In part 2 of our sitdown with Dj Premier we talk about how he handles artists in the booth and how he pulls the best out of them. He also gives us a few stories about how Jay-Z fought his advice on the creation of “D’Evils” (and eventually caved) and also what it was like being in the studio with Biggie creating “Kick In The Door” when the topic being dissed was Premier’s own artist, Jeru the Damaja. Walk with us.
DJ Premier : I saw” Center Stage” on the Yes Network. They have good interviews. They had Jay-Z on and they asked Jay-Z did he like recording, performing, or you know what part of it he liked the most. He said the recording is the most fun because you get to create your vision of how you want to present yourself musically. He said but the illest part is performing because now you get to see people react to the songs you made but now you’re performing and they know the words.
There’s certain times when I’ll take him [Nick Javas] out and you’ll hear people going “Not a game, not a not a not a game!” We like damn we haven’t even played that yet. So it’s almost like, “Damn, you know that song?” Or they’ll go “Knock, knock, knock, knock,” and we’re like dude, the video isn’t even out yet. And maybe they’ve seen other viral stuff but regardless, that means they’re following and paying attention to what we’re doing already to where we hear someone out in the crowd doing it already.
Nick Javas: And more and more I see, especially cats in the front row, the first couple rows are always out of their minds; it’s crazy. So I’ll see cats in the front row rhyming along with every word now, and to me that’s crazy because it’s Premier’s show; it ain’t my show. It’s DJ Premier featuring Nick Javas but I see cats rhyming along with every word and I’ll give them love. I’ll jump off the stage and I’m rocking with ‘em; I’m holding their hands and I’m rocking with ‘em cause that’s love.
I see it building and I see even by the end of the show how much love I get as opposed to when he [Premier] first announces me, some people know how I am, some people don’t. But by the end I know I did my thing because I’m passionate about it and I care. I care that much to go in every show so by the time it’s over I know that I’ve acquired a lot more fans and people look forward to checking me out more so it’s just about doing your job the way you need to do it; keeping it all business but still doing it with a passion.
It AIN’T just about the money, man. That money will come. That money will come, if you doing it for the right reasons.
Planet Ill: What’s the science behind the name Year Round Records?
DJ Premier: because I never really have time to take breaks. My whole career I’ve been just non-stop, banging them out, so Year Round was just the most appropriate thing to match. And again, just from an artist’s standpoint, and being creative and artistic, I had to have a name that matched who I am. Year Round Records is definitely that. Even with all the artists I produce on the side, no matter how I’m producing or working with, I’m never ever taking a break. I used to take vacations all the time, now shit I wish I could take one.
That’ll come later because you have to visualize what your future is in order to step in to it. And I visualized this and I had a lot of slow starts that actually crippled all of us as a family but they still stuck with me and said, “Man I’m getting frustrated, but I’ma stick it out with you.” I’m working on correcting all that stuff now, which for some reason, it’s working in our favor because even though we’ve been working on this a couple years to get some of these projects right. They still seem like they’re ready and right for now! It don’t seem like it’s old, we gotta start all over. No, this stuff still sounds relevant to what our vision was, so let’s stay on that vision.
Planet Ill: Musically, what’s the difference between working with artists like Christina Aguilera versus working with Hip-Hop artists?
DJ Premier: Everything is based on the artist themselves. Christina told me what her vision was. Cause that’s what Guru used to always call me: a beat tailor. He said you could just describe it to him and I could just make up the theme music for your vision. One thing I like about my artists is like, with Javas, or the NYG’Z, they are like, “I want to do a song like this.” And they’re coming at me like that; they’re not just like, “man… I’ve been thinking…,” they like “Yooo, I wanna do this!” I’m like that’s dope let’s write it down.
If you see my room, the albums are written on the wall with the titles. The last person I ever did that with was Gangstarr. So I said let’s go back to that formula that Gangstarr did and let me shape my part of the job that way so me taking Javas on the road with me, he started coming up with song titles just from experiences that happen to us on the road. They’re not going to be what just artists can relate, regular people with no experience in the music business can relate. That’s what our music is about communicating to where we’re on the same page.
Planet Ill: We spoke with Marco Polo earlier in the year and he said the difference between being a beat maker and a producer is the producer’s ability to tell an artist to shut the fuck up.
DJ Premier: Oh, for sure
Planet Ill: How do you intervene without crushing a new artist’s spirit?
DJ Premier: You just gotta be honest and tell ‘em, “Yo, it’s not sounding like what we’re here to do.” Sometimes Pangy for NYG’Z will be like “That’s the way I wrote it! That’s how I put it down!” Ok. But you’re not putting it down in the way that made me like you. What makes me like you is not what you’re giving me. You know the way that you talk when you’re hanging with us and you’re like yapyapyap? Give me that and just do it in rhythm.
Nick Javas: Yeah the more Panchee you can get on a track, for real, like his personality? He just takes over a room. The more you can get of that? Forget it, man.
DJ Premier: Yeah. Take over the room in that booth. It’s the same approach. But now we’re selling something. So like when he’s in the booth, I’m not giving him any leeway. That same way that everybody is wondering who you are, because you have such a presence? Give me that in the booth. And then he gets a little angry and he’s like, “Do it again, yo.”
This is serious. You’re not projecting what I need from you from what makes people like you already as a person. The rhyming situation, I’m not going to let you off easy just because you’re a good personality. This rapping shit is real; you gots to deliver.
And everybody I ever been with has let me, you know? I’m not here to alter them or change them, it’s just as a listener I’m not getting what I need to hear. And that’s why I’m there telling them, I’m sitting here listening. That’s like sing me a song, the ABC’s and you’re leaving D and Y and K and L out. You’re not doing the alphabet right. So you know the way it goes: A-B-C-D-E-F-G. They going A-T-L-F-1-2-3. There ain’t no numbers in the alphabet! Do it right!
I always come off a little harsher with my guys because we have a family relationship. Artists, if it’s somebody like a Rakim, I approach it differently, but still not shy about it. I’m very blunt like, “Yo Ra, that line was a little shaky and your voice quivered a little bit, can we go back to that line?” And he’s like, “No doubt, G.” No one’s ever fought me.
Jay-Z fought me once and never did it again, when we were working on Reasonable Doubt’s, “D’Evils.” He gave me the whole concept, did the rhyme over the phone, told me what scratches to use, and it was dope. Even when he was on Center Stage, he said his most sacred songs was “D’Evils” and maybe four or five other ones. But to say that, after the status he has now, he said that those are his most personal, cherished songs and he said Reasonable Doubt was his baby. And it was all done here[formerly D&D now Headquarters]. The majority of it, minus two or three songs. We saw each other every day.
But just using that as an example, everything is that sacred to me too, till this day to where it’s an artist in the family, I’ve already laid my groundwork, I’m solidified. I’m good. If I do nothing else, I got a jillion records out there that people hold high in regards to what’s the bar; setting the bar or greatness. So when it comes to my artists, I gotta be extra hard on them because I’m cosigning them to say they‘re the next great thing and I don’t want people to doubt me and be like, “Man they aiiite. I heard they album, they cool but they ain’t like that other stuff you did.” I don’t want to hear that.
When Jeru the Damaja came out, he popped off immediately. Hit record, and he just blew up. I never forget, Biggie was BEGGING to be in a video with Jeru. He said, “If he [Jeru] ever did ‘Brooklyn Took It’ I just want to stand there and look hard.” That’s exactly what Biggie said. And I’ll never forget that because I had bought a brand new BMW and I rolled up to his block to go stop at the store and that’s where they used to always hang out Friday with Big and Shug [Founder of Gangstarr] would be with us and Guru and Dap and we’d see each other every weekend and just drink 40’s all weekend. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And to see my pull up and ask me that to be on his album? This was before Ready To Die dropped. That is a big deal. So I know that the same thing that made Jeru hot, Group Home, Shug, I’m doing with these artists. It’s just a newer generation and a new approach. Like Guru also said, I take a lot of quotes from interviews we’ve done in the past, we just update the formula.
Planet Ill: How in tune are you with the lyrics that the rappers are laying in the booth? Like when Biggie said “Son, I’m surprised you run with them” on “Kick InThe Door” he’s sitting there talking to you…
DJ Premier: I looked at him and stopped the tape! That day, I purposely went by myself to see if there was going to be any funny friction because Jeru is my artist, he’s down with Gangstarr, but we also cool with Big, and we got love for him. I remember Puff even said, Yeah we coming after Jeru the Damaja, too!” And I took a stance on that and said, “Look, if ya’ll got a problem, ya’ll can see me because I’m here and I’m down with him and if ya’ll want to set it off ya’ll can set it off on me.” I would never play both sides like that to be some sucker n***a or anything like that with anybody. That’s not my nature and that’s not my style now. But if anybody got something to say, say it. And it was about 20 guys in there and I was by myself. And I said, “Anybody got something to say, say it.” And Puff was like man we just fucking with you or whatever. I just still had to keep my guard u because I knew, again, this is Hip-Hop, I know the mentality. Then on top of that, I didn’t know how many people were gonna look at me funny thinking that I’m playing both sides, which I wasn’t.
So when he said that, I stopped the tape and sad, “Yo, you trying to be funny?” And Big was like, “I told you I gotta say something about the situation.” And I said, “Oh, so you gone say it on MY record? Go ahead and do your thing.” I gave him that window but I still checked him on it and Puff and them was there as a witness, I wouldn’t make that up. Gutter was there, D Rock was there; everybody was there. J Black was there [mentioned in “One Day”s lyrics] and he got dissed on the record.
Planet Ill: “Snatch up J Black and beat his bitch ass down…”
DJ Premier: Yeah he was there. When he walked in, I actually laughed because Jeru and J Black were actually cool with each other at the time. It was just a messed up situation. And then I remember Foxy Brown was real upset. She was with Jay-Z a lot and Jay was cool with everybody so if he sees Jeru standing by at a party and he was kicking it with her, she would be like trying to wait for the right time to intervene. But all he [Jeru] said about her was that she had fake alligator boots on, it wasn’t much. But during that time, it was really really really a deep time of Hip-Hop when that was going down, but I’m very honest with making my statements blunt and clear to anybody and I will continue to do so.