at D&D with the turn tables on a big old TV, the wooden TV case.
I'm just thumbing and all of a sudden we hear Joe Chambers and me and Nas are like, 'ooh.' I said, hold on and put in the 950 and the MP to trigger it.
He's like, 'that's it.' Only part I had was just the beginning part, the ding, ding I had that already, but that's all we had.
So I just kept letting that run. And then when we heard the piano and then I hit again to see if it'll fit, you know. You always like to just fly it in, bring it back, fly it in, pitch it down a little bit. It's a little too fast, fly it in little bit more. Fly it in. Okay. That's about the right way. It's going to fit. Throw it in the sampler... boom.
If ever there was obviously a song that just sounded like if there was ever going to be a documentary about New York, in the 21st century, "New York State of Mind" really is. That's why it's at the beginning of the Apple show on sampling. As you see the backdrop of New York and subways, it's forever just linked to that. And you are in a lot of ways, maybe with two other people, the architect for me, you're the greatest. You're as far as the rank of the architect of the New York sound and you are from Texas. That is the crazy, you've never been shy about saying where you're from, and how you got here. That is just always the wildest thing to me. The person that is most synonymous with the sound of New York hip-hop and the most influential person ever for me in it is from Texas.
Yeah, country boy.
At least from 10, 11 years old, me, my sisters, my dad, my mom, we all trek to New York for the whole summer.
You would always come?
Every year, that was our thing. Every summer after school's out, we're going to Sumter, South Carolina where my dad's from. Then we go to North Carolina to Raleigh to see my aunt Netty and my uncle Paul. That's why they all tatted on here because they were kind of part of the journey of what led me to New York. Grandfather Bill was my mom's father who lived in Brooklyn. That's why the whole New York thing was just normal by the time I was 13, 14, 15.
It's not like, wow, I'm in New York. I'm so used to it.
So I know where to go. Now I know how to take the train. You know what I'm saying? My grandfather be afraid that I would go, but I was one of those like, 'no, I can do it. I can move around. No one's going to bother me.' And I never, no one ever did try anything. I was always fascinated by all the crazy that you see on the train.
But probably Texas also had a really good, it was probably good that you had that experience coming up. Because you had all these other musical influences and all this coming on. You always talk like when we've talked about music before you said like not only Parliament and Funkadelic and George Clinton, but like new wave and punk and cause you worked in a record store and...
Yeah, we used to go club called Numbers and they would have A Flock of Seagulls and they'd have the Echo on the Bunnymen and, and they play just all that type of music. They play Bauhaus, Joy Division. Fad Gadget, I was just into all of that. Oh my God. Yeah. Shout to Connie Carr wherever you are. She put me up on all that. She put me up on The Smiths and I saw Morrissey about four years ago now he was at The Garden and Blondie opened up for him. And I was like, 'wow, Blondie opened up for Morrissey.' Yeah. And I saw the Smiths in Houston right before they broke up after The Queen Is Dead album. Like, I was there. I was at Devo. I even went to Devo when they did Irv Plaza. About five years ago, I was just looking, had the footage on my phone. Cause I was filming everything and yeah. Got to meet everybody. This was before Bob 1 died. So, you know,
I think I went to a Devo show as well, in like 2009, and I got drunk and wore the flower pot hat.
Yeah. The energy dome. They called the energy domes. Yeah. I was die hard. I joined the fan club. Cause when I went to their concert back in the 80s. At that time, I think Mark Mothersbaugh, who's one of the most incredible producers, writers, creators, of all time and to be from Ohio and to be that bugged out. I totally get them. Yeah.
It's funny. You said Ohio, you just reminded me when I first met The Black Keys because they're from Ohio. And I was like, you know, obviously Bootsie's from Ohio, there's a different city. He had different scenes. And I was like, what was that? Like? Because as soon as they said Dayton, the first thing they came to mind was Devo. The Black Keys told me they used to just go outside like members of Devo's house when they were like young musicians coming up, just like trying to like give the demo tape or get any whatever attention for them. And then Duran Duran told me that, I think that was one of the first time they saw synthesizers when they were like 16, Nick Rhodes from Duran went to the Camden Roundhouse to see Devo. Wow. And he just had his mind blown. Like that was the first time they saw synths and guitars in the way that they used it.
I'm a Duran Duran junkie. I got to go to the Union of the Snake tour and I've never heard people scream to the end of the concert and damn near drown out a big arena like that. Yeah. For them, you know, I was always a big Simon Le LeBon fan, he's a great performer. I love great performers, especially if you're a front man. Yeah. And then, you know, Taylor was just cool on the bass and, and you know, like Nick never moves and he never looked like he's happy of, he he's like the huge sound of, of what they do. You know, synth-wise, shout to one of my classmates, Trey Ellerby when I went to the school in Texas and he put me on to Duran Duran and the whole "Rio" thing, I even just found a picture of him with two of our friends from school. And he's like my Duran Duran hair dude. Cause I graduated high school in 84. So that was the sound. Yeah. You know, we're going to Purple Rain tonight after school. Right. It was like, yeah, because you know, it just came out. Yeah. And we went eight times, you know, we went to the theater over and over just to see that.
What was the hip-hop like? What was coming to Texas that time? Like all the big stuff. Whodini, I guess.
I went to the Fresh Fest at AstroWorld. It was Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three. It was Newcleus, Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew featuring MC Ricky D, he wasn't Slick Rick yet, Fat Boys, Whodini, UTFO. I'm trying to think of who else. Because LL we went to our place to go to was The Summit. Everything was at The Summit. You know, when I saw Parliament, Isley Brothers, my mother's a big concert fanatic. So we'd see Quincy Jones. And he brought the Brothers Johnson on and I was freaking out cause I was a big fan of them. We went to Ike and Tina Turner. Me and my mom would see Chaka Khan. We saw Con Funk Shun, wow. I forgot who the group was opening for Con Funk Shun but somebody in the crowd was tired of waiting for them to come on. And while the other band is on, they kept going "Con Funk Shun" where one of the members of the band keeps looking like, like 'yo.' And then they do two or three more songs. I think it was the drummer. He's looking like, "yo, shut the fuck up." But yeah man, my mom and I went to even Michael Jackson, once he left the Jacksons, because when we were young, we went to the Jackson 5 concerts, maybe every six months they would always be back in Houston.
Did you ever get to work with Michael or meet Michael?
No. No. I, I wish I could have man. And I was standing right there when James Brown rehearsed the year that we did the BET Awards, they didn't have hip-hop awards then and Monique was the host and we did the tribute to Jam Master Jay that DMC assembled. Actually I got to give myself credit on the assembly. Jesse Collins had other DJs who we highly respect that was going to do it. And he hadn't called them yet. But I'm like, 'nah, it needs to be... Flash was the only one that was already on the list.' I was like, 'nah, it needs to be Kid Capri because he brings a certain dynamic. You got to put Jazzy Jeff in. They were rumblings like, 'oh, well Jazzy Jeff, what has he done lately?' And I'm like, 'yo that's Will Smith DJ...'
He's just one of the illest of all time. Jazzy Jeff is... his routines are just ridiculous.
And rest in peace to John Cossette, who used to do all the Grammy's and everything. And I was like, 'well I'm out. I don't want to do it.' And John Cossette called me directly and was like, 'Hey, I need you to do this. Yeah. You know, put it together.' I was like, 'so can I do it my way?' He said yes. And I was like, cool. I called Capri, called Jeff. And it was one of the most memorable things in history of saluting a DJ, which hadn't been done on live television and that was live and vinyl and it came out so perfect, man. So that was the same year Michael was going to surprise James Brown and put the cape on him at the end. Now we knew, but they didn't tell all the staff. So we, we are there rehearsing and we see James Brown rehearse. So we already know what's going to happen. I'll never forget, man. We know he is about to come out. And like I said, hardly, anybody knows we're now in our audience that we had just done our performance and I'm just watching and here comes Michael, man. Oh my God, we were all shaking. Like our hearts are beaten because it's like... James had to been like...
Wow. Yeah. What year was that again? Cause I remember
Shit man, that was 2002.
One time I had the privilege of talking to Malcolm McLaren, the legendary impresario who sort of invented punk rock after The Sex Pistols, the band that he had put together and managed had just broken up. He came to New York in the early eighties, glum, and looking for some new inspiration. By some series of events, I can't remember exactly how, but he ended up at a Bronx park jam where Afrika Bambaataa was DJing. McLaren was absolutely gobsmacked to be in this playground, watching hundreds of people, B-boys and B-girls getting down to the song "Cars" by Gary Numan. They had no idea who Gary Numan was, but it was just funky. And the DJ was playing it and they were getting down. And this has always been the story of early hip-hop. If it's funky, if it's soulful, it's ripe for the playing.
The break beats, i.e. the songs that serve as the source material for early samples and break dancing, well, those break beats that form the cornerstone of hip-hop come from all ends of the musical spectrum. Be it James Brown and Chic or The Monkees, Bo Diddley and Billy Squier with the big beat. Plus when DJ Premier was growing up in the era of early MTV, you had these weird English bands like A Flock of Seagulls and stuff being broadcast into his living room in Texas, which basically seemed as if it was from another planet to him. I've obviously spent so much time thinking about his sound, how it could be so soulful, musical and jazzy yet so dirty, tough and rugged at the same time. Why Premier's sound appeals to both the hip-hop head and the headbanger, why he's beloved by Jay and Nas, but also Rage and Limp Bizkit. It might have something to do with the digesting of all these influences running it through the genius filter, which is the DJ Premier sound
This cover of The FADER. It's funny, because usually when we do these, I always interview people who have been on the cover of The FADER, but, and there's always a couple issues, but that apparently is like rarer than the Magna Carta in The FADER office because it's, it's like, it's the only one left because it's such a legendary cover. It's you, Zack de la Rocha, and Run. Was that shot together?
We were all together, yeah.
That never happens anymore. Whenever you see those sort of like legends covers everybody's put together like some Mount Rushmore's shit.
Just being able to just chill with Run... That's a dream come true, man. And then Zack, I had already gone to a Rage Against The Machine show to see how they performed and then boom. Then come '99 when we dropped the Full Clip album, they're like, 'we want you to open up for the Battle of Los Angeles tour.' And we went on tour for near a month. Yeah. The way you see me on stage now yelling and screaming us cause of Zack. Right. I was already impressed, years prior, but opening up for them. Yeah. We had to change our songs around. Yeah. "Mass Appeal" wasn't working with all the mosh pits. Yeah. Wasn't working. And we had Shug, Bumpy Knuckles, and H Stacks as part of gang, south foundation. They were like, 'yo man, I don't like the way these oshpit motherfuckers are.'
And all of sudden I'm like, 'no, we got to change the songs around.' "Militia," they loved it all the time. Yeah, of course. Cause Bumpy's so animated and he comes with the squirt gun and he's spraying him and he's got the mace on a big stick with, with the little spike metal balls. And he's just so theatrical sh same thing. So we changed our stuff to like "Brainstorm" and " Tonz ‘O’ Gunz" Yeah. Yeah. Just the hard. Yeah. So about the fifth show we were on and now we're just killing it every night. We're all doing arenas. Then we had these big Gang Starr ramps and Guru was very athletic, Stacks as athletic so they would run and jump on them now they're posted up and they're throwing their fists and it was just working.
Everything was working. And then at the end of the show, we do "You Know My Steez" last, and right after do "You Know My Steez," when he goes, "Fat beats, they play on. Want dope shit? Put me on. Word is bond." The whole, all of us go, "You know my steez," I try to hold as long as we can-
Without running out of breath, and the crowds just going, "Yeah." And right before we walk off, I say, "You know what time it is? Rage, rage, rage."
"Rage." And they started and they just go, "Rage, rage." And we just one by one walk off and that's still just going, "Rage." Right. And that's how we did it every night. And we'll see them on the side, Zach and Brad and and Tom and Timmy, and they're just sitting there going "Woo"
Because that means they were always checking-
It's the perfect build up.
Yeah, and oh my god.
So you said that you learned how to be on the mic and be super amped now because-
Because of that.
Because of the way you had to change the show and that.
And Guru was never going to be quite that guy to be like... He, Guru, was just always classic and-
But he knew how to talk to the crowd. And we just had a dope exchange. He's always been good at talking to the crowd-
Or he'll say, be like, "Sucker, be such and such and such and a motherfucking." And they're just like, "Oh," and go right into "Tonz ‘O’ Gunz." I'm like, "Put your guns up." And that crowd is with that and-
Yeah, of course.
But it just worked, man. When we changed our songs around.
I went to see this other band that I really liked in '92 or something, '91, called Maggie's Dream that were linked somehow to Lenny Kravitz. They were a New York band that played 70's funk and soul. And I went to see them at a benefit in LA and Rage were also on the bill. I had no idea the album wasn't out for a year, at least.
And I, at that moment, just forgot everything else that I come to see the show for. And I was just watching Rage Against the Machine. I was like, "This is..." Tom Morello transforming on the guitar and then the energy and the groove of it. I was... I think every Tuesday I would go to the record store and be like, "Is Rage Against the Machine out yet?" My voice hadn't broken, I'd just be like... Because you'd never... You didn't know, if you were a kid. You weren't savvy enough to know. And I remember their very first show, I would always look at the back of the Village Voice, and I remember the first time it said Wetlands, Rage Against the Machine. I was like, "I'm going that fucking show."
Wow. Wetlands, that's a small venue too.
Tiny, and I was in the very front row and the album had only been out for a week, but I knew all the lyrics and Zack de la Rocha put the mic into the front row in the middle of "Killing In The Name Of" and I jumped. I pushed everyone out the way. I was like, "Fuck you. I won't do what you tell me." I was... Yeah. I was such a huge Rage fan.
Man, when they did that on their encore and they turn the lights on when they get to the... Because you know how they build to the "I won't do what you tell me. I won't do what you tell me."
And then he'll just... He won't even say it. They're just going, "Fuck you. I won't do-"
"What you tell me."
The whole building. And the lights come on and then, even at the end, he goes, "Motherfucker."
And I'm just, dude, I'm talking about goosebumps. But when we opened up for him, it was us at, At the Drive-In, and Anti-Flag.
I just read that too. I didn't realize that At the Drive-In was also on the line-up. That's another band that I was fucking crazy about.
Cool ass dudes, man. Cool... We all were cool. All of the security, because the Rage security was tight and it was a trip because every time we got into town, we'd go to our hotel to drop our bags because we always had to get to the venue early though.
To go open up because it got to that point... After the first show of setting up and getting everything adjusted, now they'll just always have our shit set up-
And ready to go.
Shout the Vic Black of Gang Starr Foundation. He the one that played the drug dealer in "Just to Get a Rep."
He was our stage manager and it was expensive to haul all of our equipment on an 18 wheeler because we were getting door support but-
It was Rage's 18 wheeler with all of their equipment. They said the rules is this, we'll let y'all put stuff on our 18 wheeler, but you only have 11 minutes to break down the whole stage. Even though the union helps them-
Break it down, 11 minutes or you get charged a thousand dollars a minute for being late setting stuff back up because they got... We have to have a certain section-
In the truck for them to load up their equipment after the show was over. And Black would always have it down by us in seven minutes. And we're talking about big speaker set up. We had couches because we made it look like D&D, the room.
So we had couches on each side, we'd have vocal booth in the middle where that groove comes out of the vocal booth steps down the stairs and comes on stage, and my turntable had an open... The whole turntable opens like a door with the Gang Starr logo on us. It was really, really elaborate.
And it was dope because now you sit on the couch and rhyme. And then we had those ramps with the Gang Starr logo.
So it was just amazing to do that and understand the protocol of big tours because that's not what we used to. And we learned so much. We just got along so well, the whole squad. It was a dope... That's why now when you see me on stage.
Watching how Zack starts shivering and shaking and he just starts just losing it. I feel that way, but I was too afraid to do it on stage.
Now I got to thank Lil' Fame from M.O.P. because he was one like, "Yo, that's what you... You need to do that." This is on the Smokin' Grooves Tour. He's like, "Yo, you need to be the hype man." Because I would just be like, "Hey y'all, you all ready for Gang Starr?" He's like, "No, you got to be like, 'Yo, what's up...'" Fame was like, "You got to do that."
That's funny because that just reminded me of such a random story. But the fact that Fame from M.O.P. saw you just at a show and told you do something, it just gave me this flashback to I was playing M.O.P. "Downtown Swinga," one of my favorite beats, obviously-
Produced by you of all time. I used to always play it. There's something about when that came in, it was just like the hardest thing you... You couldn't play it any moment of the set or any crowd, but if it was the right time and it was the right crowd, that would just go off so crazy. And I was playing it, it was at the Montreal Jazz Festival.
I was playing after Erick Sermon and I was with my friend, Daniel Merriweather, this amazing singer I made a lot of records with. And Dan, if he heard a beat that he liked, and we had all had a few drinks by the end of the set, he would come back out and just start singing over the instrumentals. And Dan's singing over "Downtown Swinga" and Erick Sermon runs on stage and goes, "Yo, you need to cut your boy singing over that song right there." And that was... I think that's why-
I might have even hit you very early on, when I was just only known really as a DJ. And you, I think you gave me the instrumental, because it wasn't ever out as an instrumental.
Right. Nah, it wasn't.
We cut a little demo, but yeah, that... M.O.P., those records, I mean "Downtown Swinga," just...
One of the best.
And I wasn't always making straight instrumentals and I would always do a TV track. Plus with M.O.P., they were like, "We need it for shows."
Even to watch them do their backgrounds.
They'll do all this stuff.
Well talk about 10 to 15 people in the booth. I mean M.O.P., just the two of them have the energy of 10, 15 people in the booth.
Yeah. Guru used to call them Run-DMC on steroids.
To work with them is just one of the... For one, I was fanning out because once I saw "How About Some Hardcore" video...
I was like, these dudes need to be heard.
And that's why I was like, I got to find a way to meet them.
And I was doing WBLS at the time, doing The Thunderstorm with Geronimo, and we were a straight underground show. We came on two hours before Flex, and Flex was the man, even then. Flex would even call me in between commercials like, "Yo, what was that you just played?" Because he's coming on after me-
So we're not even colliding with each other and I'd be like, "Oh, Havoc stopped by and brought 'Shook Ones.'" He's like, "I got that." I said, "No, this is part two." And he's like, "Is he still there?"
So you're one of the first people to play "Shook Ones, Pt. 2." on the radio?
Oh, yeah. Havoc brought it directly.
Holy shit. Also, I had no idea when I was looking at your discog today, that I forgot that you had produced "Peer Pressure," which was the first single off of-
Which I knew from listening to Stretch and Bobbito. And obviously, "Shook Ones" was kind of was their big explosion-
But without "Peer Pressure," that was a sort of an underground hit on the first record. It's almost like the "Fu-Gee-La" remix on the first Fugees record from they might not have got to make The Score if it wasn't for that.
So I mean, the Nappy Heads remix, sorry. So there's a way, in some ways, that that "Peer Pressure" be kind of probably at least allow them to make a second album.
Well, "Peer Pressure" is thanks to Large Professor. He's the one that called me and said, "Hey, there's this group called Mobb Deep. I did this song called 'Peer Pressure.'" Now on Juvenile Hell album, again, mine is the remix.
They just switched it, flip flopped it. They called Large Professor the remix-
But Large Professor gave me his version to see if I wanted to work with them.
So when he gave me that, I'm like, "I like these kids."
I said, "How old are they?"He said, "Man, they're teenagers. They're like 14, 15."
I was like, "Damn they speaking, they rhyming like that about the streets?"
Yeah. I want them. So mine is really a remix. And then they said, "Yo, we like this version. We're going with a video."
I was on tour with Gang Starr so I couldn't be in the video because they wanted me in it. We were in Europe. So they were like, "Do you mind if we shoot it even though you're not going to be in it?" I was like, "Of course."
And then when it came out with the album, I was like, "Yo, they did the credit." I'm very credit conscious. I want the spelling right. I want everything mentioned, who engineered it, because I used to look at all the albums and read who's this, who's the producer.
I was like, "Yo man, y'all did it wrong. Mine should be the remix and Large Professor's the original." They were like, "No, because yours ended up being the single."
So if we put out remix, it doesn't really coincide with their first single.
I was like, "Ah, still whack but..."
Because that's how much I want it correct. I don't want anybody miscredited.
And I'm still like that to this very day. So boom. It ended up being the original, but that's a remix.
Also, back to the Zack thing because that whole issue is really about that era, in '99, 2000, when there was this a lot of hybrid with rock and rap and you had some really good stuff. I feel like Rage Against the Machine were by far the best and the only one that's really aged very well because they understood the soul of hip-hop and it was political music so.
Yeah. Look at that... Lil' Kim coming soon.
I know. Which album was that? Was that with The Jump Off? Or was it...
That had to be. Oh no, no, no. Yeah, you're right. Because Born Again December 7th.
So he had already passed so.
Yeah and you did something on the Born Again album.
Yeah with Red and Meth, "Rap Phenomenon."
Yeah. And you were... I mean you had to have been close with Big, I mean, beyond just being in the studio because I feel like you don't really work with anyone that you don't fuck with as a person.
Absolutely. We were all cool, man, because so much just happened with hanging with Big, besides the records. I'll never forget, I had my '94 BMW, chromed out dope ass rims, and me and Jeru. Jeru is popping at the time, Sun Rises in the East had just dropped. It is already circulating. Everybody knows the songs, we're driving down Fulton, Big and them just happened to be on the corner, and he stops traffic because we're almost at the stop light.
Big walks up to my driver's window and goes, "Paul, what do I have to do to get one of these?" And I said, "Dude, you're going to get it. Puff's going to make sure you're good. Don't worry about it. He's going to make sure you popping soon." He's like, "It's taking too long." I'm like, "You got to be patient, man."
"It's part of the process. You're going to pop."
Which he did. And he goes, "Jeru, by the way, if you ever do a video to "Brooklyn Took It," I just want to stand next to you and just look hard and not even say nothing."
And Jeru goes, "All right." And...
It's actually makes my hair stand up to know these stories.
To know that Jeru, who has had some real, genuine, huge club records with "Come Clean" and "Da Bichez..."
"Can't Stop the Prophet."
"Can't Stop the Prophet." To know there was this time when Big was like looking at you-
Like, "Dude, you are-"
A hundred percent.
"Where it's at."
A hundred percent.
None of this is made up. Everything is factual.
Jesus. I mean, stories really do just rain from the sky when you're talking to this man. And thinking of a moment in time where Biggie, unknown but soon to be a giant superstar, was looking up to Jeru the Damaja, a respected artist with a few underground hits. He, Jeru, was the Lord of Brooklyn. Also, what a fork in the road they would soon represent for hip-hop. With Biggie and Puff becoming the symbol of flossiness and this playa lifestyle, while Jeru would deride this very lifestyle in songs like "Ya Playin Yaself."
In a world where rap beefs and allegiances were extremely dangerous, Preem was somehow this beloved character who could walk both sides of the line, simply probably because he was so good, but also incredibly real. In fact, I wonder now talking to him, if some physical violence was actually spared by the fact that these artists had these incredible rugged Preemo beats to air their grievances over sometimes. I mean the way he tells the story of Biggie turning to him with the wink and saying, "I'm going to have to go at your man on this song, right?" I mean, wow, it's chills. It's also a joy to watch Preemo leaf through this incredibly rare old issue of The FADER. Looking at himself, some 20 years ago, just being a young man, smoking a blunt at a photo shoot, all these memories flooding in, even for someone who's been such a part of history, you can tell he doesn't spend time looking back dwelling on past accomplishments. But it's sort of a pleasure, to watch him do so.
Damn, I didn't know I'm smoking a blunt right there.
Damn. Because I'm not in... I mean, well, you know what, in the younger days, yeah, you'd see me with a blunt and we were always weed advocates, but now, I never do shit like that. But again, I was young. Ignorant. Look at me hitting a fucking blunt.
Also, because we were talking a little bit earlier before, we'll keep it PG. But Patrick Moxey, of course, who I knew from because I was just starting out in the clubs and he was already had Payday and you guys. But also you guys were swimming that time through different scenes in New York, not just the Tunnel scene or whatever, I'm sure you had... It was probably pretty wild what New York in the kind of late eighties, early nineties with all that. I guess it was kind of wild, like fashion models.
Yeah. Before I just met Guru, maybe months prior, I came back to New York for us to record "Words I Manifest." It was the first song we ever recorded and it took off. So when I was now about to get signed and I probably just signed my deal, but we still hadn't done the album yet, Guru took me to the Payday, which it was a Milky Way as well, they had two different ones. And he was like, "You got to meet this guy that wants to manage me." He said, "He's always at the spot." He said, "The difference is," he says "kind of a Studio 54 vibe." He said...
Was it the one in the Lower East Side where there was The Loft-
Where all the cobble stones streets are. Yeah.
Way down there. Well, it always moved.
Every, maybe every two weeks or once a month, they would move.
And you had to know where it was.
And it was word of mouth. It was almost like whispering like, "Hey man, the Payday's going to be at so and so."
So just the fact that you had to find out where it is word of mouth, you might run to somebody that's going to get into that club and being down, just having to run into them going, walking around the city of New York and they'd be like, "Yo, Payday's going to be popping in two weeks at this spot. Here's a flyer." And it's like, "Oh my God." And I would go.
Did you DJ the parties back then too? Because now you, obviously, do full headline sets just a DJ Premier but were you back then?
No, the first gig I ever DJ'd was called Mars.
Oh right, of course. I've heard of Mars.
And that was the new spot after Milky Way and Payday.
It was all about Mars over in the Meat Packing District. And I'll never forget Jam Master Jay walked in, and I was playing "Straight out the Jungle," and the booth is elevated and so you could look down at everybody, and Jam Master Jay walked in, which was a big deal, and he walked in and he's like bopping and he points, he's like, "Yo, you killing it." And I'm like, "Ooh, Jam Master Jay said I'm killing. Oh you don't even know me."
And shout out to my dancer, HL Rock, who was part of the dancer in Gang Starr. If you look at the "Manifest" video, and even in the "Positivity" video, he's the mom that's tied to the rope.
That's our dancer. Me and him went to college together.
When I moved permanently, he rode with me, shotgun in my truck, the whole way to New York. All my records got wet.
Completely. It rained every day.
We drove for a day and a half straight up the coast of 95 and all my records got wet and water damaged.
I heard and I heard you were still drying those records and even the ones that you made some hits off of even afterwards, right?
Yeah, "The Question Remainz."
"Question Remainz" is from that?
That [sound effect of damaged record heard on "The Question Remainz"].
That's what it's from? From the water damaged record?
Yeah, because I couldn't get the rest of it peeled off.
I guess, you did a few trips in New York and you thought that it wasn't happening. You had to drive all the way back with all the records, right?
Yeah. No, I left them at my grandfather's house. Even though he had passed, his wife was still living.
You thought the dream was maybe dead-
And you were going back.
Then I say, I'm going back one more time. And then everything went the way it went. And it just kept going up from there.
I know we talked about this on the Apple show a little bit, but the thing that you just said about Jam Master Jay walking in and pointing to you and saying you're killing it. I mean, it obviously reminds me so quickly of the time when I was DJing the Voodoo album release party and I played the Nikka Costa record, "Like a Feather," I had just produced and you came in the booth.
And you were like, "What is this?" And I was like, "Oh my God, he's going to be like, who has stole my whole style? I'm going to go beat someone down." And because I was... You were my hero. Everything that I made was somehow influenced by you. The way that I thought, even though I was doing it wrong, chopping up chops on the pads, the syncopation, everything. You were... I copied you so much that I was sort of a clone. I had to go then find my own thing. And luckily with Nikka, the other produced to Justin, we all added these other elements that luckily made it its own thing.
But when you came in the booth and I was playing that record and you told me that you fuck with it and you stayed in the booth, that was the high point of my career up to then. And I mean, honestly I would be embarrassed to play some productions that I did from that time, because they're just... You would just sit me down and be like, "Son, this is really good but you have to find your own thing now."
It's so lucky that I met the Dap-Kings because if I hadn't had found that, I worry that, would I just still be making DJ Premier knockoffs for nobody? I know you're so generous and kind with the younger generation producers and people. But it must have been, at some point when you just heard everybody taking your shit, that you just wanted to be like, "Guys, you got to go all find your... There's already a DJ premier."
It became to where it's like, "These motherfuckers..." But, at the same time, I'm, "Well, you're the one that's leading the pack of being unique and different." Just like Guru always says, "Update your formula." Still stay in that funky zone.
I remember there was write-ups where it's, "He uses the same hi-hat all the time."
And then, I started doing shit with no hi.
Questlove said it recently... When we put out the Gang Starr record, Glowing Mics a few months back for the posthumous album that we dropped as a bonus cut, and Questlove said, "I see you're back to hi-hats!" Because that lets me know, oh, okay, I'm being studied like that?
Yeah, of course you are.
Because, I'm not expecting people to be studying me like that. So, I'm, "Oh, okay, now you saying I use the same ride. Cool." There's nothing there now, and that's going to work. So, I'm back to hi-hats, so...
Yeah, and I even remember being, "Oh, he doesn't put the hi-hat where the kick and the snare is, because it's already there on the drums. So, make sure you program any of this, and all the things. But, that thing that really blew my mind was when you started to make the beat and you don't listen to the metronome, the click track, once you start laying the beat.
And, most people do because, then, how do you know what tempo you're at?
But you have some crazy inner clock.
I just know where I want it to land from the way... It's got to sound funky too.
And again, I definitely put that to DJing.
You're a DJ, you understand that science. And, I just think it helps more if you're a DJ.
Even if you're a musician as well, Djing's a whole different type of clock.
One of the Best Yet was such an incredible record. It's so...
I think I saw you just as you were wrapping it up, and I still can't believe... You obviously treated Guru's voice and his vocals with such love and care that you never would've known that those were made out, even posthumously.
And his voice, for somebody who we all know lived a pretty hard life, he still sounds so young. It doesn't age. I was thinking that when I was listening to it, I was, "Did you pitch his voice up a little?" It's still... He's still sounds incredible.
Nah, I took them just like they were. There were certain ones, I was, "Mm-mm, I wouldn't have cut his vocals that way."
Because, I'm very meticulous about cutting vocals, and then to see some of the reviews, "Oh, the album's dope, but the Guru doesn't sound this way or this way on certain ones." You dummy!
Come on. Of course.
We told you, these are vocals that I had nothing to do with. And, I'm piecing it together to get a Gang Starr album to the fans because they deserve another album at least. And, even for me, I wanted another album.
Yeah, of course.
I'm a fan of us. So, yeah. You know what it is.
That's what I loved about... Remember I told you I didn't want to show my process?
You're the first ever that I let you see my process. Not see it, but to put it on film and let the world see it. I'm so anti-that. I like the mystique. And, when you all sent the footage to show me how you all going to run it, I was, "Wow, I like this."
I liked the coloring, the filtering, everything. It was so accurate where I was, "I don't need nothing changed."
I don't know why I imitated Premier to the extent that I did early in my career. I think we all have heroes, and when we're forming our own sound in that nascent phase of finding our voice or whatever, we wear our influences on our sleeves to a fault until we hopefully stumble on our own voice. But, it takes bravery to find that, to leave behind what's familiar to our ear and to trust our own gut and our own sounds and productions. And, also to come to terms with the fact that there is already one DJ Premier, and that position is filled quite well. So, why would you want to be a budget carbon copy?
In my case, I think I broke out because I was matched with some incredibly inspiring artists. Nikka Costa, Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse... Artists who had a clear vision and a sound of their own. They inspired me to break out of what I was doing and evolve into this producer that could match their talent, serve their vision. Premier is very generous about his outsize influence, never deriding the copycats. He just sees it as his responsibility to evolve and lead by example.
This one came out great.
I forgot about this, man.
They got me, king of beats, Run, king of rock, and then Zack, king of rage.
King of rage, that's good. I know. It's crazy to go-
Wow. Shout-out to Rob Stone, man.
Yeah. Well, Rob Stone wanted me to also tell you that you're obviously such a big part of why the magazine is called The FADER, because of DWYCK, from the song "DWYCK." "Take me out with the fader." Like that.
Right, that's the first time I ever met Jonathan Mannion, too.
On that shoot?
Yep. Chairman Mao, too. Mao, Mao, Mao.
Did he did the interview?
Story about Chairman Mao. That's my guy.
We go way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way back. They were all there, man. They were all there for the... Since they call this The Golden Era, they were all there.
The series, I really like the series that you've been doing as well. Is it called Floppy Disk? What's it called?
So Wassup? The Salute to The Floppy Disk, yeah.
Okay. I think that's one of the other really admirable things about what you do. You're still... Couple of million followers on social media without ever selling out, you just do your thing. It's never corny. It doesn't feel like somebody is, "Hey, you got to make some videos for the kids."
But it's really impressive, I think, because there's very few other people from that era that are relevant, haven't changed their shit. Is it important to you, social media and these things? I know you said you run the Gang Starr account, you run your account.
Mm-hmm, and even the store.
After we did the Vs. with me and RZA, and then I did a tribute, I think, to Guru, or... There was some type of tribute, I think. Because people are, "Man, did somebody do yours?" I'm, "No, I do it." Even when I write, it has to sound like I wrote it.
I know a lot of people have their stuff done by people, but that wouldn't feel right. Having somebody to do mine.
It's crazy what a huge thing Vs. has become now, but that was really-
Yeah, shout to Swizz and Timbaland, man.
Yeah. Oh my God, what did they sell that shit for, like 300 million or something?
But, yours was one of-
And they gave us shares, they gave us the shares in the stocks of it.
Great, great, great.
So, good looking out, guys!
You definitely deserve it because it was very much in the beginning of the pandemic, and we all wanted something to watch and something to unite us all, but yours was the first one... Because, I was in England and I was, "I got to set my alarm clock for 2:30 in the morning and wake up." And it was so special, and there was no element of competition. It was just two people who had a lot of respect for each other, just going through it. Was there any point when it started... I don't know what your relationship with RZA's like. Was there any part beforehand that you were, "I wonder if he's going to come with the guillotine swords for me?" What? Were you thinking about it?
Yeah. When we lived in Branford Marsalis' brownstone in '92, when we were working on Daily Operation, Branford was actually just moving. When Step in the Arena hit, it was already out that he was about to move because he was the new music director for The Tonight Show.
So, after we did "Jazz Thing" for Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues, we got really close and he was, "Yo man, I'm going to be moving if you all looking for a place to move to." During that time, we all living together. Him, his wife, his son, and me and Guru. And, The RZA and The GZA used to always come to our house and hang out with us, and we'd just smoke and listen to stuff. GZA had just left Cold Chillin', and he said, "I'm going just hardcore." And RZA told us at the house, "I'm starting a crew called The Wu-Tang Clan."
Yeah, and he said, "I'm getting all my homies from Staten Island, GZA going to be part of from Brooklyn, and I'm getting Ol' Dirty Bastard." And we already knew Ol' Dirty Bastard in '88 because he was at New Music Seminar. I have a picture with us when Ol' Dirty had the stair-step flat top.
And he was A Son Unique, or something?
Yeah, he was A Son Unique. Yeah. So, we knew him as A Son. That's why when he does it on "Brooklyn Zoo," it ain't made up. That's what he was.
So, we were all cool, and then all the sudden when Wu-Tang came out, I was like, "Wow. He said they were going to come out with this!"
And then we'd have friendly competition. "Yo, I got a joint, it's coming out. It's going to spank your record that you did with Jeru." And I'm, "Alright, alright, alright. You'll see."
Drop another record, and then like I said, when "C.R.E.A.M." came out, I was, "Damn, he got..." He's "I got a piano, joint's going to smash you with it."
Yeah, yeah, yeah. "The original was hard, but, wait till you hear this piano shit."
I'd be "Yeah, whatever." Then all of a sudden... I was, "Oh my God!"
Ooh! "C.R.E.A.M." is... That's...
That is an all-timer. That is an-
Yeah, and then when you have finals, you have the records, you're, "God dammit! I missed that."
Oh, you had it the whole time?
My mother's records is standard in a... Especially in a Black household, you're going to pretty much have the same record collection for the most part. Especially if it's Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, Aretha, the whole Motown history. Every Black family is going to have that in the house, and the Charmels, all the Stax stuff. That's just standard.
Who were the other producers in that era that there was friendly competition? I imagine Buckwild, you seem like you really like, who...
Yeah, I didn't really know Buck. Yeah, I met him through D.I.T.C. Obviously, he was coming up more when he and O.C. and them did the Word... Life album-
"Time's Up." Okay. Yeah.
"Time's Up," yeah. Me and Buck got cool.
I think everyone maybe even thought "Time's Up..". There's a couple of beats in history that everyone assumes that you did it. I feel like "Time's Up" is one, and I feel like "Ante Up" is obviously one because everyone just-
"Ante Up" it's because of the clean version, I put my sound effects on it and I mixed the record.
Right, and I think because you already had a history with the M.O.P. and it's sound, do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I mixed it with Eddie Sancho at D&D, but it was only because Laze, who handles M.O.P. Laze was, "Yo, we need it right now because Loud wants to get it to radio, to the streets." For some reason, there was a day that DR wasn't around to get it done... And shout to DR, period, because he's one of my favorite producers, man.
Me and him got to know each other and get cool, and I was just, "Yeah, I'll do the mix." And, we did it, and then when I did the clean version, I used my sound effects that I'm traditionally known for.
So, that made people go, "Oh, Preem did it, I know those sound effects." And, it made me wish I didn't do my sound effects because I didn't want to take credit for doing something that DR did. He deserves the entire credit. I just mixed it down with Eddie Sancho and it came out to be a good mix.
To hear it now to this day, soon as that mm drops, it's just... Man.
It feels like with the past few years, the Drake joint and Conway and Westside Gunn being really exciting and everything, do you feel excited or in a good place about the current state of hip-hop and just working within what's going on now?
I just feel that no matter what's out there, do what you think is fly if you're that deep-rooted into what you're in the music business for. I like to work with everybody. I got a DM from Morris Day and I've always wanted to meet him. I've always wanted to meet The Time.
I meet Terry, I meet Jimmy Jam and ask him advice on stuff.
And, I'm a member of the Grammys and I haven't even utilized my position at the Grammys. I'm "Yo man, what up? I want to do this and be more involved, and what do I need to do?" And he's, "Well, you need to do this and this and this. And, this is what you got to do. And if you're going to do this, you got to do this." Just stuff to... And I'm, "Damn, I can actually text fucking Jimmy Jam!"
And... Never met Morris, and he's just, "Hey man, I got this record called "Headrush." I want to see if maybe you could do a remix to it, and what's it going to take?" And I was, "Yo, just send me the acapella." And I'm, "Yo!" And, "Here's my number." And I'm, "I got Morris Day's number!"
Yeah. Was this just recently?
It's amazing that you're still moved by that because obviously you are such a fan of music. That's what makes your stuff so great, but it's funny to me to think you're still getting geeked out.
I produced this album for this artist, YEBBA who you met briefly, and-
Yeah. Dude, that shit she did with Drake is just so refreshing. I want to work with her so bad.
Yeah, obviously she loves you. But, the record came out over the weekend, and Greg Phillinganes who was the only keyboard player to Stevie Wonder to play on Songs In The Key of Life, and played the solo on "Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough."
Yeah the keyboard player. Yeah.
Yeah, with all the Jackson stuff, yeah. Michael Jackson's MD. I get this FaceTime and he's never... I probably texted him once because we'd done a session, but I never had a FaceTime, and I see and I'm "Oh, this must be a mistake." And it's FaceTime video. Boop, boop, boop, boop, boop. Greg Phillinganes. I answered. He's, "I don't know what you're eating in your food, young man." That's very sweet because I'm 46 now, but he's, "That YEBBA record is something..." I don't know.
He's, "That to me is the most exciting musical thing that..." Something... He was just being very... But I was, "I can't believe-"
It's Greg Phillinganes, yo!
"I can't, this is Greg Phillinganes. I cannot wait to just even get off the phone and tell YEBBA and James Francies."
Yeah! I would do the same thing, that's Greg Phillinganes! Yeah, she's dope, man.
If I don't get to work with you, YEBBA, I'm going to come to all your shows and just be a troll that they're going to have to arrest me and put a restraining order on me. I want to work with you, YEBBA.
I think she probably... She told me that maybe even she used to even take instrumentals of yours off of YouTube and make demos back in the day, so, he just-
She worked with Brandi too, man.
Brandi has something, whatever. It's-
I'm going to send you the album because I'd love you to check it out. It just came out on Friday.
Oh, no, no. I'll buy it. I'll buy it. I'll buy it as soon as I leave here.
I have my fucking therapist at 2:00, I'm so sorry.
Well, get your therapy on man, very important.
Is that all right? It's so...
Yeah, this is therapeutic
Thank you man. It's such a fucking honor-
Oh, I'll say one more thing.
I consider myself a purist.
So, the fact that I'm raised on such good music to where before hip-hop even came around, that's the reason why I'm very into how hip-hop is preserved. Any new artist that comes out, any new sound or changes, let the young generation have their sound, but that doesn't mean we have to abandon ours just because they have the new sound that's on the radio. And, matter of fact, I just saw this. Somebody put a post to this, what Ghostface said, and this is how I feel in regards to art. He said, "I don't give a fuck if you didn't know what I'm talking about. This is art. When you go see a painting on the wall and it looks bugged out because you don't know what the fuck he thinking, because he ain't got no benches, no trees, it's just a splash. That did it, and he know what the fuck it is.
And, that's true!
That's true. Shout to GFK, man.
Yeah. I love this quote that you said, actually. You said "I'm indebted to preserving the sound of the city." And, I do feel like you're just... you have the gift.
You're an architect of it, you continue to uphold it. You're on fucking the Mt. Rushmore of New York.
Yeah, I make buildings, man. And, when I put up a building, it's going to be a building you'll never forget. That's what I going to start saying, man. "I make buildings."
Yeah, buildings, buildings.
Get your therapy on, Mark. Anytime bro, it's good to see you, man.
Yeah. Alright, thank you so much.
Alright, the doctor has left the building.
Premier. Again, his influence is immeasurable. Even as far as this podcast goes, I'm talking over one of his creations at this very moment. And my sign-off line for each episode? Well, that comes from the classic DJ Premier-produced Gang Starr song, "DWYCK," featuring Nice & Smooth, and that line goes. "Peace out, Premiere. Take me out with the fader." So, take me out with the fader.
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