DJ Premier

DJ Premier is an undisputed heavyweight champion of hip-hop, a native Texan whose love of hip-hop brought him to New York where he wound becoming a vital part of the music’s golden years. As one half of Gang Starr alongside the late MC Guru, and as a producer for established and upcoming talent like KRS ONE or a young Nas from Queens, Premier was responsible for shaping a hard-edged hip-hop sound in the ’90s, sample-heavy and full of incredibly memorable scratched elements.

In this lecture at the 2007 Red Bull Music Academy, Premier talks about Guru, Nas, Jay-Z, digging for samples, working with Christina Aguilera and eating KFC with a naked Notorious B.I.G. 

Hosted by Jeff “Chairman” Mao Audio Only Version Transcript:

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here. My name is Jeff Mao, AKA Chairman Mao, AKA Chairman Jefferson Mao but that’s not important, because this gentleman here is our guest, our first lecturer in this two-week term. He has worked with some of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time, he’s also produced some of the greatest hip-hop records of all time, so by those two facts you can deduce that he is one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. Please join me in welcoming, DJ Premier.


DJ Premier

Thank you, Chairman Mao, and by the way, you are important, brother, because you are really hip-hop. Give it up for Chairman Mao, y’all.


I don’t have any Kleenex so you can blow your nose and cry and all that.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

It’s a great Oprah moment right now.

DJ Premier

I’ll jump on the couch like Tom Cruise. There ya go.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

So, DJ Premier, how are you today?

DJ Premier

I’m good, man. Been on tour for the last three days here. Did Ottawa, then we did Montreal, then we did Hamilton last night, which was insane. All the shows have been crazy. Then we do Toronto tonight for the Red Bull Academy, big up to them, and big up to everybody that’s representing the Red Bull Academy for having me here, I’m glad to be here.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

We do these lectures and we talk a little bit about creative issues but also your life and your career. I guess, just first of all, to somebody who’s been closely associated with the purist, New York hip-hop sound, maybe some folks might be surprised to notice you’re not actually from New York. Where are you from and how did you get to New York?

DJ Premier

Born in Houston, Texas, and then moved. My parents, my mother’s from Baltimore, Maryland, and my father’s from South Carolina. They met, they’re both teachers, my mother’s an art teacher, so that’s how I learnt to draw and do all that, by force. But now, since graffiti came out, I guess it all tied in to the hip-hop. So, thanks to my moms for that, and she’s a very big music woman, so through all of that, my upbringing... I’m 41-years-old, I was born in ’66 so I have a lot more understanding and experience of the music. To be from Texas gives me an advantage over anybody that gets into the music business in the 21st century, unless they do their homework on the origins of music that came before hip-hop.

I didn’t have any rap records when I was a kid, we only had soul music. It wasn’t called R&B at the time. To me, R&B is like Mary J. Blige, stuff like that, Fantasia, Chris Brown is R&B. Soul is Barry White, Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, The Commodores, I said Al Green, right? I didn’t put Prince in there because he came out in 1980, when soul was still important. Michael Jackson came through the soul era, so to be brought up on all those groups, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, things of that nature, it all trickled down into what hip-hop is now. Well, not now, but the golden era, which, of course, was the late ’70s all the way through the ’80s. My era of being in the game was the ’90s. So, even living in Texas we really were brought up on the same type of music that was worldwide at that time.

And I’ll just bring it back a little bit, my mother’s father lived in Brooklyn, so we used to go visit him all the time when I was young. Probably fifth grade, we used to always stay with him every Christmas, every Thanksgiving, every summer. My older sister was like, you know, she was tired of doing it because we were older and she wanted to hang out with her friends, but I kept wanting to go because I was just so into the whole scene. The first time I ever came to New York I saw a guy commit suicide on the subway, on the train that we were on. We ran over him and they had to back the train up off of him and he was still shaking, his arm was separated, he was still doing like this [mimes shaking] on the track and I was just like, “Wow, this is where I want to live,” you know what I’m saying? Go back and tell your friends what you did for summer and you saw a dude, you know, commit suicide, which is not a beautiful thing, but just the whole aspect of seeing that and getting off the train, this is freshly done so the cops weren’t even there yet, just the whole action and seeing the people.

My grandfather was a big baseball and football fan so he used to always take me to every Yankee game when I was little, took me to the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, so I did all of that early. So, by the time I was 13, I said, “I’m definitely going to move here,” but it still wasn’t because of hip-hop yet. I wanted to live here, period. That’s how I started to make my plans to be here once I was able to get some money up and move.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

So, what was your first exposure to hip-hop? I think it’s interesting because I’m from the era when, I remember before hip-hop as well, a lot of people don’t necessarily have that experience. So, what was your first exposure?

DJ Premier

Seeing the b-boys breaking when my grandfather took me to Times Square, we’d always go to Times Square, and that’s when it was really grimy, people were getting robbed left and right. Now it’s all cleaned up since Giuliani came into office and made it all pretty for the tourists and it’s not the same Times Square that I remember. So, during that time going into midtown and seeing all the sights and everything, all the B-boys used to be breaking for money, it was crazy. The Rocksteady Crew was one of the first people that I saw right there where the Marion Marquee is right there off 7th and like 44th. They were right there and they had the Rocksteady Crew outfits on and I was like, “Man, this is ill.”

And they kept cutting up “Apache” [by the Incredible Bongo Band], you know the break part of Apache with the bongos, and then they’d go onto “It’s Just Begun” by Jimmy Castor Bunch and they had a cassette tape that was pre-made by whoever cut it up and it kept being repeated on the breakdowns, and every time it went to the breakdown another cat would go off and do his thing. So, it was fascinating and this was prior to any 12” records coming out. The way they were doing all these moves was just amazing. And then Flashdance and all that stuff kind of come out, you know, Wildstyle, seeing it again in that aspect, that’s when I was like, “I’ve got to do this professionally.”

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

As far as music, what was the first thing that you heard? For a lot of us it was “Rapper’s Delight,” but was the first for you or was it something else?

DJ Premier

It was definitely “Rapper’s Delight.” That came out in ’79. It’s the first piece of wax that ever really hit, they say “King Tim III” by the Fatback Band is the original, first hip-hop record which it did have rapping on it but for us it was “Rapper’s Delight.” We all know that. That’s my first.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

How did it make you feel when you first heard it, because you’re used to hearing different soul music and now this is entering your consciousness?

DJ Premier

For me, it was just ill because I was a big fan of Nile Rodgers, who I just met recently at the Rock The Bells Tour with Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy and Wu-Tang and everybody. Public Enemy’s on, I see Nile Rodgers is bopping his head on the side of the stage and I’m still sitting there going, “When they go off I’m going to walk over there and say what’s up.” I’m still like a kid, like hoping he doesn’t diss me, because if he does I’m going to diss him back. Any of my heroes, if they diss me, I’m screaming on them because I feel like I’m on that level where I appreciate them so much, don’t show me disrespect by me acknowledging how great I think you are. And he let me take a picture it’s on my MySpace page, go to MySpace, DJ Premier, and then you’ll see me with Nile Rodgers.

I was such a big Chic fan, because they had their own sound. I was into people that always made their own sound. I was a big James Brown fan… I’m still addicted to James Brown to this day. I saw him in concert when I was six years-old with my mother. Me and my mother used to go to concerts all the time, we still do. She has bad knees and she’s like, “Hey, can you get tickets to Prince? Can you get tickets to Janet [Jackson]? Can you get tickets to Alicia Keys?” And if I’m in town, I go with her.

But she took me to see Rufus and Chaka Kahn, I remember she took me to see the Brothers Johnson with Quincy Jones, and I was like, “I don’t want to go and see Quincy Jones.” And she was like, “Yeah, but it’s going to be a good show and they sent the Brothers Johnson on to open up.” And I was like, “Yeah,” because I was into them, because I was really into the bass a lot and the drums and I liked the way Louis Johnson played the bass so I was extra surprised.

I remember we went to Rufus and Chaka Kahn and they were passing weed around and my mom was like, “Don’t take that.” They would pass it to her and she would say, “No, thank you,” and I was like, “Why would they pass cigarettes around?” She’s like, “It’s not a cigarette,” and that’s when she explained to me that it was weed, and unfortunately now I smoke weed, but anyway. Actually, not unfortunately because I love weed, but all those elements that are from her, from learning how to draw, which is creative expression, her taking me to concerts…

I saw Ike & Tina Turner, I remember I got lost. For some reason, I still don’t understand because most children remember their childhood. I, for some reason, had to go to the bathroom and I didn’t go with my parents and I found the bathroom and when I came back I didn’t have my ticket stub so I couldn’t remember what aisle I was in and I started crying, and I was crying so loud even with the music on that these people who were on stage had Tina Turner announce that I was lost until my parents found me. Word! I remember that to this day that Tina Turner announced me being lost and my parents found me and they got me back in my seat and Tina went on to doing all that twisting and shaking and Ike looked like he was about to beat her ass, and you know? And now What’s Love Got To Do With It is on DVD.


Jeff “Chairman” Mao

And the rest is history, yeah. So, at Prairie View, you attended to Prairie View university in Texas?

DJ Premier

Where I met my man Biggest Gord, where you at Gordon, the guy that was loud earlier?

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

The really loud, obnoxious...?

DJ Premier

Yeah, the loud, obnoxious guy. He’s now one of my partners, I’ve been down with him since college and yeah, I’ll elaborate on it more but that’s where we met, in college. He’s from Brooklyn, New York.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

And that’s where you formed your first group as well?

DJ Premier

I formed this group with my man Top-Ski, who’s from Boston, ironically, like Guru. And two of our friends that we went to college with who we all met in college. My man Anthony Benson, his name was Sugar Pop, he was from Dallas and my man Stylee T. The thing that’s so crazy about Stylee is he looked, well, he didn’t look like Flavor Flav, but he acted just like Flav and this was before we even heard of Public Enemy. Because again, this is like 1984, my freshman year in college and he was already wearing all the crazy tracksuits with the different Adidas, he had like five, six, seven pairs of Adidas with the fat laces and he used to do all these crazy moves and he was just bugged out, and he was like, “I’m just bugged out, dude.”

And he’d rhyme up and do all these crazy moves and everybody loved Stylee, he was just a bug out. So, when Public Enemy came out it was like [mimes pointing at TV], “Damn, Stylee T, he’s biting our style.” But we were so into PE you couldn’t deny what they did, they did the unthinkable. But we were called MCs In Control and later we changed our name to the Inner Circle Posse, why I don’t know because I thought MCs In Control was a dope name. We formed, I used to do all the parties because I always had every record. Me and my mother used to go record shopping at least twice a month and she’d be like, “Whatever three records you want, pick it.” And I have two older sisters, I have a sister that’s four years older than me and I have sister that’s two years older than me, so those are different generation gaps where they had their stuff.

My older sister was really into a lot of rock, like she was into The Eagles and she liked Carly Simon and David Bowie and things like that. She was really into The Beatles and she was into AC/DC and The Stones, you know? She liked all the black music, too, she’s a soul sister. Me and her are really tight to this day because she’s just so into everything. But she’s the one that gave me the more eclectic part of my music, the knowledge.

Then, once I started going to high school – and I played football for a couple of years in high school and in junior high, before I got hurt on a motor cycle and then after that I kind of lost interest and started getting into music and stuff – but all the guys they were blasting Kiss and Styx and Rush and stuff like that. I was into that, too, and then the new-wave era came out and I was into all that, too. I was into the studded belts and everything, the crazy boots. I had boots like that and everybody knew me at school that I was really into music. So, no one looked at me like I was weird or anything like that, they always accepted me for being who I am and I never was ashamed of any of that era, because during that time, that was a rebellious era.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

You had the Cold Crush Brothers’ “Punk Rock Rap” look?

DJ Premier

Oh, yeah. Yeah, for sure. Me and my man Charles rolled like that and if you tried to front on us, we’d smack shit out of you. So, basically, all of that and then my mother, she has a very big jazz collection, major… her father was in a jazz band. He always used to show us the tour books. I mean, the photo albums of all the places he went to, all the people he met and stuff like that and I was always fascinated by that because he used to really, really love to show them off. He’d even forget, like, “Oh, let me show you these photo books.” And I’m like, “Grandfather, you show me those every year, the same books.”

But I was so into the fact that he had lived that lifestyle, I wanted to do that. He actually told me that the hip-hop thing wasn’t going to work before he died but, that’s why I got a tattoo done on my arm, “Told you I was gonna do it.” I never let that discourage me because he was just like, “That’s just a noise,” he was just from that generation of not understanding the language and the lifestyle, but I was part of that lifestyle and when that started to develop I really, really wanted to get down with hip-hop.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

So how did MCs In Control evolve, or how did that group lead you to Gang Starr?

DJ Premier

What happened was, I said, “You know what?” It was the first summer when we were together, I moved in with Gordon’s family, him, his brother. His brother was going to go to college the next year because he was a little younger than us. It was Gordon’s first year and he was like, “Look, you can crash at our place in Brooklyn.” So, moved to East New York and moved in with his parents and again we spent the whole summer there and when we went back to school the following year, I said, “You know what? Forget it.”

I wasn’t going to class, my father was the dean of arts and sciences up at my college, and it was a predominantly black college. I didn’t even know white people could get minority scholarships because I was, you know, not used to all of them, it was a black school. I just thought it was always going to be black, which it still is. So, long story short, my father moved up in the ranks from teaching, became the dean, so that means all the teachers that don’t see me show up to class at 8 o’clock in the morning because I was still drunk from the night before, partying too much and stealing at the time.

All of a sudden, I look around and my father’s coming back with all these reports from the teachers telling on me that I’m not showing up to class. I remember one day, I had an 8 o’clock class and I’m missing it so much that I ended up sleeping late on one of those drunk nights when I’ve been partying too much, I doubled back and went to my father because he had an 8 o’clock class to teach. He had cancelled his class to let his class study for an exam they were going to have two days later, so he tricked me. I left when he left, took off, said, “See you later pop,” doubled back, went back to bed, all of a sudden right when I’m cozy, nice and in my bed, I hear that door go “ka-boom.” He’s back at the house and I tried to hop up but he caught me before I got out the bed, he was like, “See, I knew you was hogging it, you’re not going to classes.”

That’s when me and him really had a fall-out and that’s when I really just decided to leave. I was like, “You know what?” I keep upsetting my parents, which I don’t like to do and I’m his only son, so he always used to run this, “Can you make me proud at least once to be your father?” And I was like, “Dad, that kinda hurts,” so I was like, “You know what? I’m moving.”

I told Gordon I’m going to move and is it possible to stay with you a little while until I get on my feet? And I remember my father gave me $250, which my MC stole from me, which I never even knew he did until years later after we reunited and had a day to just chill together. We were all reminiscing and he was like, “Yo, remember that $250 your father sent? You know, I took that.” And I thought Gordon took it and I blamed him, we were going through our little issues but I always blamed Gordon and it was the guy I never expected, which was my man Top. When he told me that I flipped on him right there on the spot, like, “How could you do that?” Because I never thought that he could do that, you know, so long story short…

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

It’s always the ones you least expect...

DJ Premier

Yeah, man. And that actually made me sharper on just watching everybody. I became very non-[trusting] but for the right reasons. Rest in peace to Gordon’s dad, Arden Franklin, he made us get a job, “You got to get a job if you’re going to stay at my house.” I got a job at a young people’s day care as a counselor. I had no experience but they had a shortage of counselors and Top, my MC, came with me and we both got the jobs together. We actually became cool counselors, like some of the kids that we counseled are now successful in business.

Two of them have their own clothing companies; they’re doing real well. Actually, when M.O.P. did the “Ante Up” video, the wardrobe that they wore was by the kid that I actually taught when he was 11 or 12 years old. And I was young, I wasn’t even 24 yet. And being that they had a shortage of manpower, they gave us the job. We used to do that every day and that’s when I went to Staten Island, I saw Ghostface Killah way back.

We got into a fight in Stapleton Projects, which is where he’s from with the other kids from the daycare that were trying to fight our kids from Brooklyn. When we tried to break it up and have them fight one-on-one the older kids that were our age started telling us, “Yo, what’s up? Are you trying…?” So, then we had to get into a fight with them. It was ill. So far I’ve won every fight. I’ve gotten beat up before, no biggie, I know what it’s like to have a Timberland boot in your face and a couple of knuckles in the jaw, so once you know what it’s like you can handle anything. But I made it through all of that stuff, and then my grandfather passed.

It was crazy because I was really, really doing bad financially. I was trying to really get more out on my own and I remember when my grandfather died my mother came up and she saw me in just these raggedy jeans with ink spots on them from busted ballpoint pens, you know how they bust in your pocket, and I asked her if I could borrow $40 and I’ll never forget this, I asked, “Could I borrow $40?” And she said, “You look bad, why don’t you just come home?” And plus, I had a truck that I drove. I had a little Nissan pick-up with a five-speed stick that I drove the day I moved to New York and I drove in the pouring rain with all the records that I’ve ever owned and they all got wet, the whole drive.

I’m talking like it was pouring, storm pouring for almost three days straight, and my boy that rode with me, HL Rock, who became our dancer in Gang Starr, didn’t know how to drive a stick. So, I drove the whole way and we would keep making stops, we would even sleep on the side of the road with the rain still pouring over my records and I was just like, “Man, when I get to my destination I know they’re going to be ruined.” All the covers all stuck together. And not only that, I don’t condone this, but I used to work at a record store at the time and on my last day I actually packed up damn near everything in that store, because I used to lock the store up and they knew I was leaving so they gave me like a farewell party.

So, while they’re in the back getting the cake ready, I’m like, “Move the boxes out, move the boxes out,” and we were taking boxes and boxes of records, so maybe that was my punishment that they got all wet. But from that time, I’ve been able to regain all those records and replace them and everything through loads and loads of digging and searching and I’ve got the majority of them back now. I’ve been through some things.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

But your demo...

DJ Premier

Yeah, I’ll explain that. When I was in Texas I worked at a record store called Soundwaves, it was like the neighborhood store that everybody who was quote/unquote ghetto would shop at. For one, we had to all know our music. You had to know blues, you had to know zydeco, I don’t know if y’all know what zydeco music is? OK, you had to know zydeco because Louisiana and all that’s close enough so a lot of people shop there. You had to know rock, you had to know hip-hop and you had to know soul. So, being that we had to know so many genres of music, everybody was that knowledgeable.

My man Carlos Garza, who already had a job there, he got me the job based on my knowledge of music. The reason why we met is because he had all the ill 12”s of anything that I wanted, but I would change the prices on them before I went up to the counter to ring up the records and he caught me and I still denied it. I was like, “I didn’t change the prices, your machine was wrong when you priced them. I’m paying for...”

They was like four dollars a 12” and I put $1.99 because they had a bad price machine so they were easy to peel off and just put another price, so I’d go to like the CD cleaning things and the little record cleaning spray and peel those off, while my boy Top would hold me down and act like he’s shopping and ask some questions to distract them and I changed all the prices so when he’d ring them up he’d be like, “Hang on, these don’t cost $1.99,” and I’d put up a fuss and they’d bring me up because I just kept defending the fact that whatever’s on the tag is what you pay for.

I went outside to go to my car and he was like, “Yo man, I know you changed the prices.” He said, “I ain’t gonna say nothing but why are you doing that?” And that’s how we got cool and he got me a job there. It’s crazy because I remember the boss there, the owner, Terry, was a major cokehead, he was a big cokehead. We knew but we found out he damn near almost made the store go under because he sniffed up almost $80,000 worth of coke on the store’s money. It’s crazy, too, because I even learned about how to watch people from Terry, because he used to say, “Yo, whenever anybody walks into that store, when you hear that little bell, go over the door, look at everybody in the eye and say, ’Hey, how you doing?’ so that they know you looked at them walk in.”

Because that’s when CDs were just starting to bubble, so people used to try and stuff them in their pants and stuff, so you made sure you watched everybody so that they at least know that you made eye contact. He said, “I don’t care if they get annoyed, always ask them do they need something.” So, those little things, even the deli that I go to, to this day… I go there when I come out the gym, and these guys have 10 people working there, and there might be five of us in there, and they don’t pay attention to the door. I kind of gave them that advice, so now when I come in there they all look.

Because I told them… Terry taught me this, the key is to get everybody in and get everybody out so that you have free time to relax or to do something else to keep the store operating. Those are things that apply to my work now. So, when it came to my demo, I made a demo just for fun, you know? I made it for the purpose of doing records, but I was still shy and not really, really confident about being picked to be an artist.

So, we just did it in the crib and then when we stayed with Gordon, his next-door neighbor, my man Skeet, he was in a house group called Total Science, he used to let me borrow his four-track, taught me how to work it and I was like, “Oh, I can overlap my beats.” So, I would actually cut the beat for five minutes non-stop, then the next track I’d layer a horn over it or a little scratch and now I have four tracks and everything I’d just get Top to rap on it.

When we did the demo, we went back to school again, and Carlos used to be the 12” buyer at the time so he was the one that would be like, “Let me get three Gang Starr 12”s, let me get ten Tone Loc “Wild Thing”s, let me get 30 Milli Vanillis, because he knew how much we could move and he taught me how to be the buyer. I ended up being the buyer after that. So, I’d order “South Bronx” and “The Bridge” from MC Shan, and Whodini and records like that. During that time Carlos used to still report to all the independent hip-hop companies and he told Stu Fine at Wild Pitch, “Hey, this guy…” I was called Waxmaster C at that time, because my name is Chris and everyone had Jam Master or Grandmaster… I just wanted some type of master so I was like Waxmaster C… and he told them about me.

So Stu said, “Man, I got this group Gang Starr that has three members right now but they’re really not getting along with each other. The DJ is fighting with the MC, the other MC doesn’t like the rhymes, and the other guy is really great but he just needs a tight team.” So, I was like, “Tell him I’ll be in the group,” and he was like, “Yeah, but...” I wanted my guys to be in the group with them so it’d be like Top, me and we’d join him and help him out, and he wasn’t trying to see that. So, then I said, “Alright, I’m not interested, let’s try to shop my group.” They heard the demo and the demo happened to run across Stu Fine’s office, but they were just a husband-and-wife company, so they had nobody to really A&R for them.

So Guru used to listen to all the demos, and Carlos copied my cassette tape demo and snuck it to New York, which I didn’t know he was going to do, because he kept trying to get me to do it anyway and I was like, “No, I’m not ready yet, I’m not on that level yet.” And, all of a sudden, he was like, “Man, I’ve got to tell you something. I sent that cassette but they like it.” And I was like, “For real?” And they were like, “Hey, we’re going to fly you up, I went back and stayed with Gordon again, and me and Top went up there. Sugar Pop couldn’t really go at the time, but they didn’t like Top’s voice, they were like, “Nah, he doesn’t have any flow.” So, I was like, “Well, put us in a real studio and maybe we can make it sound better.”

Went to the real studio, still didn’t like it and I was like, well, I still wasn’t interested. Still stayed in New York, I remember me and Gordon, he took me everywhere, he took me to BLS, and I saw Marley Marl open the door to wait for Heavy D to walk in. And Heavy D, they were about to do “We Write The Songs” on In Control Volume 1 with Biz [Markie]. They were like, “Yeah, we’re still waiting for Biz to get here.” I’m like, “Wow, Biz is coming.” And that’s the era.

I remember Heavy D had on an all-grey sweatsuit, the regular grey sweats that people wear he had the matching grey top, and he had the big fat dookie cable underneath, but you could see it bulging out the neck and I was like, “Damn, this is real.” I’m just sitting there shaking like this with my cassette. Of course, once they popped up I stopped shaking because I don’t let nobody see me sweat no matter how nervous I get, but I just held the tape and I just stood there holding it to give to Marley and I never gave it to him. I just remember he opened the door and he said, “Yo, is that you?” He was like, “Yeah, Biz is on his way.” He just kind of looked at me, and I just kind of stood there with the cassette.

He closed the door and me and Gordon walked out and I was just like, “Damn, why didn’t I give him the tape?” I went up there another time, saw Marley, gave him the tape, saw him again he said he didn’t like it. He said it wasn’t up to par, so went back to the drawing board, made another demo, and it was way better. That’s where I had a record called “Let My DJ Get Hyped,” which turned into “DJ Premier In Deep Concentration” on the first Gang Starr album No More Mr Nice Guy. At that time pretty much everyone talked about, “My DJ, my DJ, my DJ...” The DJ always gets his little solo part and he gets to go off so that turned into that. We had another record called “We’re Fantastic” and we had another one called “Up Another Level”, which happened to be the big record that made them want to sign me.

But I was still like, “Give Top another chance,” and they said, “We really don’t wanna do that, we really just want you.” He said to me, “Why don’t you come out with us all tonight and meet Guru?” So I met him, well, no it was Key T at that time so it was like, “Come meet Key T.” I was like, “Alright.” We went to a club called The World, and I remember Busy Bee performed that night, Melle Mel, Kool G Rap, Ice Cream Tee, and who else? There was somebody else who performed, but just to see all of them at a show, at a club like that and I’m like, “Damn!”

I remember Ultramagnetic [MCs] walked in with all these walkie talkies, they all had mink coats on and the Dapper Dan stuff and the Louis Vuitton and the hats and I was like, “Man, they look just like the cover!” I was around all of this like, “Damn, I’ve got to do this.” So, during that time, me and Guru had a good vibe with each other, I explained to him my situation of why I didn’t want to be in the group. Couple of months passed and Top pretty much got fed up and was like, “Yo, this stuff is not going to work.” He was like, “Yo, I’m going to go into the military.” And I was like, “Yeah, alright.”

And he signed up when I didn’t really know he was going to do it, and I remember for some reason, Gordon was not there, I was the only one at the house that day, and I remember the recruiting officer came, knocked on the door and said, “Yeah, I’m looking for Theodore Campbell.” And I was like, “For what?” He said, “Oh, he registered to go to the navy, and we’re here to get him.” And I was like, “Top?” And he goes, “Yeah, I told you I was leaving and you thought I was bullshitting.” He had all his bags packed, and I was like, “Wow, so you’re leaving me?” And I was like, “How long have you been enlisted for?” And he was like, “For four years.” And I was like, “Oh man, now what am I going to do?” So, now that he’s not here for four years, I ain’t waiting.

And then I called, said, “Yo, my man left.” But that shows my loyalty, I was not down until that happened because I was like, “Damn man, you’re not sticking it out with me so now I’m all by myself.” So that’s why I called them back and they said, “Yo, we want you in the group.” So No More Mr Nice Guy is more like my resume album because me and them had to get our chemistry together to learn how to make an album together, because Guru already had experience making records with other producers, with 45 King and with Donald D. So, they already had like three 12”s out prior to me joining the group.

So, with that, my process of how I made my demos is not how they do it in a real studio. I remember the first day I came in the studio I brought Gordon and his brother Gary and I came in there all hardcore and looking like I was ill, I had my hat on all broke down and I was like, “Yo, set my turntables up so that we can start recording.” And I remember my man, the engineer, Shlomo Sonnenfeld at Such-A-Sound Studios, he was an Israeli dude, he was like, “You’re not setting those turntables up for like another week, you don’t need that.” And I was like, “What? You better set my shit up,” and Guru’s trying to explain… because I’d never made a record. So I’m like, “No, set my shit up,” and I’m all like just Mr Arrogant and you know that humbled me, because now I had to learn that the process of recording is totally different, which now I totally know the process of recording. So, from there that’s how me and Guru connected and became the new Gang Starr.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

And the first record you did together?

DJ Premier

“Words I Manifest.” I said to him I had to go back to school again, one more time, really to tie up some loose ends and I sent him the beat. I was really into jazz samples because no one really capped those, it was the James Brown era. It was like, if you didn’t have a James Brown loop you weren’t in the loop, basically. No one was really messing with jazz samples, and being in my mother’s place so often and my grandfather was in a jazz band I figured, “Let me see how to put hardcore beats to those types of sounds,” being that they were instrumental. I wasn’t on a jazz mission or anything like that because we started to get labeled as jazz rap.

And to me jazz rap means you rap about jazz and we did two records. We did one dedicated to both of our grandfathers called “Jazz Music” and that was the dedication record. Spike Lee heard that record when he was filming Mo’ Better Blues because he saw the “Words I Manifest” video and he was like, “Yo, I want you to do a more in depth description of what you did on your first album but you didn’t name a lot of people you should have named.”

So he gave Guru a long poem… and Guru just took the names and reworded it with his own little flow to it and we did that for Mo’ Better Blues. And from there that’s how we got signed to Chrysalis, because of that. So I remember when we did that record, the Step In The Arena album, the first single they were like, “So yeah, we can’t wait to hear the first single.” And the first single was “Just To Get A Rep,” which was some grimy hardcore shit, and they were like, “No, no, no, we want something like ‘Jazz Thing.’” And we were like, “That record was done for the movie. You want to make a movie about ducks quacking, we can make a record about that and still make it funky.”

And they thought our first record was going to be based on that. Because then US 3 came out, Digable Planets came out, so it was kind of like this little jazz craze thing and it was confusing what Gang Starr stood for. That’s when I started rebelling and I said, “You know what? I’m going to start stripping things down and making everything raw and crazy,” and that’s when I tried to expand my production style.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

Well, let’s interject this briefly and just play a little bit of each of those two records. So, you can get a little flavor for what we’re talking about.

Gang Starr - “Words I Manifest” (Remix)

(music: Gang Starr - “Words I Manifest” (Remix))

DJ Premier

That was my first record. And the crazy thing was, I remember when Marley Marl played it first, the original not the remix, but I just remember Stu Fine going, “Marley’s playing it right now,” and also we turned to Red Alert. At that time, if Red Alert and Marley Marl was playing your record, I don’t care what, you made it. That means you made it because Red Alert was like, “I don’t like that one, I don’t like that one, I don’t like that one,” and when he played “Manifest” we was just like, “Oh, man.”

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

What about Chuck Chillout?

DJ Premier

Chuck, too. I mean, Chuck was on Friday nights on 98.7 Kiss, Red Alert was on Saturday nights, Marley Marl was on Friday and Saturday nights with Mr Magic. It was crazy, because no matter what we were doing, when we used to hang out and stuff like that we would always make sure we were home to catch the mix. I mean, you even had drug dealers that we knew in the hood that would be like, “Yo, I’m going back to tape the mix.” They would come right back out at midnight when everything was over with the cassette of that show and put that big radio on the corner and be doing whatever they were doing.

That’s how ill it was… to have the freshest new joints out on the street you had to listen to those mix shows. Now, when you listen to mix shows on any radio station they are playing all kinds of junk and no one is breaking the records no more, everything is based on what everybody else thinks is hot. They were playing stuff based on what they thought was hot. And I do that to this day. I have a radio show every Friday night on Sirius Satellite radio from midnight to two eastern time. Me and Big Shug from Gang Starr Foundation co-host it and the show’s called Live From HeadQCourterz and I’m doing the same thing that they used to do, which is to break new records based on my ear.

I don’t care if anybody in here likes a record and I don’t, I won’t play it. I have to like it. And if I like it, it’s getting played. I think that helps bringing the bar back up to quality music being brought to the game. Right now the bar is on the ground so anybody can step over it and make a record. My grandfather could still make a record and sell it. And everybody’s started saying they’ve got mixtapes; if you’re not scratching or cutting or doing some mixing on it, that’s not a mixtape. It’s just a compilation CD, you know what I’m saying?

I’m kind of glad, not for DJ Drama and for Cannon, those are my boys, but just the fact that they cracked down on the mixtape game made it go back to making it hard to accept everybody making mixtapes. Now, everybody’s scared to make them so I’m putting all mine out. Buy my mixtapes because they are authentic and they still represent the definition of a mixtape.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

Speaking of that, you had a mixtape recently called [No Talent Required] and you had some images on the cover?

DJ Premier

Yeah, actually my man Charles the Mixologist, he rents a room out of the studios we have, HeadQCourterz studios, which used to be D&D Studios, they went out of business and I re-opened it. I sold my own house and put a lot of money into the studio. I knew there was going to be a lot of upkeep and money to go through it. I can always get another house so I said, “You know what? I’ll move, I’ll put my money into the studio because I believe at the moment that’s what we have to do.”

So, I rented one of the rooms out to Charles because he was more of a pop producer and DJ, he was on the radio for 11 years and he knows his hip-hop as well and he said… I’m really into titles and naming the albums and things like that and I told him I wanted to call it No Talent Required because that’s how I felt about all of these people doing Serato [mixes]. I even put a Serato box on the front because all these DJs now, they don’t own more than a hundred records and they have 20,000 records in their Serato.

I see people in clubs watch and literally see what a guy clicks on and write it down on a piece of paper, in all the hot clubs, in clubs that Paris Hilton and all them go to. And then all of a sudden you come to the club three weeks later and that guys DJing and you go, “How did he get here?” But they undercut the price. And if you’re going to undercut and give them exactly the same music that they want to hear, you’re going to get the jobs. But they don’t bring them in the same way, they don’t mix them right, their timing is off, they just button-push 24/7.

I have Serato and I use it, too, but Grand Wizard Theodore and Jazzy Jeff, they was just stressing and praying, “You earned it, you need to have one because you’ve carried records for years, you own thousands and thousands and thousands of records.” He was like, “I bet you have five or six storage spaces,” and I do, for the records, because I’ve bought and collected that much – besides the ones I took from the record store that time. But through all of that, to me Serato should be earned. So even although I put it on the box, on the cover of the mixtape, it wasn’t to diss Serato and Rane and all of them because I love their equipment, it was really for those that understood what my meaning was, and on top of that it should be earned.

For all of us that’s been carrying these heavy speakers, I know you can attest to that Blaq, you’ve been carrying systems for years, lugging stuff and bruising your legs, sore from late nights of having to haul that stuff home and up mad stairs, just on your own. That stuff really, really does take a toll on your passion for being a DJ. Blaq has crates and crates and crates of records totally separate from mine so the knowledge and all the passion that we put into it, that’s kind of like our little gift. We got you something that can alleviate all of this, here’s this machine.

But now, everybody’s on it and when I see somebody on Serato I’m looking for some skills. Put some skill into it. I still cut and do routines. I’m still a little rusty on it because I’m used to pulling records and it’s still weird to me but I’m getting better at it. That’s the thing, my aim is to be a master at it. Like DJ AM, that guy’s a master at that thing. I’m seeing him hitting buttons, spinning, but he’s still working the turntables like a DJ, so you’re not bored of just seeing a guy play a record and just sit there. So I interact and do all of that and I do routines that I used to do with my vinyl and I do them on Serato.

It doesn’t take any talent to have one of those things because anybody can just push the button and let the record go. Me? I just don’t feel like I am giving you your money’s worth if I just do that so I want to be a master. I saw Jazzy Jeff cut it up on there, Cash Money, who are incredible DJs to begin with and still do what they did, that’s when I was convinced and I was like, “OK, I’ve just got to master it, and then I’m going to do the same thing.” And I’m getting better at it. Y’all will see tonight. If I mess up, excuse me.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

It’s funny, because you mentioned earning the right to be able to use that or paying some dues, and that’s a big thing with hip-hop. So is that one of the things in general that you think is an issue with how hip-hop is, as far as how it has evolved over the years? It’s something different to how it was. You really had to work to find it, to get into it, and all of the things you were talking about before, swiping the records from the shop, doing whatever.

DJ Premier

If you don’t really care about the history of hip-hop culture, don’t mess with it. Buy whatever little albums you buy and play them, they are probably the albums we don’t like anyway, but you should really, really respect the history. I was just saying this earlier in another interview, the guy who was interviewing me was like, “You are the godfather,” and I’m like, “No, I am not. Stop. Afrika Bambaataa is the godfather.” And he was like, “Yeah, but you are too.” And I was like, “No.” He said, “In the mafia they have different godfathers.” And I said, “Well, this ain’t the mafia, this is hip-hop and the godfather is Afrika Bambaataa and the father is Kool Herc. That’s it.” And he was like, “What about [Russell Simmons? Ain’t he the godfather too?” And I was like, “Nope. He is one of the illest moguls and one of the illest to set up Def Jam, and I praise Russell all the way for making Def Jam what it was when it was raw, but he ain’t no godfather. It’s Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc is the father, hands down.” There’s nothing else to say.

Think about it, if everyone that loves hip-hop gave them a dollar each, they’d be straight. Just one dollar, just to say thank you for creating this whole thing. I remember one day, when the Palladium used to be open in New York, do you remember how ill that was? I remember when Missy was just coming out with “I Can’t Stand The Rain” and I was like, “Damn, there goes Missy,” and Kool Herc was walking up to her to say, “Hey Missy, I want to just introduce myself,” and I stood right there and they were like, “Hey Missy, this is Kool Herc,” and she was like, “Oh hey, how you doing?” And just walked off.

I just looked at her like, “I don’t like Missy any more,” you know what I mean? Kool Herc! You supposed to go, “Kool Herc! Yo! Much respect, thank you,” or something. She was just like, “Yeah, hi.” And she’s always wearing the shell toes and trying to bring it back with the fat chain and the sweatsuits of that era. So, I’ve always had that bad taste in my mouth, even though she’s a good producer, she’s a good writer, but those things really mean something to me. So again with all the clothes that she’s wearing to show respect to the era of ’86 and all that. If you don’t give Kool Herc his props or you don’t at least say, “Thank you brother for what you did,” and you just give him a cold, “Yeah, how you doing?” – like that. I am never going to forget that, that’s like a stain in my brain. Very, very wrong.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

Recently, when James brown passed away, there was a memorial at the Apollo Theatre.

DJ Premier

I was there.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

Did you go with Kid Capri? Fab 5 Freddy?

DJ Premier

No, I didn’t go with them. We skipped the line, and everybody started chanting, “We were here first. We were here first!” And I was like, “But I’m going in now,” because Afrika Bambaataa had some pull with Al Sharpton, and he was able to get us finagled into the front line. I was in Texas for Christmas, for the holidays, to see my family.

I always go home and see my same friends and they don’t treat me like “Oh, you’re Premier,” they treat me like Chris and all my other nicknames. I have a lot of nicknames at home, so everybody that knows me sees me come home for the holidays we always go out, we always do the same things we used to do with all of our friends and everybody in my neighborhood. We’re all like the same age and we all used to do a lot of stuff together, male and female, and we all still get together and do our same stuff. It’s just a beautiful thing because it’s the same treatment that we give to each other whenever I go home, so I love it.

When it came to James Brown, Showbiz, well, actually Teflon from MOP’s family first called me and said, “Yep, they gonna have his body at the Apollo day after tomorrow,” and I was like, “Are you serious?” And he was like, “Yeah!” I was like, “I wanna go,” and he was like, “Yeah, I wanna go, too, let me know.” I called Showbiz and he said, “Oh, you heard about James Brown? You going?” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll go if you go.” So I was like, “I’m going.” And, man, I was like, “We’re going early.” I called Jazzy Jay from the Zulu Nation and he said, “Yeah man, we get in because Bambaataa’s got a little hook-up with Al Sharpton. He’s the one bringing the body up.” And I was like, “Oh yeah, I got to go.” I saw DJ Scratch from EPMD there and Tichina Arnold, who plays the mother on Everybody Hates Chris, and of course she was in Martin and all that stuff, she was there.

I was with Shubee from the Crash Crew and Grand Wizard Theodore, who, of course, if ya’ll don’t know invented scratching, and a couple of other people, and I’m such a James Brown fan. We got there when they brought the body there and everybody was going, “James Brown! James Brown!”, while they were bringing it in and, on top of that, even old ladies who are in walkers and wheelchairs were making excuses and trying to get to the front and I was like, “Mam, I know you want to get through here, I am not letting you through.” They were making excuses like, “Oh, my daughter’s dying and she has to see him.” And I was like, “She can see him, but after us. You stay right here.”

I wasn’t letting anyone past me, nobody, because if you didn’t want to go, they had a thing where you could walk down the street and just keep on moving. Everybody’s like, “I’m trying to get through here because I’m trying to go home.” I was like, “Well, if you’re trying to go home, go all the way back,” but me and Shubee from Crash Crew we were like stopping everybody. People in wheelchairs, gurneys, you could be on your death bed, I was like, “No, we’re going there first, you all have to stay right here.” I’ve never been that rude to anybody, but this is James Brown.

I walked in there and saw him in that casket. I mean, who’s excited to see a dead person in a casket? But I was that excited, like, “That’s him!” And they let us get really close, like really, really close and I was just staring at him like, “That’s James!” I met him before at the BET Awards, and got to shake his hand but that final look, just to be right there and go there he is, it was like going to a concert. It was crazy.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

So, there was some representation from hip-hop?

DJ Premier

All of us. Jeff came with us, we took some ill pictures under the Marquee where it had “Rest in peace, James Brown” and just the energy there was just so crazy. I remember they were playing “Superbad” real loud, and when he goes “Watch me! I got it!”, everybody was bopping and singing and the sound system was so loud, and everybody was just blasting James. It was just so dope. It was one of the illest experiences I ever had.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

You have mentioned before we got onto some of these other subjects how you changed your production style from what the label expected and it was “Just To Get A Rep” and you stripped it down after that. Go into a little of the mindset behind that and how you define your style for how most people know it today.

DJ Premier

For one, as I said earlier when we started this interview, was just the fact that everybody that I appreciated in music was different. I was a big Prince fan, I went to all his concerts before he had 1999 out, when he had “I Want To Be Your Lover” and everybody be like, “Oh, he’s gay, he’s talking about I want to be your mother and your sister, all of that, and he wears panties and boots.” I was like, “Nah, he’s a player, he gets women.” I knew, that’s just his image, he’s not gay.

I knew Prince was just an amazing dude and he always had B-sides on his 45s, because at that time 45s were being sold and he always had a song on the B-side, and he always had extended versions and 12” versions with songs that weren’t on the album, back then. Before 1999, before Purple Rain and all that, so I was like, “Man, if I ever make a record…” and again, this was just some dream thoughts, “...if I ever make a record, I’m going to do the same thing: B-sides, stuff not on the album, just those same incentives that make you want to buy stuff.”

I remember sometimes I’d not be able to go and pick up Prince’s new album, I’d call up my man Meatball – you know, us country folks have crazy names – my man Meatball I used to be like, “Yo, you get the Prince album yet? I mean the 12”?” He was like, “Yeah, I got it.” “Any B-sides?” “Yeah, it’s got “17 Days” or “Gotta Stop Messing About” on the back of the “Let’s Work” 12”. I was like, “Damn, I can’t wait to see you this afternoon so I could play it.” And we’d go over and listen to all the vinyl and stuff.

So him, like I said, James Brown, they all had their own style. From the family I grew up in, my mother’s very well respected in our community, everybody knows my pops very well, and again what he said in my head about, “Make me have a reason to be proud of you,” I said, “I’m going to be original with my stuff too.” So I’ve always dared to be different, you’ve got to be different in order to stand out. People might not get it right away, but they’ll eventually get it if you believe in what you’re doing. That’s really my MO to this day.

When it came down to the label sitting me down and trying to tell me what they expected out of me, I said, “I can’t follow something that is not going to make me feel right with myself.” So either drop me from the label and I’ll regroup and get back on my feet but I’d rather get cut off from money and everything else to keep my integrity alive because, eventually, if you stand your ground you’re going to get yours. I always stood my ground when it came to my music. I never, not even once, compromised. And that’s the reason why I think I’m still here doing what I do.


It gets a little rough and a lot of doors get slammed in your face when you don’t compromise and it gets around, “Oh, he doesn’t give in.” But why be a give-in type of artist when they’re just going to manipulate you and spit you out anyway? Because that’s what they’re going to do, you know? So Kanye is a good example, he’s standing up for whatever it is he wants to believe in so he knows he could face a rocky road.

I saw an interview, he was like, “I’m not going on MTV no more, ever,” and all that and a lot can go wrong with that when you’re really sticking to that type of stance. But, if you’re willing to take the consequence, then do it. I agree with him. I’m just not in that same predicament, so I already know MTV don’t play by our particular type of book, unless you’re hot. So in his case it may actually work for his benefit, as long as his music stays pumping.

Right now, he’s doing his thing and I congratulate him on his new album but they spelled my name wrong, they put an “e” on the end and I’m pissed off at Kanye about that but, you know… spell my name right, man. But it’s all good. At the end of the day his music’s good and people are going to buy it however they spell my name. Just please don’t put an “e” on the end whenever you spell Premier. I appreciate it.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

So what do you think was the turning point for you as far as defining that style as far as music goes? What song represented that for you?

DJ Premier

You mean what song after using jazz samples?

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

Yeah, and after Step In The Arena and getting to the point of Daily Operation and everything?

DJ Premier

Hard To Earn, 1993. That’s when I really was like, “Bring on any artist, I’ll take any artist and I’ll turn them into a hot record.” I hadn’t met KRS-One, who was one of the people I idolized in the game. If he had asked me to produce him when those first three Gang Starr albums had come out from ’89 to ’92 and Daily Operation and Take It Personal and “DWYCK” was out, I wouldn’t have been confident to work with any artist outside of Guru.

Guru always let me do really leftfield tracks, and he would rhyme on them. He wasn’t like, “Oh, I can’t rhyme to this,” he was always willing to go leftfield. My leftfield tracks I like more… they might not have been a hit out of what we’ve done but I always liked the ones that have been a little not normal, so to speak.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

Anything on this list you want to play?

DJ Premier

You could play “Question Remains” and you know what’s so crazy? It’s number five. You know what the crazy thing about “Question Remains” is? That’s one of my records that got damaged in the rain, so it was stuck top the paper that was inside the sleeve when I peeled it out. You know, I wiped it with alcohol and everything, but all the little soiled pieces were caught up in it that’s why when it comes on, that’s a very common sample from Bob James, when the record starts it’s actually going [makes record crunching noise]. But it just sounded dope so all that static is in the record because it was damaged, but I kept chopping it and kept starting it over right at that one little stab and then I just pitched it down one time and Guru was like, “Yo, let’s just leave it like that.”

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

OK, let’s listen to “The Question Remains” by Gang Starr.

Gang Starr – “The Question Remains”

(music: Gang Starr – “The Question Remains”)

DJ Premier

Sometimes, when I make a beat I actually hear the beat in my head but I don’t have any samples yet that I’m going to use, so I start looking for samples that sound like what I’m hearing in my head. If I’m working with Christina Aguilera, good example, what she told me she wanted out of me to blend in with her style and I wasn’t really a fan of hers. I knew she could sing very well but I wasn’t really into her type of music. But who wasn’t familiar with “Genie In A Bottle” and “What A Girl Wants,” doing the “Lady Marmalade” record with Kim and Pink and Mya?

So, I knew those records and I knew of course “Beautiful,” which was a dope record. It’s like, it doesn’t matter who it is, I just start playing things in my head. He can attest to that too [pointing into audience]. Blaq’s been around me a long time. He’s actually the first person I begged to get a record deal because he had an independent label back in ’85, 1984/’85, called Black Magic records. I was like, “You can’t sign me?” And he was, “I’m a small company, that’s not how it works,” because I didn’t understand the business side of making records.

He was doing it out of his own pocket and he actually put out Mr Freeze, who ended up producing Bell Biv DeVoe. Spyderman and Freeze, he was the first one to put them out. Because they were from the same neighborhood, and then that started them doing “Poison” and all that, they became big producers, did Color Me Badd “I Wanna Sex You Up” and became very major. So, during that time people failed to realize that with me, I’ll sit there sometimes and be bopping, doing this funny sound that I do, and he’ll even be like, “Oh boy, he’s doing that again,” he knows what I’m doing.

I’ll be having a conversation and completely stop talking and just do that and I do it to this day but I’m just playing something in my head. And I’ll start digging around for samples, I call it rush digging. Sometimes, I take my time and dig, sometimes I’ll just drop the needle and look, literally just randomly searching. When I dig, I dig in different ways. I like to read artists to see what they play, what instrumentation, I like to see if it’s a producer that I admire and respect and be like, “Oh man, I didn’t know he did this song, he was on this record,” and that means I admire their musicianship so I apply that, start looking for sounds. Sometimes I listen to the whole record because I enjoy listening to it. There are records I could have sampled and made beats off that I just won’t because I just like the music so much just to listen to, I don’t want to tamper with it.

If I’m quick digging, like with “Question Remains” everyone has that Bob James album to sample, we kind of know what everybody got. There’s records where it’s like everybody’s got this album. I don’t even need to know who you are, I know that record is in everybody’s possession, if you go digging. So, to mess with that record for “Question Remains” that’s not really a record that I would touch, because I already expect 40 other people to have it. Because the original goes [sings], and everybody knows that loop.

So, to take that one bar, it’s not really a bar it’s actually half a bar and I just keep going, [sings], and I didn’t really want to keep on doing that. So, that’s why I pitched it to make it go [sings], but I did that in my head and just pitched it down, put it on a different pad and then flip-flopped from then. We were putting out “Suckas Need Bodyguards” as a single and a video for that album.

And again, I was all about the B-side that is not on the album so the DJs could be like, “Man, they always look out for us with a new record,” because if an albums already in the store and you’re already familiar with it, to have a new single with a new record is going to go to force you to buy it even if you’ve already got the album because it was like, “Man, I can’t get it no other way but through the vinyl.” That’s when vinyl was still in a good place in hip-hop. They had already started to try and phase vinyl out but when it came to hip-hop they couldn’t really stop it, because it’s part of our format and it still is.

Again, I like how Serato has preserved our format to where we can still get back to cutting it up on 1200s and it keeps the whole thing alive, it’s just I think the right people need to have their hands on it. That was just an easy little loop, we had the record done that day. It was just a one day recording session because when it comes to singles, when you pick singles off your album and you go into the studio to do a recording session for a new record, major record companies don’t want to wait another week for you to do a new song.

They’re like, “Look, unless you’re just multi-, multi-, multi-platinum…” – and we weren’t that so it has to be done – they’re like, “We’ll just master tomorrow and just go with that one single.” And we’re like, “No, we need something new.” And in their eyes, it’s like, “For what? Just pick another song off the album.” It’s like, “No, you don’t understand, it has to be a B-side.” They said, “Alright, well, as long as it’s ready by tomorrow we’ll accept it. If not, we’re not taking it.” And they never made us pull anything or anything like that, it just has to be ready. So, we knocked it out in one day and we went on tour the next day. No, actually we shot the video the next day and we went on tour the following day. It all got done and “Question Remains” is definitely one of my favorite tracks of all time.

As simple as it is, the feel of it and all the little things like I said about the record being dirty and trying to clean it up by accident because that’s the best I could get. I could have bought a clean copy but it sounded good with the static in it. Hip-hop is grimy and dirty, so keep it dirty.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

At a certain point that style of just chopping and flipping something, a very small piece of music, you became very well-known for and a lot of people started emulating that at certain points. When that started happening what was your thought process as far as everybody jumping on that bandwagon?

DJ Premier

From there, I started doing less, more what we call stabs, stabs are just [sings], we call those stabs because it’s just a short dash. I started doing stab-type samples just to strip down more because, again, back in the day, sometimes it was just [does vocal stab] and the rest of it was all drum beat with the DJ going off, so I started doing stabs then everybody started getting into that. So now I’m going back into my jazz samples again because no one’s really tampering with that, so you’re going to start hearing a lot of that again.

Now, it’s like now I’m going back to everything that I know that I didn’t know then that just happened to come out how it did and now. Kind of like Large Professor. I don’t know if you’re all familiar with Large Professor, right? Well, you know how they call him the “Mad Scientist?” I’ve been in sessions with this guy way back when he did Kool-G Rap & Polo’s album Wanted Dead Or Alive, he did all those beats. I know Eric B took all the credit but Large Professor, I watched him do that whole album. Eric B put all the 808s on it. He went back in and, I guess to get his credit, he put 808s on every record.

Large Professor didn’t want it on every song, because he had a certain way of laying his stuff down, but when he was doing all those beats I remember when he thinks something is hot that he’s about to lay he has this sinister laugh that he does where everybody’s looking at him going, “Is he alright? He’s tripping over there.” He’ll start going [sinister laughter], and everybody’s looking at him like, “Yo, what’s up with this dude?” But I kind of do that too. I don’t do that but I kind of do have this laugh, like, “Oh man, wait ’til I…” It’s a scientifical thought, it really is.

People got to realize that we’re doing surgery or we’re in a laboratory putting chemicals together, so you don’t want anybody to distract that chemistry. But he used to always do that and construct his beats and then he’d be like, “Yo, check this out now,” and he’d hit play and you’d just look at him like, “How you do that?” Even learning from him, I’m coming from Texas with a whole different mentality of how to do this… these guys were already doing it and they were the up-and-comers. I heard the Nas record before the album was done and I was like, “This guy’s going to be the next thing,” when he did “Live At The Barbecue.”

So, again, I always put in that scientific thought process any time I go into the studio and work on a record, and I play the beat in my head, look for samples that happen to match what I hear or something close to it, maybe not exact but close to it, and I just turn it into something. Sometimes I’ll start looking for samples, hear one that’s dope but it won’t go with the track I’m working on so I’ll just mark it and set it aside and be like, “I’m going to come and make a beat out of that later.”

I found five samples I really wanted to use just the other day and made those five beats, and the one that I have a deadline on I still can’t come up with because everything that I’m looking for doesn’t fit the vision that I hear in my head. But now I got these other five beats. There was one I was playing yesterday and everybody was like, “Yo, what is that?” And I’m like, “That’s for so-and-so now, because I still can’t come up with the one that I intended to do.”

But that’s how it is when I hear something I think I can use that with this or I can make a beat out of that, I just set it aside and I come back to it. If I’m making a single that’s when I really get stuck. When I make a single I really go even deeper, because I know what a hip-hop single should sound like. I don’t care if it’s club-oriented or just straight gutter, underground single, I know how to make singles now. Because every single that we made for Gang Starr, Group Home, Jeru, Big Shug, we designed ourselves so for “Mass Appeal”, “Just To Get A Rep,” “DWYCK,” “Take It Personal,” “Step In The Arena,” “Suckas Need Bodyguards” to “Livin’ Proof,” “Supa Dupa Star,” we always went in to make a single.

That’s why most of our singles are always made last. We just do the album and then we do the single last, so that that way once that’s kicking, the album’s already turned in we can get the art work done and the album’s ready to roll. For those that don’t know, when you do art work for albums, the vinyl art work takes forever to get made because of the duplication and the size of the covers and the stamping of the vinyl.

CDs you can do in a matter of hours, that’s why the artwork they have to have ready, they have to know what’s the name of the songs, and the producers, because all of that printing everything up is what takes the longest to do. The records can be done literally, like I say, even with vinyl, can be done just like that so all of that used to play in our head. But we always made sure our singles were literally as soon as it’s done they go right out to radio. So far, every one we picked happened to work.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

What kind of stories can you share with us about some of these famous folks you work with?

DJ Premier

About some of the famous folk? I don’t know, let me see what you have on your paper.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

I don’t know I got nothing on this paper, I mean you worked on Illmatic?

DJ Premier

I remember a funny thing with Nas, when he came in to work on Illmatic, he came in with a whole big entourage of his boys. They was all excited, I’m sure they were like, “We’re going to see Premier today,” because they was more of the young guys. Jay-Z, he was more the younger generation to me, there it wasn’t like, “Oh wow, Jay-Z,” and I knew Jay already. I met Nas prior too. Large Professor kept on telling me he was going to be ill and then, once I heard “Barbecue,” he was right, I was convinced.

But every time Nas would go in the booth, he’d be like, “All of y’all come in with me,” and they’d go in the booth and there’s like ten or 15 of them in there and it’s like, “What are y’all gonna do?” And you listen to all the records we did you can hear all of them in the background on every record. On “New York State Of Mind,” on “Represent,” you can hear all of them in the background. They were all in the booth, passing blunts around and they were all around Nas as he spits. It was the first time I’d ever seen somebody do it like that. They weren’t even there to do any parts; they were just there. We had like ten headphones wired in so that they could listen and be a part of it.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

What about working with Jay-Z?

DJ Premier

Working with Jay? They used to crack a lot of jokes. A lot of the little skits that they had on the Reasonable Doubt album where they’re talking a lot of shit and everything? That’s how they always were in the studio because I didn’t really know his crew too well. I knew him very well because Damon Dash and [Biggie] were from uptown, so we didn’t know each other. I knew Jay-Z from Jaz-O way back in the day. I used to see Jay-Z doing his thing so when he says he was hustling out there doing whatever he did, he paid his dues and was always really into his music.

So, they used to really joke around a lot with Pain In Da Ass, y’all know is the little one that talks like he’s Scarface and he’s always like, “OK, I’m reloaded”? He’d be there every day just cracking jokes and they would leave a mic on and just hit record and be like, “OK, just keep talking shit and we’re going to take whatever we can take.” And they did that every day, they would always leave a mic on and set it in the center of the room and just hang it there and start cracking on each other and they would always take the pieces that they liked and put them on the album, all the time, so that was a little different.

And Jay-Z was the first artist that I asked him to tighten up some lines on the record we did call “D’Evils” and he was totally against it. We kind of had a little push and pull with each other over that because I felt that as a producer you’ve got to speak your mind to get the best possible take from an artist when you record them. I’m on the other side of the control board listening to what they’re laying down, so if they’re laying music down, they may hear themselves in the headphones while they’re recording, but I’m just sitting their listening with nothing to do but listen. If it feels like you could put a little more energy on the line, I’m going to tell you.

Christina was cool like that. You could tell her, “Hey, I think you should…” Well, I mean she would disagree, too, but she’d be like, “Alright, let’s try your option.” She calls them options, your option versus mine and she’ll try it and sometimes she’ll go, “OK, we’ll go with Premier’s,” and sometimes she’ll go, “We’ll go with mine. Aha, mine’s better.” She’ll do that.   And me and Christina got into a little small fight one day. She was in a bad mood and she walked in and goes, “That bassline you put in yesterday, it’s coming out.” Instead of coming in and saying, “Hello” she just walked in and I was like, “Yo, excuse me?” And I pulled her into the backroom and had a few words with her and after that she just punched me in my stomach and she goes, “I hate you,” and she jumped up on me and just hugged me and from then on really we just ended up being the best of friends after that.

She’s like a little sister to me, so now we have a really, really good relationship. I went to her wedding… she takes us out everywhere whenever she’s in town. She’s like, “Hey, I’m coming to town, let’s hang out.” She’s really regular, she won’t even bring her security around her because I’m a big guy. Charles, who co-produced the single with me, he’s a really big guy, so she’s like, “Y’all can be my security tonight.”

We’ll go to the biggest spot with paparazzi everywhere, she took us to the Golden Globes pre-party and Tom Cruise and all of them are in there. We roll up in our Rolls Royce, I roll out like, “Step aside, step aside,” then it’s all like, “Sorry sir, sorry. Hey, Christina look this way,” and I’m playing the whole role like this is kind of cool. I think I want to be a bouncer now. Actually, I’m a bouncer in the Jazzy Jeff video.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

If the producing thing falls through you’ve got another career.

DJ Premier

Absolutely. I’ll protect you if you need Chairman Mao. I know all these people want to beat you up so…

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

What about B.I.G, what stories have you got to share with us?

DJ Premier

Some of the B.I.G stories are a little x-rated. OK, alright, I’ll say it like this: B.I.G, no matter what, he always had some beautiful women around him. Like he’s as black and ugly as ever, but they literally were on him. I had a lounge in the back that actually Showbiz converted into a studio now. Showbiz also rents a room from me, and I went in there to ask B.I.G if he wanted to order anything to eat and when I walk in there one of the girls was up “pleasing” him and he goes, “Yo, Primo, you want some?” And I was like, “Nah, I’m alright. I’m alright, I’m gonna go back in the other room.”

But just the fact that… it’s crazy, too, man, because I did this show in Virginia State University with B.I.G when he only had “Party And Bullshit” out. The next day, me and Jeru [the Damaja]  performed together because I was DJing for Jeru at the time because he had “Come Clean” out and it was me, Matty C, I remember my lawyer Owen Lamb was out there with us and I remember B.I.G and D-Rock and Lil Caese, we all got some cheap hotel and all our rooms were next to each other.

The next morning we’re like wanting to go back to New York so we can get home early and we were like, “All of y’all want to leave?” And they were like, “No, we’ll follow ya’ll.” And B.I.G is butt naked, on the bed, with a big bucket of chicken from KFC sitting between his legs and literally, he’s naked now, and Jeru was really into this whole health thing at the time, and I remember Jeru was like, “Big, you gonna eat all that chicken, man? That’s bad for your health.” He said, “You need to start eating vegetables and stuff.” He goes, “Man, my name is Biggie…” And he was like, “I’m eating this chicken,” and everybody was like, “Yo, could you put some clothes on?” And he was like, “Hell no! This is my room, I’ll be naked all I want to.”

I mean, he was butt naked with not a care in the world and I was like, “Wow, look at this big motherfucker.” But that’s how B.I.G was, he was that comfortable in his own skin and, with all the fat hanging and everything, he had no complex about any of that. There were probably about ten of us in his room chilling and blunts going around and naked Biggie, for real. It was crazy. I looked briefly just to go like, “Damn, you’re naked, Big.” But after that, I took a piece of chicken out the bucket.


Jeff “Chairman” Mao

I want to open it up, anybody have any questions at this point?

Audience Member


DJ Premier

Well, honestly I still apply the same tactics as when I got in the game. I understand how the competition’s changed now because I never thought it would get this bad. I mean, it had been so good for so many years that you just never thought it would get bad, so when it does it kind of scares you for a minute. It’s like, “Man, is this about to be over and just phase out and not be here anymore?” But again, as a consumer, honestly, this is how I do it: for one, I’m a DJ, number one. So, as a DJ I have to have records that I can play besides just the old stuff. I want to still buy new records.

So if there’s not a market that’s going to provide that, you’ve got to create a market. And for the fact that I have enough experience from being a DJ and a producer and an artist in Gang Starr, I know now, start your own label. It’s going to be a rough ride if you don’t want to compromise, which I don’t, so forget about the majors, because they’re not going to let me do what I want to do. They’ll let me do what I want to do until I play it for them. Once I play it for them they’ll be like, “No, we need something for the club, we need something for radio.”

It’s like, “What did you sign me for? You signed me for what I do already. I’m not going to give you something that doesn’t apply to that.” So creating my own label means that we can drop records any time we want, we can do as many vinyls as we want. Like, I have an artist coming out October 9 called NYGs on my new label Year Round Records and he’s independent and we pressed up our own double-vinyl albums, which was pretty expensive, but it was worth it because I don’t want to take away that aspect.

I also made a 12” single and we made CDs, so I know it’s more rough on my pocket, but this is the way it should be so I know down the line it’s going to work. Not only that, but for all the records that we think suck right now in hip-hop on the radio, even the R&B records now, they’re making all these guest appearances for 20, 30 people. If they make 20 records we’ve got to make 40 more than they’re making in order to keep elbowing them out the way so that we can keep up.

If we just keep complaining about it, like, “Oh man, stuff is wack.” It’s going to take over unless you come right behind. Like being in a race around the track, if another car is refusing to give up and he’s got a stronger engine that he knows is supposed to be as good as this other car that’s winning all the races, you’ll catch him. But more people got to do it than just me.

So, what I’m doing now is expanding and learning how to bring in other producers. I want to MoSS in and help me doing jobs that I can’t, like I get a lot of jobs that I can’t even do with known artists because I’m so over-flooded because I do everything by myself. I know like Dr Dre, now he’s such a big producer now that he has like ten people on his staff that actually create the groundwork of his beats. Of course, he puts his finishing touch on it to make it Dre, but he’s not doing it all by himself anymore. Me? I still want to be a one-man band with my production but there’s a lot of gigs that I know I could pass on to him that he could satisfy them with the type of stuff that he does because I understand his sounds.

I want producers on that kind of a level, where he can take some of the jobs. It still represents my company and then we all grow and bring in more people on that level. But, as far as me, to do it all the time I always think like a consumer. Like, would I buy this record if I heard it? And I always know how to step outside of myself and be the person that’s just listening, so every time I do a record I’ll play it ten, 15 times and imagine that I’m another guy that’s just like, “Hey man, check out this new joint Premier did.”

And if it really keeps me going after ten or 15 plays – and I’ll just be by myself to ensure that people don’t look at me in the car like, “Yeah, he’s playing his own music all the time, he’s sucking his own dick,” you know? Because you have a lot of artists that think only their stuff is hot and they will play their own stuff every day and sing along with it. I just went to see an artist the other day who actually caught me… I did scratches for Common  on a song called “The Game,” and I was walking to Sony studios to let them hear what I did and I see an artist who just released an album just a couple weeks ago, a good friend of mine, but he was like, “Yo, come listen to my album,” and he acted out everything on the album.

He was like [mimes dancing] and he was doing the whole thing, it was cool but he was like, “Now check out this record,” and he’s dipping low and grabbing this and I’m just looking at him and I’m kind of like, “Wow.” And the album’s really not that good, so as far as acting it out, he did a good job. I was just kind of like, “Wow.” I’m into my stuff a lot but not like that where I’ve just got to act it out and everything. I think that’s just a little too much but everybody’s different.

But I always have a fan/consumer mentality any time I make a record, so that I think about the people that want to spend their money. I think if you do that you’re really cautious of not making the wrong type of product for an audience that you already have had supporting you all these years. The fact that I’ve been supported by the same audience for a long time and it’s grown a lot, the last thing I want to do is really go too far left, where they go, “He ain’t doing it like he used to, I don’t feel what he’s doing now.” So it’s consumer and DJ, because I want records I can play.

A lot of these records that are coming now they are good for the club, but then you put on the album, there’s nothing else there. I mean, the Hurricane Chris “A Bay Bay” is a big record, he’s sold a million ringtones. His album’s not selling. But you would think with such a huge record he’s automatically going to be platinum, but they’re having trouble selling the album because the album doesn’t hold the same weight as the single. Now, everybody focuses on singles not the album, and back in the day it was all about the album.

I like albums. And I don’t agree with the fact that this whole, with hip-hop, you’re over 30-years-old, you’re too old to do hip-hop, that doesn’t make any sense. Now that means we have adult hip-hop and we got kiddie hip-hop. Little kiddie rap with Bow Wow and those type of records, and then you have adults like us who want another Whodini album, we want another Run DMC album, we want another Stetsasonic album, I want another De La Soul album, a Gang Starr album, so we should still be making them how we make them.

We shouldn’t have to start doing it in that style just to stay consistent or relevant. Sell to your market. And I know my market so I make records just for my market. If the kids don’t deal with it, cool. I have a market that supports me, I make it for them and they can invest their money in what they’ve already been happy with and all of that goes in to any record I make.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

Is there going to be another Gang Starr record?

DJ Premier

If Guru wants to do it, I’m down, it’s really up to him. He’s the one that said we should pause for a minute, and if that’s how he feels, fine by me. If he calls me tomorrow and says “I’m ready to start,” I’m ready. But I’ll never say we’re broken up. If I say we’re broken up it’s official. He can say it all day. It ain’t official unless I say it.

Audience Member

You mentioned that, like a lot of producers, you hear a beat in your head when you go into the studio to work on something. But imagine you go into the studio one day and you’re working with Christina Aguilera and you know this track’s going to be heard a month down the track by every second person on the planet, what do you do if you go in and you just don’t have that beat in your head? Do you say, like, come back tomorrow? How do you deal with that

DJ Premier

Well, somebody like her, the pressure’s so great because she’s very pushy. She’s like, “Your assignment for the day is add some horn parts to this and make a B section.” I didn’t even know what a B section was and that’s when it changes into a whole different breakdown, a whole different way, and then goes back to the main beat and all that. But now I know.

Because even although I understand music theory to a certain extent, because I took piano lessons when I was first/second grade – as a boy you’re like, “Mom, I don’t want to do piano lessons,” but now, going back to it, all that stuff applies to my creativity when I play keyboards and thumb out stuff in the studio. I play all my own little chords now, my own basslines. I’m not excellent with it but it works for what I do. But with her, every day she’s... She told me where to put all scratches, everything. She’s never made a hip-hop record but you could tell she knew how to arrange.

I watched her put that whole album together by herself – of course, with all of us as a team – but the whole vision was her and that’s what I respected about it. She sequenced the album, both CDs, the second disc she sequenced it by herself and I was like, “Damn, that means she’s really music.” Everybody’s not just about music because you make records, I call them music people. When somebody’s a person on my level I say, “Oh, you’re a music person,” and that’s just my own definition and not everyone’s a music person.

Audience Member

Have you ever gone into the studio and the MC or person you are working with has been like, “Oh, I don’t really know what I want, just do something,” and you’ve just had to do it all?

DJ Premier

With Gang Starr, Guru always gives me every title to the entire album and he’ll put descriptions. Like with “Mass Appeal” he’ll put, “This should be the single, it’s about how radio does this and rappers soften up.” So I was like, “Oh, we should make a funny little elevator-type loop, like elevator music and make fun of it,” which is what we were doing. That’s why we had a little sing-songy little bell-like sample. I was making fun of what music had to sound like in order to get played on the radio but obviously with the lyrics he was saying, “You come with that weak shit I’ll break kids, step into my zone mad rhymes will stifle.”

We were disrespecting that style because it was just starting to make its way in. Right about when Puffy was just starting to come through with what he was doing. I respect him as a businessman and he’s made a couple records I like but we still wanted to keep the ruggedness there because that’s what made hip-hop so pure was that it was hard and raw. So, when it comes to Guru, he gives me the entire list, I just look at the list and start making tracks that match the titles and usually I hit it to the right time on the head.

Then you have artists that tell me the same old bullshit, “Yo, gimme a ‘Ten Crack Commandments,’ gimme a ‘So Ghetto’ like Jay-Z, gimme one like you did for Nas.” I’m just like, “No, I’m going to give you something that I think goes for you.” Because with any of those artists, with Nas we didn’t have any concept, with “New York State Of Mind” I just envisioned his voice. See, I’m very voice-conscious, too, and his voice sounded like it would sound good over those tracks. And every time I gave it to him he was like, “That’s it, that’s it,” and then he would write.

So I’m good either way. Same thing with my scratch hooks, everybody’s getting, “Yo, I want you to do the scratch hooks.” I can’t really do the scratch hooks until I hear what you rhyme about. Sometimes, I’ll have my scratch hooks laid down, like Nas, I already had that down and when he heard it he said, “That’s what the song’s got to be.” I didn’t have the hook, I didn’t have the [sings] that’s all I had, but he was like, “That’s what I’m going to write.”

Nas was like cool, but for the most part until I hear what they are going to say, I just make tracks that I think match their vocal tone. And if it’s not a single, I don’t care about the tempo. Some people are like, “Yo, it’s too slow I need something that’s going to be more for the club.” Me and LL Cool J kind of had that little problem with each other in our earlier years working together, and we never did work out because he was like, “I need something for the club,” and I was like, “Well, I’m not the guy you should hire for the club, you should get me for the gutter joint.”

And we just talked about it the other day when we did Flex’s car show and he was like, “Yo, this time I’m going to listen to you and let you do what you wanna do and I’m going to rhyme to what you think fits me,” because I know how to give LL tracks. I gave him some bangers but he kept saying, “I need something for the club,” and I was like, “I’m not the guy, call Timbaland or somebody like that.”

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

We want to get just one or two more questions in.

Audience Member

You just talked earlier about some of your inspirations and what-not. I know in the early days of Gang Starr you toured with this one group, what I heard, was you getting some inspiration from this Canadian group by the name of Dream Warriors and as well you talk about other music that sucks right now, what does not suck in Primo’s mind?

DJ Premier

What does not suck as far as that’s currently out? I think Lil’ Wayne stepped it up a whole lot. I’m not crazy about him, but he stepped his rhyme game up a whole lot. He definitely was not hearing his rhyming ability and I repeat little things, little slick things that he says that are kind of clever, so I’m watching him and paying attention to what he’s doing. I know if me and him got into the studio, we’d be able to do something.

I love Ludacris, me and him actually did a track together where he gave me the record. I don’t really like it when somebody gives me the record and says, “Yo, hook this up,” because I’m kind of turned off by that. And I told Luda that and it was something that I was already familiar with, it was from the Ramsey Lewis album Sun Goddess and I just didn’t want to use that. I would have felt that all my fans that know I come with very weird leftfield stuff would be like, “Where’d he get that from?” They would be like, “Oh man, this is what he did for Luda.”

If me and Luda were going in, I just want to be crazy and bug out, because I already know his level of rhyming ability, so I want to do a Premier beat. It still had my bounce to it, which of course it is going to have, but it wasn’t what I wanted to loop up and he’s like, “This is it,” and I’m like, “But you don’t understand, this is not how I do it.” So, we did the joint but he never tracked it – I still have it, but I’m not proud of it anyway. He still calls me like, “Yo, I really need a track.” So hopefully that’ll happen down the line.

I like Luda, I like TI, his albums haven’t really been consistent, but you give him the right tracks he can do what he does lyrically and everything. It’s very small as far as the guys that are standing out, those are the guys that are standing out to me, everything else is really underground, man. I could even work with 50, if I worked with him, his album would have passed Kanye’s if we’d have worked together. Everything else I like is really underground.

I was telling [academy participant] Ronald earlier that I wanted to go and pick up the new Sick Jacken vs Muggs album because I know he’s got some good cuts on there. I really keep up with the underground because all the newcomers that are out there for radio from “A Bay Bay,” which is Hurricane Chris and the Soulja Boy record, you’re going to hear that all the time, so you already know the end of that movie before it’s even shown. It’s like I know how this is gonna end. Those careers are a little more limited to me.

I actually like Rich Boy to a certain degree. His album, there’s something different about him but not to the level where I’m, like, “Oh man, I can’t wait till his next album drops.” It’s not like that. I don’t anticipate the albums but there’s a small handpicked few that’s really getting radio play right now that have solid albums that I could buy. I like Supafly’s new album, he’s down with Snoop Dogg. People don’t even know it’s out but there’s a new album and Dub C, yeah, yeah, I like Dub C’s new album. That’s a good album.

I’ve known Dub, Dub put me onto the whole gangbanging lifestyle back in 1990. My first time going to LA, I was with Masta Ace and we had a show, it was actually ’89, we had a show and this was right when Ice Cube broke up with NWA, we had a show with them and that’s when I met MC Eiht from Compton’s Most Wanted. He had the big jheri curls, he had all black on with two beepers on his hip. I was like, “You got two beepers?”, because I hadn’t seen anyone in New York rocking like that.

And that was the first time I saw Suge Knight, and he was working for Eazy-E then, and it was just so crazy seeing the change of how all that Death Row and everything came together, because I was around seeing it then. I remember Dub C went on stage and I just remember Ice Cube came back to just congratulate Dub, like, “Have a good show.”

I remember Cube walked out and then a whole swarm of guys jumped Ice Cube and started beating on him but Cube was fighting back, and he got out of there safely and took a couple blows but I got to see it. I was like, “Wow! Seeing NWA going at Ice Cube,” it was crazy. Ren, everybody was there, it was ill. From there, all of a sudden, Cube came out with AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. He aired them out and he ended up being the winner at the end of the day. And what you say about Dream Warriors?

Audience Member

I’d overheard that in your tours together in Europe you appreciated and admired some of the work they had and possibly were inspired as well?

DJ Premier

They were very, very different. We did a record called “I Lost My Ignorance And Don’t Know Where To Find It,” that was more of a management thing. They used to try and put us together, again that goes back to this trying to make this jazz-rap thing work and I was always like, “It’s not going to work,” because I always wanted this hard beat, bottom line.

I wasn’t trying to do anything that was not hard so when it came to mixing with them I was like, “No, this isn’t the right combination,” but I understood what they were doing, and we used to be in Europe a lot so we toured with them and with Michi Mee. And we’d be out in the road doing a lot of European shows, which at that time we were just the shit back then because they were into this quote/unquote jazz craze or whatever, and that’s why we said, “Let’s collaborate on a record and have some fun with it.”

And we just found a studio out there and went in and had some fun with it off the edge, just like that. And that’s one of the rare-find records that we’ve got under our stable but they was always cool dudes and we always had a good time with each other hanging and everything. I haven’t seen them in a long time, but I heard they’re going to be performing tonight, right? It’ll be good to see them brothers.

Jeff “Chairman” Mao

We got time for one last question.

Audience Member

How was working with Rakim?

DJ Premier

How was it working with him? Oh, man. With Rakim, you never know when he’s going to show up. Anybody in the industry will tell you he’ll be like, “Yo G, I’m coming down there today, I’ll be right there, you know what I’m saying G?” He’s the same all the time, “Yo, wassup G,” it’s crazy. We talked the other day he was like, “I’m going to be coming to your studio it’s going to be like two in the morning.” And I was like, “Alright,” because that’s usually when I even go in, and he showed up and I gave him two banging beats and he said he’s writing to them.

So he said, “Man, I’m not on the shit I was on the last couple of years, I’m on something less ripe, for real. I’m going to show up at least every two weeks and come and see you, we’re going to work, and do it all together.” I’m like, “Alright.” So far he’s been showing up. [Points to someone on the audience] And now he’s back. Boy. Gordon’s back y’all, but this is the guy I used to live with. If it wasn’t for him taking me in, I probably wouldn’t have had a place to stay because my grandfather had already passed and my grandmother, she was actually my step grandmother, she had moved on, so to be taken in and have a place to stay to get my whole career in order. I owe a lot to that man Gordon Franklin right there so you guys give it up for him.

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