With all due respect to the late Godfather of Soul James Brown, DJ Premier might be the current hardest working man in show business. In between DJ gigs, his radio show on Sirius Hip Hop Nation and producing for various artists the legendary DJ Premier is out promoting his upcoming compilation, DJ Premier Presents Year Round Records: Get Used to Us.
Premier is also scheduled to appear at the 2010 Red Bull Big Tune National Finals with Just Blaze taking place tonight (November 18, 2010) at Chicago’s Metro. What better person to politic with the next generation of beat makers than one of the greatest producers of all-time?
Nineteen up and coming producers will duke it out for the Red Bull Big Tune title which includes the chance to record at the Red Bull Studio in Los Angeles with an A-list emcee. Before that, all 19 producers will get the chance to pick the brains of Just Blaze and DJ Premier—they’re winners already.
Before the event I got the chance to pick the brain of DJ Premier and as usual the pleasure was all mine.
SS: Tell me about the new compilation album.
DJ Premier: I actually put it together because I have three artists on my label that I was trying to get out, NYG’z is my gutter group from the Bronx and Manhattan, Nick Javas is an Italian emcee from New Jersey, and Khaleel from Houston. Long story short I was trying to get the NYG’z and Nick Javas’ album up and running for the summer but, we weren’t ready yet. As we got closer to the end of the year it didn’t make sense to try to rush it. So I wanted to have some type of product out so I said let me just do a compilation album in the meantime. I pulled songs from all the projects that I have coming in 2011. I compiled it to give everybody a taste of everything to let people know that we mean business with what we’re bringing. The compilation album is really just to stall while I get my albums finished. I figured let’s call it DJ Premier Presents Year Round Records. I have so many projects lined up and this is the best way to give a little taste of everything. It’s like when you order appetizers, you can order just chicken fingers or you can get the combo platter where you can order chicken fingers, shrimp, soup, everything! That’s pretty much what it’s going to be.
SS: When I listen to Not A Game and Opportunity Knocks from Get Used to Us by Nick Javas his originality is what stands out the most. He rhymes about things that a lot of cats don’t rhyme about. Talk about how you discovered Nick; his style, and his upcoming album in 2011.
DJ Premier: Well what happened was I met him at a Big Shug’s listening party for Street Champ. Since Shug is Gangstarr Foundation I had to make sure I was there to represent that. This guy named Spence that I know in the industry brought Nick to shop his demo. He brought him to a lot of different events to get him recognized so he introduced me to Nick and he was a little overconfident in my opinion. He was like, “Yeah man, I’m nice.” I’ve heard that about everybody. He had the same little cocky attitude and I’m used to that. When he came off like that I wasn’t impressed because I’ve heard that from so many other people. Every time someone tries to impress me like that I hear the same old bullsh*t and their demo turns out not to be hot. When it came down to that I said you know what, I’ll take a listen to it later. When I walked away he was staring at me with this stalking look. I’m wondering why he’s staring at me like that but I just let it go.
Fast forward, I ended up moving to a new house and when I was unpacking all my stuff I had a box of all my demos that I hadn’t listened to. It was like ten of them and most of them were trash. Nick Javas was the guy who was talking about he was nice. I popped it in and I was impressed with his wordplay and wittiness. He used a lot of sports references and I like sports. I liked the cleverness of how he said what he said. I called the number on the CD to see if it worked and he picked up the phone. He was having a Super Bowl party at the time. He was sweeping the floor and putting food out and all of a sudden I call. He was like, “Is this really DJ Premier?” From there we ended up talking for two hours. We took it to the next level and I told him, “I’m very picky about white artists being that you’re not from the ghetto. This is a black culture but I welcome any race. You’re coming under Premier and my level of the game so you’ve got to come off differently from the other white emcees that I like.” I like Eminem, Apathy, Esoteric, Ill Bill, Slaine, Everlast, Necro, Vinnie Paz, and JoJo Pellegrino but how can I make Nick stand out differently? He started throwing out all these ideas, “Hey man, we should do a record where I’m trying to convince you to sign me to the label! We should call it Opportunity Knocks.” I was like, “Alright, I like that idea.” That’s why I made the beat with the knock on the door as reference to him trying to get my attention to be recognized as one of the great ones that’ll go down in the books eventually. We cut the record and it came out good. I graded him on his lyrics by responding in scratches instead of me talking to him. In the first verse he’s too cocky like the day when I met him that’s why I’m knocking him down because I don’t want him to easily get a deal. We just shot the video which came out great.
Not A Game was just a B-side for the single. He heard the beat and came up with a concept of how life is not a game but equating it to sports. He told me he wanted to use the Allen Iverson sample and I just started doing it by hand. I hit the record button to remind me of how I referenced it and ended up liking it like that. I leaked it out and a lot of deejay’s liked it but wanted scratches on it. I did two versions, one with me cutting on it and one that says “not a game” throughout. He’s working on his album Destination Unknown and his album is incredible. He’s very unique and he’s definitely going to be a star.
SS: Another joint on the album is Hot Flames by an artist on your label Khaleel. He also has a unique style, talk about Khaleel and that Hot Flames joint.
DJ Premier: I did that record back in 2002 and just never released it. Khaleel was on another label and signed with me because that label fell apart. The owner asked me if I would find a way to get him plugged into the business and he’d appreciate it. I said, “Alright, I’ll do one album with him—I’ll do one,” and I did it. That’s what it turned out to be. At the end of the day I’m very happy with the way that came out as well. Being that the other label shut down I just made sure that I wasn’t going to release it until I was ready to because I thought it was a good enough single to help introduce him. I’ve been sitting on it for years and now we’re ready to launch it and it sounds like something we just did.
SS: It does, it does. The last time we spoke in Dallas you let the cat out of the bag that you and KRS were hooking back up for Return of the Boom Bip. KRS & Grand Puba have a joint on Get Used To Us called 5%, talk about how that song came together.
DJ Premier: I originally did that beat for Rakim when he was on Dr. Dre’s label, Aftermath. Rakim moved on and we ended up saying that we’ll work on stuff later on down the line. We were just building in the studio and I played KRS some of the beats that I had on stash which I usually don’t do because I make my tracks on the spot. I played it for him and he said he wanted to do a record about the 5% [Nation of God’s and Earths] on this! I said, “OK, we can do that.” He said he wanted to get somebody to guest on it and right as he said that Ice-T knocked on my door. Ice-T was upstairs doing a session and he heard I was in the studio. We started kicking it with Ice and told him about the song and Ice said, “You need to get somebody like Brand Nubian or Grand Puba who can talk that God talk.” Right then we all looked at each other and said, “Puba!” I called Lord Finesse because he was with Grand Puba the night before and Finesse gave me his number. I called Puba and told him the deal and he totally liked the idea. I picked him up at a bar and he slid the drink in the sleeve of his jacket and snuck out of the bar. We drove and I let him hear the first verse and he came in and blazed it.
SS: You’re also working on a joint album with Pete Rock. What made you two decide to get together to work on a joint project?
DJ Premier: We were in Tokyo doing a Pete Rock vs. Premier concert for Manhattan Records. It’s a famous record store that was celebrating their 25-year anniversary. They asked us to do this concert as a one-off and on the way home Pete and I were talking sh*t and it turned into almost a battle. His manager was like, “Yo, y’all should do an album.” Me and Pete looked at each other and said, “You want to do it?” We said. “Yeah let’s do it,” and Pete said let’s call it Pete Rock vs. Premier. He said, “I’ll get six artists and do six songs and you do the same thing.” We aren’t telling each other which artists we’re bringing to the table but I’m bringing six and he’s bringing six and we’re going to combine them. We’ll see who has the hottest stuff at the end of the day but the main aim is to put out a solid body of work.
SS: Is there a timetable for the release of that album because it sounds crazy, man!
DJ Premier: We just started but we’re going to actually do it, do it right after Christmas. I have to get my album out on December 7th and take a break and Pete is doing touring. We both started the project already. I got my first one in the can but I still have five more to do. Pete already started his so we’re going to go full throttle and make this sh*t pop.
SS: Gangstarr means so much to so many people. With the passing of Guru will we ever hear some unreleased Gangstarr joints on Year Round Records?
DJ Premier: Absolutely, absolutely we will. I have the rights to Gangstarr along with Guru’s son so everything is gravy. I’m working with them and I’ll be dropping DVD’s of behind the scenes stuff from 1989 to 2010. Nobody has that footage but me and nobody has the music but me. I have people contributing tracks of Guru’s vocals that I didn’t have and I also have stuff on lock. We’re going to do a Gangstarr Foundation album and a couple of other things but the DVD’s are definitely going to be popping. I have hundreds of hours of footage that no one else has so you will be seeing that.
SS: On December 7th DJ Premier presents Year Round Records: Get Used to Us drops and you’re dropping several albums in 2011. What are your overall goals and plans for Year Round Records?
DJ Premier: Just to elevate music the way it’s supposed to be elevated, man. Everybody is so wack these days. It’s not enough stuff for adults. I’m an adult, I don’t want to hear kiddie rap. So in order for me to get some stuff that I can relate to I need to hear some stuff that’s on my level. The only way to do it without being the person that wishes it can happen is being the producer that makes it happen. I’m like a car that pulls up to another nice car at the light. As soon as you see me at the light you gotta be like, “Nice, nice car.” Even if yours is nice you gotta give me thumbs up on mine.