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DJ Premier Tells All: The Stories Behind His Classic Records

Without a doubt, DJ Premier is top-five dead-or-alive, one of the greatest hip-hop producers ever, and your favorite producer’s producer won’t tell you any different. The Houston, Texas native’s sound, which consists of chopped samples looped over crisply punched drums, and accented with a signature scratch chorus, hasn’t changed much, but still fits as the perfect hip-hop soundtrack for New York’s Timberland-boots-certified street aesthetic. Even after 22 years in the game, reports about his production credits possibly surfacing on the upcoming albums of everyone from Drake to Immortal Technique keep fans on their toes. His continuous relevance asserts that East Coast boom-bap sound is still beloved by many, and upcoming projects like the collaboration album with Pete Rock will only maintain the flame. With that said, to the jizzing joy of those who masturbate to MPC noises, we recently went to the legendary HeadQCourterz (formerly known as D&D Studios) in Manhattan, to hear the master craftsman share anecdotes behind some of his all-time classics as one-half of the legendary Gang Starr and also as a producer for all-time greats like Jay-Z, Nas, and Notorious B.I.G. Records certainly accumulate dust, but resume of a legend never gets old.

Gang Starr “Manifest (Remix)” (1989)

DJ Premier: “The remix was way better. When we did the original I was still not that good at making beats yet. I remember Marley Marl was the first person I played it for, and he even said, ‘I’m going to play it and open the show Friday with it.’ And then Pete Rock played it and I was like, ‘Oh, we’re in, we’re in.’ Then [Wild Pitch Records] was like we need to shoot a video for it, but we need more energy. So they asked if we could do a newer version. Then that’s when we said, let’s speed it up. We took the same elements and relaid them to a better drum pattern. It happened to work, and that became my first hit. From there, the video was shot, and then we just started getting shows left and right.”

Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth “Baby, You Nasty (New Version)” (1990)

DJ Premier: “There were two versions. There was a 12-inch version. For the newer version, I felt like, being the first song on the album, it just needed to be updated. And I’m like that. If I feel like something needs to be updated, I’ll break my neck to outdo the original. So I did that and I love that version better. Guru was actually who A&R’d and got Lord Finesse signed because he used to listen to the demos at Wild Pitch. And he was the one who actually said, ‘Yo, this Lord Finesse guy is dope.’ And Stuart Fine signed him to Wild Pitch. That’s how we became labelmates. And that’s the first record that I ever produced. It was for Lord Finesse.”

Gang Starr “Jazz Thing” (1990)

DJ Premier: “’Jazz Thing’ is what really got me my deal because Spike Lee saw our ’Words I Manifest’ video. He said he saw the Malcolm X resemblances, and he was making Mo’ Better Blues at the time. He bought our album, No More Mr. Nice Guy, and he heard the song ’Jazz Music’ on that. He was doing Mo’ Better Blues about jazz, so he was like, ’Yo, I like the record that ya’ll did, but ya’ll didn’t do an in-depth version of it. Why don’t you do a re-make and update it? I got this guy who wrote this poem that has everything in there. His name is Lolis Eric Elie.’ The poem didn’t rhyme, so Guru just looked at that and took certain lines in that poem and added his little parts, and made it into a verse. And that was our thing, which caught the attention of Chrysalis Records. When they signed us, they thought we were going to do records like ’Jazz Thing’ all the time. When we were just doing that for Mo’ Better Blues.”

Gang Starr “Just To Get A Rep” (1991)

DJ Premier: “This record was based on a robbery, which happened to Guru. He got stuck up for a brand new car he had. We just got our deal, he bought a 4Runner, and I bought an MPV. He went over to Bedstuy with some of his people, and some cats were eyeing him during the day. Later on that night, Guru went to the same spot by himself, so the same guys ran up on him, and got him and took the car. Couple days later, we see the car, so we run up on and chased the guy, which caused the cops to jump in, and they started chasing us. Then the dude who stole the car gets hit by an ice cream truck and dies. The video was a little reenactment, but that was a true story. It’s sad he had to die like that, but that’s part karma and things like that can happen.”

Gang Starr “Credit Is Due” (1991)

DJ Premier: “We always liked to do B-sides. Public Enemy did it, Prince did it all the time, and a lot of New Wave punk bands I liked did a lot of B-sides that weren’t on the album. I just wanted to make something real funky, and I used to love that fucking James Brown sample. That record just sounded ghetto. I’m really into just making that ghetto shit because I like driving to that stuff. I’m like, ’Yo, if I’m getting the opportunity to learn how to work this equipment, I’m going to make it just the way I like to hear it.’ And since I’m a DJ, I got to have DJ elements in there. I would always have turntable elements in my records even if it was just one scratch.”

Gang Starr f/ Nice & Smooth “DWYCK” (1992)

DJ Premier: “It was just a fun record. It was a B-side joint. We did ‘Down the Line’ on the Nice & Smooth album, so we were like, ‘Ya’ll do one with us.’ So we just made a B-side and it was ‘DWYCK.’ WC was here when we cut that record. He was up in New York hanging with me. Don Barron from Masters of Ceremony was also here. Everybody cut their vocals, and Smooth came the second day. He laid his, and we put it out there, and all of a sudden it was a summertime smash. After that we were doing shows everywhere thanks to ‘DWYCK.’ It was a very high point in my life.

“It was supposed to be on Daily Operation, but the label wasn’t rolling with it. They just wanted to leave it the way it was. The buzz, however, was so big, we re-mastered it and tacked it onto the album, but then [the label] just didn’t do the re-pressings. I think we would’ve gone, maybe even platinum. ‘DYWCK’ was that big. We were upset, so we said, ‘Let’s at least put it somewhere down the line because even if they don’t want anything on the album, if they want ‘DWYCK’ on it, they’ll cop’em.’ So that’s why we put that on Hard to Earn.”

Gang Starr “Mass Appeal” (1994)

DJ Premier: “It was recorded as a joke. We just wanted to make fun of the radio on what it sounded like to get airplay. That’s why I made the background melody real simplistic. I was making fun of the radio, but I’m going to make a funky version of making fun of it. Everything’s a vision, and your brain has to be that intense to be able to capture that. What the radio played, when it came to hip-hop, it sounded too watered down. That was making fun of it, but that record did real good for us. We shot the video in Riis beach out in Far Rockaway, but don’t mention that video, man. It was cold, too cold.”

Gang Starr “Tonz O Gunz” (1994)

DJ Premier: “It’s just about the whole gun situation. Everybody’s holding, including us. We were holding too. When I hold a gun, I know how to be sensible about it. I’m not holding it to wild out or just to shoot somebody because I’m mad at him. There’s responsibility in buying that gun, and part of it is dealing with it like a man, and not dealing with it like an idiot, and getting behind iron bars for unnecessary reasons. I think the law sucks on how guns are here, especially in New York versus Texas where we can carry one. I understand in one way, but you got to look at it both ways. I don’t have problems with people owning guns, though. Just don’t wild out with it. It’s all gravy. Everybody could have a gun. As far as the record, I just wanted to make it sound like chaos because that’s what is going on when there are tons of guns in the mix. And those samples definitely fit my vision of what it should sound like.”

Jeru the Damaja “Come Clean” (1994)

DJ Premier: “Guru wanted six artists on Gang Starr Foundation. He said, ’I’m going to sign three, and you’re going to sign three.’ I never got my three. So I said, ’Let’s start with your three.’ It was Big Shug, Group Home, and Jeru. Jeru was the most ready, so we started with him. I cooked it up, and I thought about putting some melodies to it, but Jeru’s so grimy and hardcore, the beat was perfect for him. He didn’t need any extra keyboards, or melodic sounds. It just sounded raw, and no one made a beat like that. And I ended up making two albums with [Jeru]: The Sun Rises in the East and Wrath of the Math. I stopped working with Jeru because of business issues. I keep business and friendship separate all the time. So I was like, ’Let’s just chill, and we’ll keep it cool.’ And we’re still cool to this day.”

Nas “N.Y. State of Mind” (1994)

DJ Premier: “That was just amazing because it happened in this room. Actually, anything from ‘92 and on, we did it here. It was just amazing watching him work because I was already a fan of him when he did ‘Back to the Grill,’ ‘Halftime,’ ‘It Ain’t Hard to Tell,’ and ‘Live at the Barbeque.’ So when I heard him on those records I was like, ‘Yo, I got to do something that’s on the same level.’ So I came in here, and flipped the ill, gutter, Joe Chambers sample (‘Mind Rain’). I can tell you because it’s cleared. [Laughs.] Nas watched me build the beat from scratch. And he wrote the verse in the studio. If you listen to ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ you’ll hear him going, ‘I don’t know how to start this shit,’ because he literally just wrote it. Before he started the verse, I was signaling him going, ‘One, two, three,’ and he just goes in like, ‘Rappers I monkey flip’em, in the funky rhythm.” He did that in one take. After he did that first verse, he goes, ‘How was that? Did that sound all right?’ And we were just like, ‘Oh, my God! The streets are going to go crazy when they hear this!’

“It was one take, but he would format it before. He’ll sit at the front, cover his mouth when the beat’s playing, and would mumble it. So we can’t hear what he’s saying. He was real quiet, but he would bring his whole army. Rest in peace to Drawz, by the way. He just died not too long ago. I remember [Nas] bringing Slate, Wallet Head, basically, all the people he was shouting out. They would be like, ‘Can we go in [the booth] too?’ They just wanted to feel it, you know? It was just funny to watch them all in the booth doing ‘Represent,’ and yelling in the background.”

Big Daddy Kane f/ Big Scoop, Jay-Z, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Sauce Money, & Shyheim “Show & Prove” (1994)

DJ Premier: “I didn’t know who [Kane] was going to bring. I thought it was just going to be Kane and me. And that’s what I really wanted. Then he just started calling everybody. ’Yo, ODB come up here. Yo, Jay-Z come up here. Shyheim…’ Everybody just started coming up, and they all started spitting. And I was like, ’Damn, how many people are we going to put on this thing?’ But it’s Kane, and he was paying me for it, so I just said, ’Whatever you want.’ ODB ended the cut, but I like Sauce Money’s verse. Sauce kept changing his verse. He had other verses that were way better, but you know everybody wanted to outdo everybody.”

Notorious B.I.G. “Unbelievable” (1994)

DJ Premier: “I almost didn’t make the record. Big called me at the last minute, and said, ’Get me a track,’ and I told him, ’I don’t have time to make one.’ I had other deadlines to meet at the time. He was on his way to blow up, and I loved him, and I wanted to help, but I really just didn’t have the time. I used to see Big in the area all the time. Just to hang. Mister Cee put me on to Big, and we would go down to the store where we used to buy 40s. We’ll see Big, and he’ll be like, ’Yo, what do I got to do to get put on?’ And I said, ’Well, you messing with Puff.’ And he’s like, ’Yeah, but he’s taking too long.’ And I would be like, ’Nah, stay with him. He’s going to help you get rich.’ He was just impatient like all artists, but it’s a process.

“So he just kept pushing me like, ’Yo, Prim, please, please, I ain’t got no more money in my budget. All I got is $5,000.’ And I’m like, ’Dude, I cost way more than that, but I love you, and I’m going to go ahead and look out for you. Just get up here tonight.’ And I did that beat. He was here. Standing right over there [points at the corner next to the turntable] while I was sampling the beat, and goes, ’I just want to watch [imitates Biggie’s breathing].’ [Laughs.] I don’t like people watching me making my beats, but with Big I was just comfortable. He was actually the one who said, ’Yo, scratch R. Kelly’s ’Your Body’s Callin’.’ You know where he goes, ’Unbelievable~’’ And I was like, ’Yo, that sounds like it’ll work.’ Then he just went in there and spit it. No paper, no nothing. He actually just sits there for hours. And you’d think he’s not doing anything, or even concentrating, and then when it’s getting damn near three or four in the morning, you ask him, ’Dude, are we going to do this tonight? Or are we coming back tomorrow?’ He’ll be like, ’Nah, I’m ready.’ And he just gets up, and goes in there. Bangs it. Done.”

Chubb Rock, Jeru the Damaja, & O.C. “Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers” (1995)

DJ Premier: “That’s Spike Lee, man. He wanted me to do it. He wanted Chubb Rock, Jeru, and O.C. I said, ‘Say no more.’ And we saw the footage of Clockers, and I said, ‘Okay, got it.’ We went in, did it in two days. Done. I remember Chubb Rock came in the first day, and had to leave to catch a flight. O.C. and Jeru were local, so both of them came in together. Everything Chubb Rock said was incredible. He’s definitely one of my favorite lyricists, ever. I still see O.C. all the time. He comes up here to see Showbiz, since Showbiz rents a room from me.”

KRS-One “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” (1995)

DJ Premier: That’s just another dope record. Kris and I were working on some stuff, and he said, ’I need a single from you.’ So he brought his thing, and I remember playing that intro with the thump. He already liked it when it just had the bells, but when I added that additional sound he just went, ’Ohh, yo, this is going to be big.’ I definitely enjoyed that record. Kris is just bugged out, man. He’ll go, [imitates KRS-One’s voice] ’Go to the car, and get me the black, blue, and green bags. And bring those here.’ They bring them in. ’Great.’ He unzips these duffle bags full of stacks and stacks of rhyme notebooks. Rhymes he wrote in the ’70s and ’80s. He’ll go, ’Umm, let’s see here, and that, and here, give me that yellow one, okay, and give me that brown one. Okay, let’s go lay the song.’ And he uses like three different rhymes, but they all sound relevant. And they sound like something he just wrote. He just skims through it, and murmurs then goes, ’Okay, I got it.’ These are rhymes he been had, and they sound like today. That’s amazing.

“As far as production he’ll debate, and be like, ’No, I think we need to add this and this and this.’ But he’ll let me fight him, because I know what I’m talking about as well, and he doesn’t get offended when I do that. That’s what tells me that he’s human, he’s real, and he’s not trying to run the show. And he’s a producer too. I watched him make ’Mad Izm’ here. Kris was always in this room. If I wasn’t here, it was always KRS and our other engineer, Norty Cotto.”

Jay-Z “D’Evils” (1996)

DJ Premier: “That’s totally personal and dear to him. He called me and told me how important this record was and he did the rhyme over the phone. He always rhymes to me over the phone. He’ll be like, ’Yo, I got this record. Let me do the rhyme for you.’ He’ll just do it over the phone, acapella. And you just sit there and listen. I’ll say, ’Okay, I got it, I got it.’ He just gives me the idea so I can know what it’s about. I come in here, blank canvas. And he told me all the scratches he wanted me to cut. I don’t think he spins, but just the fact that he was able to come up with that hook, I guess Jay-Z has a little bit of DJ in him too. I just had to convert it to the Premier style. He said, ’I want minor keys, almost sad.’ He just came here, laid it out, and never wrote it down.”

Nas “I Gave You Power” (1996)

DJ Premier: “I was on tour with Gang Starr, and I was just getting back. And I was going right back out to go to Japan. So I didn’t have any time to make any other beats for It Was Written. But Nas said, ’I want to make a record as if I was a gun.’ We started messing around, trying to figure out what he’s going to do, and we finally figured out a way, because he said, ’Maybe I should do a skit where I drop the gun, and somebody else finds it.’ And that’s how it all built, and I said, ’You know what? Instead of making this a hard mean shit, let me make it sound sad.’ Because he said I’m going to be the gun talking about being tired of all the stuff I’m doing to people. That’s why I put that emotion behind it.”

Jay-Z “Intro: A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More” (1997)

DJ Premier: “Jay once again called me, and said, ‘I want to do this track called ‘A Million and One Questions.’’ So he did his rhyme over the phone, and he said, ‘Then I want it to break down in the middle and go into ‘Rhyme No More.’’ He brought Too Short up here that day. They were doing ‘A Week Ago.’ Too Short was in the other room, Corner Studio D, dealing with that track, while I was in this room making the beat. I always make my own style of what I think works for the artist, but if they idealize it and tell me I work on their vision. There were some tempo issues, but I just made it sound like they go together, and they did. And I added that Aaliyah sample. I loved ‘One in a Million.’ I loved the video, the way she was moving her body, and I was really into the way she looked in that video, and the song was dope, Timbaland was a new guy to us, and he was just so ahead with this new sound. But, yeah, as soon as [Jay] said, ‘A Million and One,’ I thought, ‘One in a million.’ So I just sampled it, and pitched it up to the right key, and threw it in on the pad. Jay laid the first part, and walked back out to work with Too Short, and said, ‘Call me when you’re ready.’ I made the second part, and he said, ‘Yo, that’s it. Let me go right in the booth.’ He laid it, and I attached it. Back then to edit it we had to splice the tape, and put it together. Kids these days don’t know how to cut notebook paper with a pair of scissors. [Laughs.] You mess up on a punch, and you have to re-cut it. On Protools, you just press undo. But Jay-Z trusts me. He’ll just lay his vocals, and says, ‘Do the Premier thing.’”

Notorious B.I.G. “Kick In The Door” (1997)

DJ Premier: “After the first album, he said, ’If I blow up and go platinum, I’m going to give you the money you want.’ I charged him $5,000 for ’Unbelievable,’ then he paid me $30,000 per song on the second one. I can’t be mad at that. That’s a big jump from five grand. ’Kick In The Door’ almost didn’t make it because I dropped it off to Puff in a 20-minute cassette. Back then when we were dropping beats off, we weren’t burning CDs or flash drives and shit. So I made a beat of that, and gave it to Puff. Then Puff’s office called me later that day saying, ’Hey, your platinum Biggie plaque came in.’ I went to pick it up that same day. I’m about to leave, then Puff walks out the office and goes, ’Yo, man. What’s going on? I need you to work on some new stuff for Big.’ I said, ’I gave him a track today. Remember? I came here and dropped it off.’ He was like, ’Yeah, but I don’t like that one. That ain’t hot. I need you to come with that Tunnel shit. What you did with ’Unbelievable.’ Because you ain’t hitting it with this one.’ I said, ’This shit is hard, yo. Has Big heard it?’ He goes, ’Big ain’t heard it. I’m going to give it to him, and let him hear it, but you can already count on that not going on the album.’ So I went back thinking of trashing it, and working on another one. Then Biggie calls me later around five or six in the afternoon, and asks, ’Yo, can you come in tonight so we can lay down the joint?’ I go, ’But I got to make something.’ Big says, ’Nah, I want to lay the joint you gave me earlier today.’ I replied, ’Puff said he didn’t like it.’ Then Big goes, ’Fuck Puff! I got shit to say, and I got to get at your man Jeru too.’ I said, ’As long as it’s peaceful, you got to do what you got to do. You’re a man.’ You know, Biggie was hurt by a lot of people he felt like betrayed him when it came to his success. He did what he had to do, but at the end of the day, I wish he were still here.”

Gang Starr f/ Inspectah Deck “Above The Clouds” (1998)

DJ Premier: “That’s about your mental. I remember we called Inspectah Deck, and he was on the phone with Guru like, ’Yo, what’s this song about?’ And Guru said, ’It’s about your mental.’ Just like that. Deck leaned on one part of the control board, and Guru faced the opposite end, and they faced each other with their pads writing their lyrics. I just had the beat running, while I was constructing the intro, because the intro had to be sick. So I was doing that, but looking at them every now and then. And they eventually go, ’Yo, I’m ready.’ Guru walks in and does his, and when Deck goes in, we’re just like, ’Jesus Christ.’”

Fat Joe “Dat Gangsta Shit” (1998)

DJ Premier: “Joe and I go way back. Him and Guru were very close too. This is when we were living in the Bronx. That’s a turntable record. It’s fun; it’s a simple beat, nothing crazy. It gave him room to rhyme. That’s why some of my turntable records are more stripped down and raw. It gives you the ability to rhyme because it doesn’t smother you out. If you’re going to do another cut on the album you can do some experimentation, but green wise, you’re going to put some cactus and nothing else.”

Jay-Z “So Ghetto” (1999)

DJ Premier: “At the time, Jay and I hadn’t spoken in a while. And I ran in to him at a Janet Jackson concert. I remember he walked by, and I was at the little concession stand to get a slice of pizza or something. He was popular already, but not as big as he is now. So my boy goes, ’There go Jay-Z.’ And you know how they walk by and see you, but they’re walking in a certain pace and don’t catch you on the dot? So when he looks, my boy goes, ’I bet you he ain’t going to come back.’ As soon as he said that, Jay doubles back and comes back. He goes, ’Yo, I’m working on my new album, man. I need you for this joint.’ He came here, I played him the beat, and he loved it. This was the first time he didn’t give me any instructions. He said, ’Yo, I love it. I’ll be back in an hour.’ Came back in an hour and said, ’Aight, let’s go.’”

Mos Def “Mathematics” (1999)

DJ Premier: “That’s left field. I love that beat. Oh, my God. That’s straight gutter. You can’t front on me with that. I chop that shit up lovely. ‘I revolve around science/What are we talking about here?’ You know a lot of DJs cut and attach stuff now, but they ain’t doing it like me. And that’s not even to brag, it’s just scientific. It’s mathematical. Mos and I go way back. He used to be managed by my manager. He was in a group called UTD, Urban Thermo Dynamics, back then. His sister Ces, and D.c.Q, his brother, were all in the group. [Mos] is so bugged out, so I knew I had to make a bugged-out beat. ‘Mathematics’ is just so fucking funky. I remember I went to see Scarface at Enterprise Studio. They called it Enterprise because it looked like a spaceship. It was in a big, huge, movie-theater-type room. He’s in there working on one of his albums, and he was like, ‘You got some beats? Let me hear what you’re working on.’ I played him the beat for ‘Mathematics,’ and he goes, ‘Yo, I should have that! That’s what I want! When you do something with me, I want that! Don’t give me no down south whatever. I want that beat, and I will kill that.’ Scarface even met Mos Def and told him that he wanted that beat. But Mos is quick, man. He heard it, had his verse ready, went in there, and it didn’t take him much.”

Nas “Nas Is Like” (1999)

[Reaches back and pulls out a record.]

DJ Premier: “I was about to throw it away. And who would’ve known? This was the sample. It’s a fucking church record. I remember Showbiz and I bought out this record store from this old guy who was shutting it down in the Bronx. And we were like, ’Let’s split it in half. You take half the room, and I’ll take the other half.’ We boxed everything up, and just took them. Unfortunately, Showbiz’s stuff was in the storage place, and his storage got burnt down. Mine I still have. And this record was one of the many that were sitting in that box with no cover. I was about to throw it out, and then I said, ’You know what? Let me see what’s on it.’ And, yeah, glad I checked. This is ’Nas is Like.’

“I made that record in my house when I was living in Long Island. So I made that record on my way to meet Nas. All I had was the birds chirping in the beginning of the beat. And I had that ’Nas, nas, nas, nas, nas, nas is like.’ I didn’t have the music, but I mean I knew that was the sample I wanted to mess with because I did freestyle, just reversing the record back and forth. So Nas said, ’Yo, I got it. I’m going to call it ’Nas is Like.’’ And we cut it in one day. Later he called me and said, ’Yo, this is going to be my first single.’ I said, ’I got a single with you?’ Because he had a single with Large Professor, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and I wanted one too. So, yeah, we went to the Bridge, his old apartment where he used to live, and shot the video. ’Ready when you are Preem.’ [Laughs.]

Big L f/ Big Daddy Kane “Platinum Plus” (2000)

DJ Premier: “Jay-Z was supposed to be on [’Platinum Plus’] too. It was supposed to be the three of them, but he never had the chance to do it in the time frame. We really had to turn it in to make the date. So we just went ahead and did it without him. This is when Jay and Big L were talking about a deal, but they were friends anyway. L used to take Jay everywhere and go, ’Yo, this is my man Jay-Z. He’s dope.’ He took him to Stretch & Bobbito, and he would take Jay to all the spots. It wasn’t the other way around. I met Big L through Lord Finesse and Showbiz way back. [Finesse] met him at Rock N. Wills, which was one of the spots we used to go digging and all that. They used to have battles there. L was at a battle, he met Lord Finesse who he was a big fan of, and they clicked. He introduced to him to Show, and then Show put him on ’Represent’ on Runaway Slave.

“We were just always around each other a lot. L was just super funny. He was a jokester. One time, him and Showbiz were arguing about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in this room. Showbiz was like, ’Yo, you’re stupid. You think you know everything, but you’re stupid.’ And L was still trying to justify himself. And he talks like he rhymes. He’ll be like, [raises the pitch of his voice] ’Yo, yo, yo, Premier like, that nigga don’t know what he be talkin’ bout. Yo, check this out, yo, Martin Luther King, he said in his book like, yo, Malcolm X, yo.’ You know what I mean? And Show was just like, ’You’re stupid! You don’t know shit! Fucking, you’re the dumbest motherfucker in the world!’ And L would be like, ’Yo, fuck you, you don’t know shit, yo, let me tell you about Malcolm X.’ And they were waiting for Fat Joe to get here to do ’Da Enemy.’ Joe finally walks in and goes, ’What are ya’ll arguing about?’ And then Show was still going at it like, ’You’re a stupid motherfucker.’ And L would be like, ’Yo, yo, yo, you don’t know shit. Yo, ya’ll get the beat ready? I already got my rhymes.’ And Joe was like, ’You go first.’ And then we heard L said his shit, and we were like, ’Oh, my God. When the streets hear this? It’s on and popping.’”

Black Eyed Peas “BEP Empire” (2000)

DJ Premier: “I remember when we did that; Steve Stoute was here because he was overseeing their project for Interscope before he started doing branding stuff for artists. I remember when I played the beat for them, and [Steve Stoute] came into the room, and said, ’Aww, man, ya’ll got to rhyme hardcore to this beat.’ And Will and them were like, ’We ain’t hardcore. We are who we are.’ Then Steve said, ’Yeah, but that beat is hardcore.’ I was like, ’Yo, Steve, let them do what they do, man.’ I like the fact that Steve thought it was raw, and he liked it, because I got to please him as well. But lyrically, let them do what they do. And they did a good job. I even liked the infomercial video they did.

“We toured with [Black Eyed Peas] in ’98 at the Smokin’ Groove Tour. I remember seeing them dancing their ass off. They usually just have like a jazz drummer, a bass player, and that was it. They’ll have a horn player, and they’ll do all these crazy Scatman dances. With the crazy clothes, and killing it. And nobody in the audience was there by the time they were on. It was so early in the show. But they were real cool, and we never acted funny with them. We always treated them with love, and never changed on them. Now look at them; they’re huge. I’m proud of them.”

Capone-N-Noreaga “Invincible” (2000)

DJ Premier: “They were just thugged out, man. They were just on some other shit. He had a billion people in here going in and out, constantly. I’m trying to get a certain reaction, and it took like three days to finally get one from them. I’ll just keep making beats. I’ll scrap it, or put it on a disk, and come back to it later. Over and over, and on the third day they were like, ‘Yo, that’s it.’ Capone sat in one corner, and N.O.R.E. sat in another corner, and they started writing. They’re just like how they are in their records. They drink a lot of liquor, smoke a lot of cigarettes, puff a lot of weed—just everything. It was a thugged out session. You know, but I could relate to thugs. I understand their mentality and their world. I’m at home in either circumstance. A non-thug one or a thug one, it doesn’t matter. I speak more than one language. I speak nigga, Ebonics, and English. And I know how to approach the beat for N.O.R.E. versus Mos versus Lady of Rage versus Snoop.”

D’Angelo “Devil’s Pie” (2000)

DJ Premier: “It was actually a Canibus track for ‘Niggonometry.’ And he said, ‘I just want a hard bass line, and some drums.’ I did that beat, but he said I’m not cutting it in to his vision. Then D’Angelo called me the same night talking about, ‘Yo, man, I want you to hear what I’m working on and get a track from you.’ So I go by there, and I played him the track Canibus didn’t want, and D’Angelo was like, ‘Ooooooooh!’ He gets really amped. You see him all sexy and naked in the video, but he was running around the room, and we were just looking at him like, ‘Wow.’ He was like, ‘Yo, this is it.’ And then we cut it. All of a sudden Belly comes out, and Lyor Cohen was like, ‘We want to buy that for Belly.’ So we got paid twice: for the album and the soundtrack. [Laughs.] And I got a Grammy for that.”

Common f/ Bilal “The 6th Sense” (2000)

DJ Premier: “I was actually out of town when Rasheed told me he’s going to put this guy Bilal on it to sing. And I was like, ’No, no, don’t put a singer on there. Let me scratch.’ But he was like, ’Well, can I at least lay it, cut the vocals, and send you what he did? Maybe you can then weave some scratches.’ He sent it to me, and I was like, Wow. I like the way [Bilal] sang so bugged out. He sounds almost like a wicked witch or something. And I was like, ’Yo, I actually like it. When I get home I’ll put scratches and weave it in and out.’ I actually did that beat for Rah Digga, and she didn’t like it. And then I gave Rah Digga ’Lesson of Today,’ and I’m glad we switched because she killed that, and Rasheed killed his.”

The Lox “Recognize” (2000) and “None Of Y’all Better” (2001)

DJ Premier: “They were at some studio. Maybe Quad? And I went up there and made it on the spot real quick, and I had to leave to go out of town, so I said, ‘I’ll just leave it with ya’ll. Just touch it. Then I’ll mess with it when I get back.’ They blessed it. Being groomed by Puff on Bad Boy, you got to learn how to structure out your albums, and they know how to do that. So with that one it was just real easy. For ‘None of Ya’ll Better,’ which was Jadakiss’ Kiss Tha Game Goodbye, I was just expecting him to be on it, then again, I went out of town, when he sent the parts back, now remind you we were on two-inch tape, not Protools, so they get me the reel, I pop it in, and I’m looking at the track sheet like, ‘Styles P and Sheek Louch?’ So they jumped on it again! I never got a solo record from any of them except when Jadakiss did ‘Rite Where U Stand’ with Gang Starr. I guess they thought, ‘Shit, I got a chance to be on another Premier track? I’m jumping on it.’ So they always made it a Lox collabo, which is always dope because they always got busy.”

Devin the Dude “Doobie Ashtray” (2002)

DJ Premier: “That was originally a remix. It was actually a sample they couldn’t clear. So they were like, ‘Could you replay it?’ I just pulled out my little keyboard, and did something real simple. I put in my drums and my snaps, and it was done. I sent it back, and they loved it. Devin’s the shit. He’s working with one of my artists. I have an artist named Khalil, who’s signed to Year Round Records, and Devin’s going to be on the record called ‘Please Don’t Change.’ I just saw Devin two weeks ago when I went to see my mom down in Texas.”

Gang Starr “Battle” (2002)

DJ Premier: “Eminem reached out and asked us to be on the 8 Mile soundtrack. We were grateful. We already saw the footage that they gave us to look at, the battle scene coordinated by Craig G and everybody. So we were like, ’Oh, okay. That’s perfect.’ I love that record, and the cut is crazy. I was purposely stopping the cut like, ’Yo, man, how, much, money, you, got.’ I did that to make it catch. DJs who are purists know. They’ll be like, ’Ooh, he’s stopping it.’ Doing that on beat, and trying to catch it, DJs know I killed it. Regular people who listen won’t know.”

Royce da 5’9” “Boom” (2002)

DJ Premier: “That’s when Royce was on Koch. We did a little deal, and I did two records. ‘My Friend’ was one of them, and ‘Boom’ was another one. That’s definitely one of my favorite left-field records that I knew was going to blow. I didn’t have the ticks at the beginning yet, I just had the original loop, and didn’t even add the additional bounce on it. Then I added the sound of the clavinet, and it was done.”

Royce da 5’9” “Hip Hop” (2004)

DJ Premier: “That beat I actually did for a Mary J. Blige remix, but they passed on it. And Royce literally called when I was hanging up the phone hearing from Mary and them that they weren’t going to use it. Royce was like, ’I need a beat real quick, and I got some dough for you right now.’ I sent it his way, and as soon as he heard it he wanted to lay it. He flew out to New York, we cut the vocals down, and it was done.”

Pitch Black “It’s All Real” (2004)

DJ Premier: “I’ve known them brothers for a while. I’ve known them for years when they were getting money on the streets and all that stuff. I know they put Pitch Black together from different MCs they were all helping to do other things, and it was a no brainer. That was another beat I did for Rah Digga, and she didn’t use it. I played it for them, and right away they were like, ‘Yeah, we like it.’ I didn’t have the hook or the part that goes ‘realize it’s all real.’ But it sounded right, so I added that in there. The video did real well for that song, that got a lot of momentum, plus they were on Universal, but they didn’t know what to do with them, and they just ruined their project.”

Termanology “Watch How It Go Down” (2006)

DJ Premier: “That was actually for Blaq Poet. It was originally Poet and Alchemist rhyming for Tha Blaqprint. Al did his rhyme, and never wanted me to hear it. He was just like, ’No, it ain’t up to par. It ain’t where I want it to be to satisfy you.’ I just wanted to hear it. People done that before, but I know how to judge a rhyme. So we just put the song on pause, then one day Statik Selektah was here and I played him the beat, and he was like, ’Yo, I’ll buy that.’ It was a nice fee, and Term did what he was supposed to do, and he blessed it. I did two other tracks on his album, ’How We Rock,’ and ’So Amazing.’ I just love his grind, man. He does whatever it takes to get himself noticed, and he doesn’t care who hates him because he knows not everybody’s going to like him. He covers every aspect and his heart is really in it.”

Kanye West, Nas, KRS-One, & Rakim “Classic (Better Than I’ve Ever Been)” (2007)

DJ Premier: “Rick Rubin did the original, and word on the street is they weren’t satisfied with the outcome. It was a whole different tempo, and a whole different approach. Rob Stone said they might actually want to remix it. Actually, KRS-One called me and said, ’Yo, I need you to help fix this record.’ Then I saw the launch on MTV, and I figured that’s over with, when they launch the sneaker and everything. Then all of a sudden I got a call back again two or three weeks later saying, ’Yo, they still want you to do something.’ So they sent me the parts, and everything was different. Kanye, Nas, and KRS did the joint to the Rick Rubin beat. Rakim wanted to make his own beat. So he made his own beat, but at the wrong tempo. So when I got it I had to tweak it to get him to that tempo, but still keep him in the same tone of voice. You can do that with technology. So I had to keep him in the same key. He was at a 100 rpm, but it was 107, so that’s a big step. So I stay tuned in the same zero note that he pulled, sped it up, and it matched. Then I just pieced the whole thing together.

“For the video, Rakim came here, and we turned all the lights down, and just made it really dark. Since he’s the only one who came here, when you see the play back, it’s ill. We shot him just with the acapella so we can bring him back in. When I saw that, even though Rakim was last on the song, in the video, I thought he should go first. And that’s how we flipped it around. The video was dope, man.”

Royce da 5’9” “Shake This” (2009)

DJ Premier: “We were working on the Street Hop album, then Royce was like, ‘Yo, I got to go to court tomorrow, so I got to fly back to Detroit, but after I’m done with that, I’ll fly back out to New York, and we’ll do it.’ He flies out there, goes to court, and they’re like, ‘You got another DWI, and you’re going to jail.’ They put him right back in jail. So once he got out of jail, he was like, ‘I got to shake off all the stuff I’m doing. The jail shit, the drinking, fighting with my wife. I’m about to have another baby.” He already had two sons, but he was about to have a daughter, and she was going to be born when he’s in jail. Luckily, he comes out right before she’s born. I like how he put the emotions in his rhymes. He does that in another record we did called ‘Ding.’ I love that. We did that the day Proof died. You can just feel the emotion.”

Bun B “Let ’Em Know” (2010)

DJ Premier: “I did that for Busta Rhymes, but he didn’t use it. Bun just happened to call on the humble. He told me to send the beat his way and wanted to see if he could fuck with it. And he did. The other night, I got called in to cover for the Slaughterhouse show. Then Bun gives me a call saying he’ll be there too. So he goes, ’You want to do it?’ [Smiles.] That was just last minute. We had fun doing that. I’m from Houston, he’s from Port Author, and [Pimp C and Bun B] moved to Houston. We just knew mutual people from Rap-A-Lot and all that stuff. They’re just official, man. The line Pimp C had in that joint is actually a drop he gave me for my radio show. Being that he lost Pimp, and I lost Guru, it’s dope that we’re doing a record dedicated to Guru, but Pimp C is spiritually co-signing. He goes, ’I’m fucking with Primo. It’s going down, baby.’ That’s dope, man.”

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