When you’re speaking to someone who your mother regards as a hip-hop legend, it’s hard to maintain your composure and ask all of your questions, and I had 15 years of questions for Primo. But only 30 minutes.
This has been an challenging year for you. Has the passing of Guru changed as far as your approach to music and your outlook for the future?
Not really. Guru and I understood each other and were committed to the music. If you believe in what you’re doing and it’s brought me this far, I’m just going to keep doing what I do. The best way to do that is to do things independently and not get caught up in what labels want.
I notice that you talk about being independent a lot? Why is it so important to push that independent angle for hip-hop?
Well that’s where it originated and when the majors took notice that rap was here to stay. Then the money got better and people started to get more comfortable, but as they got too comfortable the music started to soften up and get watered down. And I don’t like watered down hip-hop. I like raw hip-hop; like De La Soul is raw to me even though they may have fun records and talk about the daisy age. They’re still raw hip-hop. They’re not watered down. They pull all the creative elements to make it unique and that’s what makes them great and that’s why they’re dope to this day. If I heard De La had a new album out today, I’m just going to get it. I’m not going to wait until I hear it first. Even with someone else that’s not all that…I gotta judge for myself because they’ve been so consistent that I trust them enough to think that they’re going to deliver the goods again.
Is that why you started your record label Year Round Records? To keep the quality of hip-hop consistent?
It was a few things. I’m not really good at this label running shit, but I said, let me give it a try because I have the advantage where my name carries weight. I just have to make sure that I have good, original artists.
I only have three artists [on my label], but I have a lot of projects that are coming out under the label. I have a lot of “specialty projects” and I know how far I can take things with ’em; like the KRS-One/Premier album. I know we’re both gonna kill it; I’m gonna kill it on the beats, he’s gonna to kill it on the rhymes. We already did Return of the Boom Bap and proved that we can hold it down.
Pete Rock vs. DJ Premier everyone already knows what that is and if the younger kids don’t, I’m not making it for them anyway. If they do, then I am making it for them. I’m making it for the ones that already know and I’m only campaigning for the ones that already know. I’m not campaigning for the ones that could care less because I don’t need their votes. In the independent world I can live off of 20,000 albums sold. That’s success.
[On Year Round] We can sell 100,000. That’s a lot independently, but on a major that’s a flop. So all of that pressure is off of me. I’ll stick with the smaller scale, but we’re all eating and everybody’s got homes. All of my artists have their own cribs. Everyone is well situated. Every one of my artists have a place to live thanks to what I’ve done to set them up.
Okay, so you have quite a few musical projects in the works including some with your new artists Nick Javas and Blaq Poet. I’m curious about who you have on the production for some of these projects. Who are some of the new producers that have the talent and skill to keep up with your standard of production?
I do most of the beats for my projects, but I’m gonna give up two or three songs for other people to get on. I signed Moss to my production company because he makes dope beats. He’s going to get his own credit. I don’t need to get credit for somebody else making the beat. Plus our styles are different. So if I try to put “produced by DJ Premier” even though Moss did it, people will start to say “that don’t sound like you” and I’ll start to get discredited.
There’s another guy named Gem Crates that’s got some pretty unique stuff that’s coming out
The only albums where I’m doing the whole thing is Pete Rock vs. Premier and the NYG’z album because they wanted to have one album in their life that I did the whole thing. So I said, alright I’ll do that. Everyone else like Nick Javas, Khalil, they have 90% of my production. Then they have Marco Polo, and of course Moss, Gem Crates.
I want producers to say that they want to work with my artists. If they’re offering to be a part of it, then fine. If not, I’m gonna have to handle it myself because this is what I do. I’ve done three albums at the same time. I did Return of the Boom Bap [with KRS One], Daily Operation [with Guru], The Sun Rises in the East with Jeru and did the Group Home album all at the same time and I was still working on Illmatic [with Nas].
You mentioned Moss and Macro Polo and talk about the change in music; What do you think that’s about? Do you think the Internet has changed the way music is being made?
No doubt, but I’m taking advantage of it too. I just joined Twitter so that I can tweet the things that are going on with me. I’m not going to be on Twitter 24/7, following everybody. I don’t have to do all that. Kanye is the same way. He tweets when necessary. You ever see The Wiz? It’s like The Wiz, you never knew when the wizard was gonna change everything; I kinda wanna be like that; like a wizard and have people say, “I want to keep my eye on what’s he’s doing because he’s puts out good quality stuff.”
There are a lot of physical musical outlets that are closing down. Recently we saw Fat Beats in New York and LA close up shop. What do you think this means for music and where is the one place you go to for music now that so many of them are shutting down?
The Amazons, the iTunes—it’s fucked up that they don’t have physical records. I just spoke to Jared at Big City Records [in the East Village in NYC] where I go digging for breaks and vintage records to sample and told him that he should start carrying more albums.
But the thing is, when hip-hop started out, you had to chase down a record and try to find it. It was underground and it was only on vinyl. So it wasn’t on an eight-track, on cassette or albums. There were no CDs. It on vinyl only and these records were still getting moved around without Internet. It was word of mouth and being in the know.
Do you find that there is a trend emerging? Are there enough DJs breaking new music and introducing it to the masses?
Not really. There’s me, Kay Slay, Tony Touch, Green Lantern, Marley Marl, Some of us do it and thankfully we all have radio gigs—[DJs] who don’t worry about not getting their next paycheque.
So how do they get from where they are to where you are? ?
They need to speak up when they feel handcuffed. For example, I was listening to Bobby Trends the other night and he was playing all this music, and I was thinking “What the fuck?” because I know he can’t play those records. Then he’s like, “Brand new, Busta Rhymes! Let’s starting breaking some records and not being afraid to take a couple chances. The underground is where it starts and I live in the underground and I stay there but I always visit the mainstream, so I can see what’s poppin in that world.
Speaking of the product, what kind of equipment do you use to make music? What’s in your production arsenal?
MPC50, Turntable, Mixer, AKAI S950 Sampler, [Roland Fantom-XR Sampler Synth] Rackmount Module. The rest are plugins for Pro Tools because a lot of plugins are vintage equipment that we used as far as analog output gear. We were sound engineers way before when we recorded tapes and there was no digital world, so we know how to manipulate and play around with things and make it sound even better than the average engineer or listener or producer that’s coming out now because they don’t have an understanding of what came before this era. Whereas I’ve experienced using equipment from every era. I’ve experienced recording with 2-inch tape and splicing and editing with the little white marker and the clear tape together. Taking big reels off to mastering so that they can spool it off and run that. Now all you have to do is press a button.
Is Get Used To Us going to be the distinct Primo sound that we’re used to? What can people expect from it?
You’re going to get a bit of everything. The album is a collection of what’s coming in the new year with the individual projects. I took a couple songs from each project. I even have an artist named Dynasty, a female who isn’t even signed to me. She wanted to rhyme on one of my beats, but I didn’t have time to make her anything. I played her a beat from Beats that Collected Dust Volume 2, which is ready to go, and there was this slow beat that she asked me if she could spit to it. I had the scratches. Her guys wanted to know if we can do a video and I said sure, but I wanted to include it in my package because I want to put it out with my album. So she’s on the album, even though she’s not a Year Round artist, but she did it over a Year Round release. Same goes for Joel Ortiz, “Sing like Bilal” just got added to Hot 97 and that was from Beats that Collected Dust Vol 1. The reason why we got Funkmaster Flex on it is because he happened to walk into his office and his assistant playing Beats that Collected Dust and he’s like “Yo what’s that beat?” and the assistant is like, “Premier did that”, and he’s like, “What is that from?” and he told him. Flex got on the radio and was like “This is gutta! Joel I can hear you rhyming on this!” So Joel heard him and that’s why he’s on the song.
[On the song] Joel says, “Ayo Flex, I got the kite, I was tuning in Saturday night.” You never know how things will turn out, but it was a record that I believed in. I did it for Bilal and he passed on it, but now it’s a big record. It’s got new life.
You’ve got a lot of guest appearances that range eras, was that intentional?
Teflon is down with M.O.P. and I just asked him, “Who fits your style?” I mean I did a bit of reaching out, but he said Joel, Saigon, and Papoose. I said okay let’s reach out and tell them what’s poppin’.
With KRS for Return on the Boom Bip, we started recording off the head and we only had two songs in the can. So we started recording, and one night we were chillin’ with Ice-T after the show and he heard the beat and was like, “That sounds like some stuff you rap about with the gods and the earths” and KRS was like “Yeah, I’m gonna talk about the Five Percent Nation since people don’t talk about that anymore.” And Ice T [who will also be on the album] was like, “Yo, you gotta get somebody else on that like another god or a king’s son like Grand Puba” and we were like, “Grand Puba! That’s it!” So we gave him a call and he came through and knocked it out. So it was just brainstorming. It’s a dope cut that was a beat that was originally for Rakim when he was signed to Aftermath with Dr. Dre and he ended up not using it. So I took it back. I can’t even find the master reel to it, but I found a rough copy, tuned it up, Puba laced it and now it’s on the album.
We like to be different. We don’t want to get tied down to artist because they don’t really fit what we do. I’d love to get 50 on a record, but he doesn’t really fit what we’re doing. I’d rather just do a record for him.
What about Kanye, I heard you did something for him. How did that come about?
He didn’t end up using the one [beat] I did. He said he wants me to do something for him on another album. So [for this album] I did some scratches for him last week. He called me last minute and was like, “I know it’s short notice, but I gotta turn my album in tomorrow. Can you do some scratches for me.” It’s called “Mama’s Boy.” I think it’s the bonus cut. The beat I did was great, but [Kanye] kept updating the album and said it didn’t fit.
So can we expect to see it on a future Kanye track?
You might see it on the Return of the Boom Bip.
Speaking of working with other artists, I heard you’re doing a full-length album with Chaka Khan.
We spoke while I was on tour four months ago and I told her that I would love to be in charge of the project. She said she was cool, but she wanted to work out of LA and didn’t have a studio to work at. So I called Christina Aguilera and asked if I could borrow her studio and she said, “Yeah, no doubt.” She asked me how long I needed. I said about 10 days. So now we’re just trying to find out the right month that works for me because I only tour at the end of the year and plus I decided to drop this album at the last minute to drop this compilation because I really thought that I’d have an album ready to drop in 2010 and I didn’t. So I decided to drop a compilation album.
Okay and that’s when we’ll all hear the rest of what you’ve been working on. So to wrap up, I want to know why you still do this. I mean you’ve not only done albums, been part of a legendary group, starting a label revived D&D Studios. Why do you do it?
I would have left hip-hop alone when I felt like I was “too old” but I don’t look at that. I just think its necessary to do what you love if you are in it for just more that money. I’m in it for more than that. I want to see the whole culture get strong again. I want to see everyone who deserves to do well do well and everyone else I could care less because not everyone can make it.