Since it seems we’ve become obsessed with lists, here’s a topper: DJ Premier. Hailing from Houston, but more famously half of Brooklyn’s Gang Starr, Primo helped pioneer New York hip-hop alongside MC Guru, and has worked with nearly every emcee worth mentioning since 1990. But after the death of Guru back in April, and the subsequent controversy, 2010 just didn’t turn out the way the producer had anticipated.
The legendary producer maintained a steady stream of talent through his studio, but the vast majority of the tracks have yet to be released. That is, until Get Used to Us dropped this week (December 7th) via Primo’s own Year Round Records. Featuring Blaq Poet, NYGz, Freddie Foxxx plus newcomers Khaleel and Nick Javas, the album is just one of at least three Primo will be releasing in the next few months. With a few minutes to spare during a stop in Chicago, Consequence of Sound caught up with Primo to discuss the releases, future collaborations, where he hides his Grammys, and if there is still any emotion left in hip-hop. And in the time CoS shared with Primo, is was clear there was an honest humility, and respect for the game, prominent in his thick, raspy voice.
So, when was the last time you rolled through Chicago?
It was the last Red Bull Big Tune Event. Na, Na, Na. I remember it was with 9th Wonder, and we went in through the back way.
Road Manager: No man, that was [the Nationals] in Atlanta.
Have any of the contestants landed on your label, Year Round Records?
No, right now the only three artists I have on my label are Nick Javas, NYGz, and Khaleel. I want to start slow, and grow independent.
You’re introducing some of the guys on your upcoming compilation. Is the title Get Used to Us a challenge to the rest of the hip-hop community?
Shabeeno from the NYGz says it all the time, ‘Get used to us, get used to us. There ain’t nothing you can do than just get used to us.’ And I was like … really sticking out my head, because that is what I really want all my people to do.
And you’ve known the guys from NYGz for years now.
Yah, they’ve been friends for a while. Even though it is business when we do music, they were already friends of mine because I lived on Panchi’s block on 183rd St in the West Bronx – which is really where hip-hop started, not the South Bronx. We were where it was all getting started.
The new compilation album contains tracks from everything that you have been working on during 2010. How have you gone about compiling the tracks, and artists for your label?
Good music, period! What it is … I have always tried to be different. And I really think that is what I got some fame from. With the label, instead of having strictly East Coast, I have one New Jersey artist who happens to be Italian (Nick Javas). I have one street-gutter group, NYGz, who are from the Bronx and Uptown. Then I got Khaleel, (looking at phone) who’s hitting me up right now, from Texas. They are really the only artists I got right now, but I also got what I refer to as “specialty projects”. Projects like KRS-One and Premiere: The Return of the Bap, Pete Rock vs DJ Premier, and Freddie Foxx’s The Kolexion (The Collection).
And really that is a collection of stuff we already did years ago. Freddie and I did a lot of throw away beats in the past, stuff that just never went anywhere. Freddie asked for what we did, so I gave him a whole batch of ‘em. And like the next day he had six or seven songs. But it’s like, take whatever you want, because I want to keep workin’ on the newer stuff’. And then I have Beats That Collected Dust, which is my instrumental series. Volume II will be dropping the first week of January.
With that Pete Rock joint dropping soon, you have multiple releases on the horizon.
Yah, that we’ll be wrapping up early next year. That was really easy to do. We’re each doing six tracks with six underground artists. But we’re not telling each other who we got.
I know! But can’t you give us any more details?
I am teasing with GZA from Wu-Tang and Beatnuts. But the other four I am not going to say.
With all the releases and your own label, you must be getting more demos than you know what to do with. Everyone wants Primo to be their producer. What drew you to the initial recruits?
With NYGz, it’s just picking up the slack where Guru left off because they are Gang Starr Foundation to begin with. And then on top of that, they were signed to Guru’s Ill Kid label first and they came out as Operation Ratification. They were NYGz to begin with, and then went back from Operation Ratification to NYGz.
What struck you about Khaleel?
Khaleel actually, is really a look out deal. He was signed to another label called 24 Hundred Records. He had done a record with Lord Finesse and Showbiz while he was in New York visiting to do some records with us. He paid us a heap of money and everything came out good. Then after that label folded, and after I had just done some production for them, the owner asked if there were anyway I could help him get in the business or find a deal with somebody. But since I liked him, I agreed to do one album. We already wrapped up the recording, and of course the entire Year Round family will be on it.
The only release you have coming up that is 100% Primo-production is for NYGz. Have you made a conscious decision to focus on singles?
They came to me with the idea of an all-Premier album, that way we wouldn’t have to do it again. And given that our friendship is that close, I agreed to it. Both [the releases] by Nick and Khaleel are 90% me. Marco Polo is helping out doing a couple tracks on each album.
M-Phazes did a lot of Nick Javas’ album. You ever heard of M-Phazes? He’s from Australia, and he’s dope. He was doing all the beat battles here in the States. We actually did a show recently in Australia, and we brought him out on stage. The crowd gave it up for him, because I guess he is popular out there for making beats.
Yah, you just got back from an international tour. How are you received by international fans?
It’s insane. It’s like a pile of ants… I’m from Texas so I’m used to seeing ants. They are never laid back, their always moving. Not like here, where the entire audience is just chillin. Even in the early days, fans here were more into it. In the days that I came up in, when you said ‘Say Ho’ the crowd would be like ‘HOOOOO’. Now it’s hard to get that response.
So, you still find more of that connection internationally?
They just don’t get as much action over there. Here everybody is spoiled by it, so they don’t think that they have to move and dance.
So, do you plan on continuing to produce all your Year Round artists or do you see yourself more as a label manager in the future?
I want to keep my hands on everything. Just like [Dr.] Dre over at Aftermath; he’s the label but he also produces a lot … and he let’s a couple of other cuts come in.
Back when you started, you crafted verses unlike any other producer out there. You could chop hooks from multiple artists, then bring them all back together and still be super-smooth. Now, producers can just cue it all up in the computer. How do you feel technology has changed the landscape – who comes into the game, and the quality of what is coming out?
My main thing is: Just respect the music and where it originated from. If you’re into hip-hop, you have to know what was out there before you. We didn’t have rap records to use as a guide. It wasn’t even called R&B yet, it was soul music that we were finding in the bins. When it was soul, it sounded like Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Barry White… that was soul. Then we had James Brown and funk, guys like Parliament, Ohio Players, and Rick James. This is all we had to build hip-hop. All we did was take the records we partied to, and extend the parts that we liked. Then the emcees would find the beat they like, and just start saying a little something. That’s really how it happened.
You’ve mentioned in the past about a possible joint with Chaka Chan. Do you two still plan on working together?
I would love to. We haven’t talked in a while, but for a minute we were communicating on the regular. I know that she has been doing some shows, and I had to tour a bit, but next year we definitely want to lock in with her. She mentioned that she needed a studio to work in, so I called up Christina Aguilera and asked if there was anyway I could use her studio for ten days. And she agreed, no problem.
She might owe you a little, you two did win a Grammy together.
Yah, for “Ain’t No Other Man”. That was my first Grammy for a single. I won album Grammys for Jay-Z’s Hard Knock Life and D’Angelo’s Voodoo. But to get one for a single means a lot more. They single out everything else, and say that one’s a Grammy winner.
So, do you have them on display in your crib?
Right now, we hung up a lot of my plaques at the studio, but we still have a bunch more to do. I got the Grammy frames that they give you that I might hang up at the studio. Everything else I just keep at the house.
Any young guns out there that you could see bringing into your studio?
I like J. Cole and Drake. They come to mind right away, but there ain’t that many out there. I would like to work with Lil Wayne, he’ll do something ill. I’d also work with Nicki Minaj. I like when people dare to be different. I know people are calling her the Lady Gaga of hip-hop, but you know so-what. She’s not afraid to jump outside of the box, and you have got to love that.
Last month, Jay-Z said that hip-hop needs to find true emotion. What has been your reaction?
That’s the reason why the album I’ll be dropping in December touches more on the ghetto perspective. The music came from the ghetto, it’s more of a latino and black oriented music. I’m glad that it has spread worldwide, and now white, black, pink, yellow, and everyone it doing it; I think it’s dope. But when everyone has taken the grasp of it, someone still has to keep the core in existence. And the truest emotion is the core. So, being that the core is that straight, gutter-hard beats and just hard ass rhymes and talking about how shit still is. But you don’t want to just rap about bad times, there can still be fun. But, I like to let the have-nots know that we are still thinking about them. I can’t take care of them all financially, but at least I can take care of them musically. It’s like creating a medicine that makes them feel better. I’m making and giving the prescription.
Do you see yourself in another long-term collaboration, something similar to Gang Starr?
I don’t think I ever want to be in another group after losing Guru. I wouldn’t mind doing collaboration projects. Like me and Royce (da 5’9”) do a whole album, or Jay-Z and Nas do a whole album. But not, where we are a group. I won’t say never… but I don’t see that.
Can fans expect you to hit the road the spring/summer with the new recruits?
Yah, sure. I would like to start off with a Year Round Tour, where they can get their feet wet. I know that I’ll draw and that can help them get set up. And then they can branch out and help new artists, and I can just stay in the studio and record some more shit.