Here is some old but interesting interview with DJ Premier, props to Da beatseeker:
You’ve mentioned that when you were a kid, you’re mother had a record player that would play several records one after the other. Did that plant the seed for your lifelong relationship with records?
DJ Premier: Oh, without a doubt! Without a doubt because I mean, I was amazed at how a machine could do something like that and I was also fascinated by the way labels looked on the record when it spun around. Back in that day, it was Atlantic and Motown. When you looked at the label, the way it was designed, and then you heard the record, it sounded like the way the label looked. Everything matched. The label looked and felt like the way the music sounded.
What do you mean by that?
DJ Premier: It’s like Eric B. and Rakim. When you hear them, then you look at the cover and see them, it’s like “damn, they really look like what they sound like.” It’s almost like I already knew what they looked like before seeing it. And when they were on Zakia Records, the label they were on before 4th & B’way, that logo was so unique, with the pyramid and the hand. It wasn’t a standard label or anything like that. They were new and they sounded so raw. And then you saw them with the chains on and the Dapper Dan clothes and it was like “damn, everything matches.” Just like Boogie Down Productions, and their label B-Boy Records, the way they looked and the name, everything went together. That’s what amazed me with the earlier records as well. When it said Marvin Gaye “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” it matched the Motown logo. Same with Diana Ross and The Supremes. And Stevie Wonder was on Tamla, which was his label through Motown. It sounded like they were all tied in together.
I’ve heard you say that you can tell the way a record is going to sound like just by looking it.
DJ Premier:Without a doubt. And sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I’ll take a record to the studio and listen to it and start hunting around for sounds and it’s nowhere near what I thought it was gonna be. Because I was brought up in an era of album covers where a lot was put in to the artwork. Today, the artwork doesn’t have as much care and passion. I wanna destroy that by being one that cares about artwork and make sure that everything’s gotta match. The way I look and the way I carry myself, my music matches me.
Do you remember the first record you heard as a kid that made you say “this is my favorite song”?
DJ Premier: “What’s Goin’ On” by Marvin Gaye. Just the way it felt and, you know, all the little adlibs he was doing like “right on” and “whooo.” For the era I grew up in, it was just dope. That’s one of the first, as a kid, that I could remember. And anything James Brown! I didn’t care what it was, I was just…hypnotized. Totally hypnotized. Nothing better than James Brown. What James Brown, George Clinton, and Bootsy did, all that stuff really put me in a whole different perspective.
You’ve talked about visiting New York as a kid and seeing your first ever break dancing performance. Can you describe the scene and your reaction to it?
DJ Premier: Well, I’m the only boy in my family because I have two sisters, so my grandfather used to always be so proud to have me around with him. He was really into showing me New York, the football games, the baseball games, and showing me the whole town, you know. He saw how much excitement I got from it. I saw the breakers in Times Square and they had the huge boombox and they all had matching outfits with the names in the back, and the Pro-Ked sneakers. The whole rhythms of what they were doing just had me amazed. They were performing songs that I had already collected like “It Just Begun” from Jimmy Castor. They played “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” and even had someone cutting it up. To see them do all that stuff and earn some money, everybody was so blown away, especially at that time. We’re talking like 1977, I was in New York during the Blackout. Hip hop was already in full effect but it just wasn’t on wax yet. I was just like “man, this is the greatest shit ever.”
Do you remember the first beat you ever made by yourself? What did it sound like and what did you use?
DJ Premier: The first one I ever made was DJ Premier and Deep Concentration, it was a demo. I’m actually sitting here looking at my demo right now. The same exact tape that I ran my copies on to get me a deal. I’m about to digitalize all that stuff because it’s on cassette. It was called “Let My DJ Get Hype.” I took a sample of “People Make The World Go Round” and did a new beat to it. It came out good. I was just a new jack trying to take something and see if I could cut it. When I look at it now, I kinda laugh. I had a SP 1200 drum machine and a four-track machine that I borrowed from my neighbor who use to do house music, right when I moved to Brooklyn. I use to go to his house and he taught me how to overlap beats. That’s how I made my demo. I did another one called “Up Another Level” and that’s the one that made the label actually wanna sign me. That’s when everything started to kick in.
Will you ever make that stuff available?
DJ Premier: I’m not gonna make it available. I just wanna be able to have it digital so I can have it in my archives.
How did you begin making a name for yourself in the already well-established hip hop scene in New York?
DJ Premier: I was just so excited that I didn’t care about anything else but just having EPMD, Rakim, KRS-One, and Marley Marl who was my idol, to just say “yo man, you’re dope.” And they all did. I knew the money would come eventually but I just wanted them to say that I was dope. They all did and they all approached me that way. To this day, I’m just like “wow, I made it. All the great ones I wanted to like me, liked me.”
What inspired you to start incorporating jazz samples and samples from other music in your production?
DJ Premier: Because everybody had been using James Brown in the era we were in and it just got to the point where I just wanted to find something different to sample. We had already used and re-used everything. I went to Jazz right away. My grandfather was a Jazz player. He was very much an influence for me from an early age.
How did you develop your trademark scratch chorus?
DJ Premier: Just experimenting and trying new things. That’s how all my hooks come about anyway. I experiment until I get what I think is gonna fit. That’s really my approach to everything to this day. A lot of things come into my head because of the DJing and the fact that I remember a lot of rhymes. I’ll be like “so and so said this line, and then so and so said this line” and it goes down the line until I find what I need. I search it, pull it up, and see if I can make it fit. If it fits then I start attaching other things to it or I’ll fix that one line and make it a complete hook.
Do you catalogue all these different rhymes in your head that you chose from at any given time, or do you go back and listen to music to find something to fit your beat?
DJ Premier: Most of them I can remember from just so many rhymes. My memory of rappers is vast enough that I usually remember a line right away. Or I’ll call Panchi from NYGz, he’s very knowledgeable about rhymes. I’ll ask him and he usually finds it. Then I’ll pull the record or find the mp3 and I just make it happen.
Who would you say has been the most memorable MC you’ve ever worked with?
DJ Premier: Um…definitely Biggie, Rakim, and KRS-One. KRS-One in an amazing way because for him to put his trust in me to do “Return of the Boom Bap”really shocked the hell out of me. That he wanted me to do that project and to work with him was just so much fun. Working with Biggie because I never seen nobody go in the booth and do what he did lyrically and not write it. I was always amazed at that. Working with Jay-Z was cool. Working with Nas was cool. And Christina Aguilera too, that was an amazing experience. I didn’t know what to expect because I had my way and she had her way but I definitely learned things from her that I never did in production before. I’m glad we clicked because it made her album a double platinum success.
Having worked with him on several tracks, what would you say made Biggie such a remarkable MC?
DJ Premier: He was just a witty guy and he was fun to be around when we were in sessions. He would just go in with no paper, no nothing, think it all through, and just do it. He did it with attitude and cadence to it too, it was amazing to watch. Even when he was doingLife After Death, he was in a wheelchair and was still being funny and cracking jokes. In a wheelchair spitting verses. I got to see a more vulnerable side of him then, and also the earlier days because we were neighbors. I use to see Big all the time before he had his record deal. Puff would come pick him up to go to the studio and he was like “yo, if it ain’t getting me money, then I ain’t goin’ nowhere. I need money.”
Can you tell us about the track you did with Eminem?
DJ Premier: It never came out. I had a big mouth and jumped the gun on doing a song with him. Some songs were brought to me that he would favor me remixing or doing some scratches on, and the first one I heard was a song called “Keys to the City.” When I heard the song I thought it was dope. He made the beat and I liked it as it is, I didn’t need to mess with it. I said if I redo it, I want it completely stripped down and I want Eminem to rhyme to my beat. The problem was that I spoke to people on his staff who were bonafied, but I’m not gonna expose them. I did an interview around that time and the guy was like “word on the street you might be working with Eminem.” I didn’t know it was a secret so when I spoke on it, it got back to Eminem and I guess he got upset. I never heard back from him. I apologize to him because I was excited to work with him and there was no way I would’ve given him weak shit, I would’ve given him something really hot. On top of that, the song had a certain rhythm, it was like the next step up. “Crack A Bottle” sounds like regular Eminem but this song sounds like a new Eminem and it had more ill rhymes and more creative beats to put out to the public. I thought he was on the right track with that one.
What are some of your dream collabos that you haven’t done yet?
DJ Premier: Eminem. Busta. DMX. I’d love to work with U2. I would love to work with AC/DC. Angus Young playing with me and having Brian Jonhson sing over some hard drum break. I’m a big AC/DC fan, I went to their concert a few months ago. I flew to Texas just to go with my brother-in-law and two of my homeboys I grew up with and we had the best time. Angus is in his late fifties and Brian Jonhson is sixty-one years old but they were tearing it down. Angus really kept it hard rock and true to his audience that wants to see that. He inspires me to keep doing what I do and all of that trickles down to my take on hip hop and staying true and raw.
Are there any newer guys you’d like to work with?
DJ Premier: Not really. I’d mess with Lil Wayne, he stepped his rhyme game up a lot. He says clever stuff. I’m not with all the other stuff, though. I ain’t mad at T-Pain, he can do it, he brought it back out, and now everybody wants that because it’s successful for them. I wasn’t even mad at Kanye for doing it. I mean, it was boring but Kanye takes risks and that’s what makes him so great. That’s what I do too, I take risks. I’m not into the whole Auto-Tune thing but I thought “Heartless” was dope and I like what he did with “Love Lockdown.” I remember meeting Kanye on the Electric Circus Tour, when Gang Starr went on tour with Common. Talib brought him on tour and we were like “yo, why you bringing him?” and he said “because that guy gave me a beat for free and it’s my first big hit” and I thought that was dope. Nobody knew who Kanye was then but it was ill because he said “I’m gonna do an album called College Dropout and it’s gonna be double platinum.” I thought “damn, that’s a really cocky thing to say. Double platinum. You’re just a producer.” But he did, he went double platinum on his first album. But I really love the old Jay-Z albums with the straight hard, gutter beats and I hope he brings it back to the old days. Hopefully, I can get on this new album he’s doing Blueprint 3.
What is the dynamic between you and the artists you work with when you do a song? Are you very hands-on with the vocals?
DJ Premier: Yes, very hands-on. If you didn’t like the way the vocals sounded, blame me. If it’s recorded with me, it’s gonna be done the right way.
Who are some of you favorite up and coming producers?
DJ Premier: Moss from Toronto. He’s definitely original and unique. I really like his style and he’s so clever with the music that he samples. Another guy named Gem Crates who’s actually my assistant, he makes really original beats and I’m signing him as well. Oh No, Krysis, Marco Polo. That’s what comes to mind.
Since we recently celebrated Dilla, I’d like to ask you what are your favorite songs of his?
DJ Premier: “Love” where he uses The Impressions “We Should be in Love,” I love that. Definitely “Players.” And I love “Stakes Is High,” he really tore into that one. And that joint he did for Ghostface too, that one’s crazy.
What was the relationship between you and Pete Rock in the 90s, when you guys were the two giants of New York hip hop?
DJ Premier: It was competition, man. We were all trying to outdo each other. RZA once came to me and was like “yo, I got this joint called ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ that’s gonna be on my album.” I was like “I got a joint for Jeru called ‘D. Original’ wait till you hear that.” We’d catch each other and be like “yo, you got me on that one.” It was very healthy competition. Same with Q-Tip, Large Professor or Pete. If they came with a banger, I went right to the studio to make another one too. I was like “I’ll be damned if they’re gonna be the next one to come up with a better beat than me.” It was always friendly competition and we always hung out together so it was, and still is, a mutual friendship.
Have you ever heard a track that you wish you made? Or a sample that you had but never touched and then heard it in another song?
DJ Premier: Pete Rock and Public Enemy “Shut em Down” remix. I wish I made “We Gon Make it” that Alchemist did for Jadakiss. I wish I made “Worst Comes to Worst” that Alchemist did for Dilated Peoples . That one was amazing. I wish I made “Nobody Beats the Biz.” To take “Fly Like An Eagle” like that and to do what Marley did, it was so sick. In terms of samples, not really. Pete Rock did a hell of a job for his remix of Adore “Let it all Hang out” and I used the same sample. Well, actually he used a different artist. To use “California Soul” for Adore, I thought his version was really good. It was a different artist than for “Check The Technique” but it’s the same tune.
What is your displeasure with people putting together sample archives on the net?
DJ Premier: I think they’re wack because there’s still a lot of sample police out there and they are definitely out to get people like me. They see it as a payday and a way to collect for the artist and get some money. I totally respect clearing samples now because I understand it in a different way. But the ones that tell on us, I have no love for. Because snitching is snitching no matter how you put it and I can’t respect that. When Ultimate Breaks and Beats came out, it didn’t say “used by Salt N Pepa, used by Marley Marl,” it just said the song the artist and that was it. They were just making it available because these are the key components of breaking and DJing and parties that Kool Herc and them used to play all the time. Those were the choice cuts that were put on Ultimate Breaks and Beats. Now, everybody is trying to expose everybody and it’s getting out of control. You’re making it harder for us to do what you love to hear from us. You can make them available but don’t say that we used them. It’s better to find out on your own or to communicate with someone that knows and then go get that record and own it like we own these records. People download them and say “hey, I got the original to so and so” but me, I actually have the record.
Here we have DJ Premier talking about his 5 favorite songs:
Gang Starr feat. Inspectah Deck - Above the Clouds:
DJ Premier: I remember Guru telling me “everybody always wants to work with Raekwon and Ghostface and nobody gives Inspectah Deck the collabo on a record.” He already had the title for this. He always gives me the titles first and I make the beats to match the titles. He’ll give me a description like “You Know My Steez” should be the first single and for “Above The Clouds,” it said “do it with Inspecta Deck.” We got him on the phone and he asked Guru “yo, what’s the song about?” Guru said “your mental…”
It was funny because the way my studio is constructed, Guru and Deck were at opposite ends of the control board as if they were on a seesaw. They just had their pads out and they started writing. I let the beat run and pieced together the intro on my headphones so I wouldn’t disturb them. I did the intro last. I just didn’t want it to start with that beat. I felt that it needed to build so it could be even more unique. After I heard what they spit to it, I took the sample and kept playing that little stab at the beginning. I felt like it needed some talking to match that astronaut type sound. That’s what I heard in my head. I found the stuff like “Flight to the Moon” and the voice of John F. Kennedy and all that. All I needed to do was fit all these pieces together in order. All that “up in the sky” and the guy talking about the galaxies was from the same record. Those lines just happened to work. Back in those days, we didn’t have Pro Tools where you can grab stuff, push it back, and replace it. You needed a blank space on the reel and you had to guestimate at what time the beat should come in. But it came out good and that was definitely one of my favorite records I’ve ever done in my life.
Notorious B.I.G. - 10 Crack Commandments:
That was actually a promo that me and Jeru did for Angie Martinez on Hot 97. Back then she did a show called the “Hot 5 at 9″ where she would play the top 5 records at 9 o’clock. If you listen to the scratches, before I added “ten” later on when Biggie got it, I just keep going to five right after the beat drops because it was for the top 5 at 9. Puffy was guest hosting the show and when he heard the promo he was like “what the hell, who did this?” and Angie told him I did it. So he goes live on the radio like “yo Premier, if you’re out there, call me.” One of my homeboys paged me and told me that Puffy was on the radio telling me to call him. I turn on Hot 97 and right before I was about to turn the dial off, I hear “Premier, Premier, please call me if you hear me on the radio.” He told me he wanted to buy the promo. I told Jeru and he was like “yo, it’s hip hop. No big deal.” So I sold it to him and Biggie already had a concept, he wanted to call it “Ten Crack Commandments.” I took the “Ten” from a spaceship count down when they go “ten, nine, eight, seven…” And Biggie just rapped over it right there.
Jay-Z - So Ghetto:
That was the first time me and Jay got back in the studio together after a long time. We ran in to each other at his concert. We hashed out our differences and stuff we had in the past, so he was like “yo, let’s go to the studio and work on something.” I did the “So Ghetto” beat off the head, like everything I do with Jay, and he loved it. He said “I’ll be back in an hour” and he came back an hour later ready to do his vocals. The Steve Cropper intro, I don’t mind saying it because I cleared it, that opening riff, I wanted to hit it twice before I let it roll. And Jay was just like “Preemo/ how we do/ history in the making/ let’s go…” naturally. Him and Biggie use to always say “yea, do the Premier thing” because they always trusted me. They would just say “do the Premier thing” and they would leave. And they never had a complaint.
Devin the Dude - Doobie Ashtray:
Doobie Ashtray was already done, it was really a remix, but they ended up putting it on the album. I think it was an Alicia Meyers or One Way sample that they couldn’t clear and they needed something identical to that, and they thought I could do it. I’ve known Devin the Dude for a long time because I’m from Houston. They reached out and asked me if I could remix it. I basically followed the original and played it on a keyboard with no sample at all. I stayed in the same key so he would harmonize and I remixed it while staying in the confines of the original. That was around the time I started playing keys a little more. I quit piano lessons as a kid but I learned the basics and I still know how to find what I need.
Jeru the Damaja - Jungle Music:
Jeru already had the concept, he wanted to call the song “Jungle Music.” I had the jungle sounds blended in from some sound effects records to really make it sound like they were out in a safari. When I found the sample, it just hypnotized me. I knew it worked but I didn’t know if Jeru would like it. When I played it for him he was like “that’s it, man” and he wrote it right on the spot. Showbiz, to this day, always tells me “jungle music, man, jungle music” when I see him in the studio. He’ll just say that out of the blue every now and then.