1. John T.
4. Doomp Doomp Doomp
9. Live Pro
10. I Don’t Know
11. Late Night
12. N.Y.S.O.M. #20
Release date: 13.12.2010
From his teenage years in Texas to his legendary career as one of the most iconic hip-hop beatsmith, Chris Martin A.K.A DJ Premier takes a trip down memory lane.
Abcdr Du Son: Growing up in Texas what kind of music were you listening to?
DJ Premier: All the standard stuff before Hip-Hop. Anything from Motown which will be The Temptations, Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, I liked Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Grover Washington, Booker T & The Mg’s, Bar-Kays that’s all we had we didn’t have no [doing beat boxing]. There was just that stuff.
A: Did you start collecting vinyls when you were young?
P: Forty-fives, just Fourty-fives. As a child I was fascinated how the record spun around. Back then we had automatic record player my mother stacked five records on the player and hit the reject button and all of a sudden the shit just actually cut the lights off.
I was into the mechanics on the machine I used to take our television apart, hook it back up and everything. As a kid I’d fix everything in our neighbourhood and everybody knew me as the fix-it man. I was into the mechanics somehow the needle’d move and the record would drop and land right on the record and the way the logo look while it spun around.
So I was just fascinated by that and the music sounded the way the label looked. I was just real fascinated by that as a child. When I grew older I got more serious into music. And my mother is an art teacher. She’s a type of person that used to play of lot of different music while she was painting. There was a lot of creativity in the house.
A: So you were always listening to music?
P: I had two older sisters so they were also into their music, my older sister was into a lot of rock music. So I was into The Eagles, Carly Simon, Osmon Brothers, The Bee Gees. Then I got into AC/DC and Rush. She was into the hard stuff, she was really into Van Halen which was a big deal too.
A: So when and how did you discover Hip-Hop?
P: First time I discovered it I was like ten or eleven years old. I went to Brooklyn to stay with my grand father for the summer he always took me to the baseball game. He was really into the baseball he was also into playing jazz music and stuff. He had a band and played guitar, trombone, trumpet and bass. He had a big upright bass. I used to be fascinated how he could be playing that real good. And I saw his band play. He took me to the Yankees’ game and after that he always took me to Time Square and we saw these kids breaking.
All the B-Boys. I was looking at them the guy had his turntable set up. He be scratching and cutting. I was just looking at him like “how’s he taking two records?” I was just sitting there like this just lookin’ at it, doing it for money, just trying to earn some money, but to see that physically way before hip-hop records were in existence … cause they weren’t cuttin’ rap records. They were just cutting breaks, you know they were cutting’ like “It’s Just Begun” they were cuttin “Cavern”. [just reproducing the bass from Liquid Liquid]. When I saw that I was like “Woaw I want to do something like that.”
I remember my grand father saying “that’s not something that you make a living out of”. It was still in the early stages that has to be 77 ’cause I was there for the blackout. I was in New-York when the blackout happened.
Hip-hop was already popping up in 73 in the Bronx. So 77 it was really heavy in New-York ’cause I think that the blackout maybe happened like a week later. I was all excited: “Woaw I am the blackout in New-York“. By that time, I was like fifteen. I started to going without my family we were all going: my sisters, my parents, everybody and then they stop wanted to go. Every year my sisters were like “we don’t want to go to New-York every year”. I still wanted to go. Me and my grand-father were tight. I kept going from there you know I just wanted to be a part of Hip-Hop and then I started to hear more Hip-Hop. Run-DMC came out with “It’s Like That”, I heard “Rapper’s Delight” back in 1979. Of course “Rappers Delight” was our first experience of a big hip-hop record that and Treacherous Three ‘Body Rock’ that was in 79 and Spoonie G ‘Spoonin’ Rap’ but I didn’t have any of the records. I just knew about it.
A: Were you bringing back some tapes in Texas?
P: That was later once I graduated from high school then I went to college that’s where I met Gordon. I told him what I wanted to do. We became friends, got really cool then his brother came to college. He brought all the hot new Red Alert Marley Marl mix-tapes and listened to them and stole them [Gordon who is here in during the interview starts laughing real loud]. His brother used to send him all the new ones. He was like “yo my brother sent me another package and there will be more mixes” and I was like “Damn!” and there be so much fresh new shit. Or he called and his brother will be like “Yo there some new record by some guy named Milk D I went to school with them”. [Premier starts rapping first verses from "Top Billin'" by Audio Two.]
Every week it was just brand new hip-hop all the time it aome up that fast and it wasn’t really albums yet. Albums didn’t really come until ’84 maybe. It was all 12inches they were called disco singles then ’cause the disco music was the only thing on the 12inches at that time. I used to buy Parliament 12inches it was big like an album. I was just fascinated by that. I used to buy “Aquaboogie” the 10 minute version Hip-Hop records were 15 minutes long back then. You know what i’m sayin’ that was normal.
All the Treacherous records, the Spoonie G records, all of them were 15 minutes. T-Ski Valley ten minutes long. You know everybody was playing the band then. The drum machine came out once you had that drum machine [beatboxing a Run DMC shit] Run-DMC with Larry Smith, Rick Rubin doing drum machine, Jazzy Jay from Zulu Nation was doing drum machine, Mantronix was like the king, just having an all new sound of beats and Marley Marl came. And all that stuff I wanted to know what drum machines they used. I wanted to save up to buy one whatever they made, I wanted to make that so I started to get more into making beats starting on as a DJ. That’s all I was carrying about records, records, records then the beat part started to come in the play.
I was going to college my third year and that’s when I decided to move to New-York permanently. I packed up my bag. My parents thought I was making a bad move. My grand-father said eNew-York gonna swallow you alle he said “it’s too big of a city, it’s fast for you”. I was like “grand-father you don’t know, i’m faster that you think”. But he worried about my safety and New-York is a crazy city, ’cause the first time I ever went there, I saw a guy who committed suicide on our subway. He jumped in front of our train, we ran over him and we had to back the train up off of him. I remember when we backed up the train went “Poh!” His arm was over here his body was over. I was like “Woah!” and I went home we always did “what did you over summer?”. I was like “I saw a dead body in front of our train“. I was like “this is the place to be” all of that definitely make me say “I want to move to New-York“.
A: When did you move to New-York?
A: So New-York was kind of dangerous back then?
P: Hell yeah! They were super raw we got crips and bloods now, still can’t compare to what it was in the 80’s, the 80’s were raw!
A: It was the crack era …
P: Ronald Reagan, baby.
A: How did you start working on samplers, who teached you?
P: King Of Chill. You heard of King Of Chill? The Alliance, MC Lyte he’s still working with us till this day, he told me how to work the sampler that I still use to this day. And then I learned tricks from Large Professor; Showbiz taught me some tricks. Pete Rock also told me some stuff that I didn’t know and once I learned their tricks then I even took it to another level. We all started to compete with each other. We used to go to each other house “yo listen this beat I got“. Large Professor used to come up to the Bronx ‘cause I moved from Brooklyn to the Bronx that’s how I met Mellachi Nutcracker from Group Home. I met Smiley The Ghetto Child, I also met Panchy from Nyg’z that’s how I met all of them ’cause Guru had an apartment up there. The girlfriend he was going at with at the time let us take her apartment to go to California for a year. That’s how we ended up in the Bronx and hip-hop started in the West Bronx anyway not the South Bronx. That’s how I met all my friends up there and we all combined together and that’s how the Gang Starr Foundation got to connect all together.
A: You first release on record was on Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth’s LP right?
P: Lord Finesse, yeah.
A: So how was it the all working on the album? What kind of memories do you keep from these days?
P: I still wasn’t that good at producing yet. I still was learning: I didn’t know how to make records. I knew how to make demos on a four track this is not the recording process. I had to learn that, so I started to learn with Gang Starr. But Lord Finesse he was my label mate. I had to learn the next process, he had already done a couple of recordings so he knew more than I did. Lord Finesse taught me some things too. From there we started to put together the “Funky Technician” album. From there, I started to open more when we started to do Step In The Arena that’s the first record when I really started to make beats on my own. There was me and my engineer and Guru would help play a hi-hat or play a snare. We all be on the drum machine together.
A: How did you first meet with Guru?
P: I met him over the phone because Gang Starr had a single called ‘Bust a move’ [produced by 45King] that Red Alert used to play. We had the latest mix-show from Red and Marley and I heard it. The way they sounded different I wanted to know where they were from I worked at a record store in Houston called Soundwaves and I met one of my good friends Carlos Ghazal. Me and Carlos got cool because I knew all my music Carlos used what you call a 12 inch buyer for billboard magazine.
He used to call Billboard and say: “Yo this is the hot record that we carrying in our store“. He’d say “this Gang Starr, this record, this record” he was always getting the fresh stuff back then. Every 12 inch had a phone number on the record and the address and he’d just lookin’ at the phone number and call all those ‘cause you wanted to get record deal so he’d call them. He was tellin’ them about me “I got this friend of mine who works at the record store is dope“. Stew Fine said: “send me his demo” and I didn’t want to send it because we weren’t really ready and he was like “yo man let them hear at least“. I said I am going on in the summer and I’m staying at Gordon’s House with his Family and we were like “just take it with you and once I’ll go up there we let him hear it“. He didn’t like my MC but he liked me but if you don’t take my MC I am not signing. Which I didn’t. He wanted me to meet Guru and I was like “yeah for sure“. I met him and I knew the record and we had a good conversation on the phone and he was like “I’d love to work with you“. I was like “all right“. We met at The world it was like Kool G rap performed Melle Mel came on stage with Busy Bee and did “Suicide”.
I was like “woaw!” Ice Cream Tee from Philly was there ‘cause it was a Strong City showcase for the new music seminar all the Strong City stuff back then. It was dope with Diamond D & Master Rob all of them and Guru was here just to hang. We smoked weed together I was like “this dude is cool” and then from there he was like “yo I really want some of your tracks on my album”. I was like “I’ll do some tracks for you“. I even told him “can you try to talk to Stew and see if he can take my group” and he was like “you got to deal with him on that” I kept tryin’ to tell Stew to do it to put my guys in a real studio to make a better demo he still didn’t like it and as time passed we just kind of grew apart me and my MC. And he went to the military for four years i’m not gonna wait four years ’till he gets home and I have no rapper that’s just me and I just told him “hey I’m available if you still want me”. And he said “yeah we want you” and that’s how I got with Gang Starr.
A: How did the D&D studio start up?
P: D&D has been around since 1982 but we didn’t meet them until 1991 after “Step In The Arena”. All the records I liked I would look to see what studio they worked so I can get my sound to be close to their, ’cause i wanted to be like their. But still sounded different I went to D&D with Showbiz to do a remix for Lord Finesse ‘Return Of The Funky Man’. He wanted me to scratch on it so went there. Showbiz did the beat I did the scratches and I remember Showbiz had to leave and he asked me if he could I get a final run of the cassette. It was cassette-tape back then and I had a dope sound system in my van. I popped in there and listened to it and I was like “damn this shit is knockin’“. Eddie Sancho my engineer was the one that engineered that session so once I heard that I was so blown away by how clear and pounded it was I said “that’s where I’m going to do my stuff at” and then me and Eddie got cool. He taught me about the MPC60 and I bought his MPC. I switched from the SP12 to the MPC.
A: How many Gang Starr albums are produced with the MPC60?
P: [Thinkin' a minute] Daily Operation on up part of that the SP12 the blue one then the SP1200 the grey one. Then I went on Alesis’ drum machine – the HR-16. I did a lot of Daily Operation. On that the only one I did on the SP12 on Daily Operation was “Take It personal”.
A: We’re gonna fish it about your new stuff coming what’s comin up right now?
P: Year Round Records is the label we dropped the NYG’z compilation album in 2008 called “Welcome to the G-Dome”. Then we dropped the Black Poet album last June of the last year. Then we were two songs away from NYG’z album called “Hustlers Union Local Nyg” and then the newest member of the label is Nick Javas. He’s from Jersey his album called Destination Unknown. We have a single that’s about to drop that’s why we bringing him out ‘til get the single ready so people can recognize his talent and everything and get ready for him. We also have a guy from Texas his name’s Khaleel who’s about to drop a album called Already. I am involved in every album. Nick Javas is half-way done with it now he has a buzz we movin’ faster to get it finish stay consistent with the release the single called ‘Oportunity Knocks’ and the b-side is called “Not A Game” which have videos for both.
A: “Opportunity Knocks” is like him talking to you playing with the turntables …
P: Yeah he’s trying to convince me to sign him on my label. I don’t have time to listen to rap for me because that’s not how I do. I don’t audition rappers anyway so he’s pushing me to do it and I’m like “let me hear what you got” and kicks the first verse so I am impressed but not enough to let him see that I’m impressed. So I answer him I grade each rap by scratch he’s talking but everything I do is cuts. Whatever I cut he has to respond to it and the second verse is better. I get a little more compliment but started to get a little excited and I cut “hold it hold it just a minute“, just different cuts but it’s really unique ’cause I never did a record like this ever. This creative and the video matches the record they definitely show why are we together you know as artist label and friends.
A: You’ve done it with Tcho?
P: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know Tcho? Ok.
A: He’s doing some great artwork.
P: Yeah he’s dope. I met him trough Gordon he’s a big fan of all the stuff we doing. He’s a big supporter doesn’t speak that much English but he gets it done and he’s unique. Gordon that’s another person that knows how to recognize talent that’s why he runs the label he does a lot of stuff but he runs the label too.
A: So you also do a show live from the Headquarterz?
P: Yeah! Every Friday night from 10PMm to Midnight eastern time. It’s dedicated to my homie Headquarterz R.I.P. It’s just straight raw new hip-hop that I like. If i don’t like it it’s not getting played I won’t do any favours.
A: Do you have guests like DJ Scratch, Evil Dee?
P: Scratch is feeding for me, Eclipse is here for me this week and next week I have JS-1. Marley Marl and Tony Touch have done already done it as well. I love my show. I am mad that I am not there if I could go home every Friday just to do the show and come back on the road I would do it.
A: Yeah to do it live!
P: Yeah, always live and that’s the thing I don’t want to pre-record. Let it be live and at least even if the listeners are not happy that I’m not there it’s a live.
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