What can be said about DJ Premier that hasn’t already been put to print? His career is thriving in its fourth decade when many artists have a difficult time seeing another summer as fads and trends ebb and flow. Premier is not trendy; he sets trends. His work ethic, music catalog, and adherence to time-honored principles rooted in the foundation of Hip Hop invite and entice fans spanning different generations. Because there is genuineness to the man behind the beats, he possesses the ability to make those around him better –better lyricists, better producers, and better individuals. The “best of the best” has always flocked to Primo and today seems to be no exception. With the rise of talented MCs like Joey Bada$$, as but one example, DJ Premier is providing soundscapes for a new generation of artists.
In the article that follows, read how he initially teamed up with Joey and would relish the opportunity to hit the studio with Drake and 2 Chainz. Also, Premier explains how Game’s “Heaven For A Gangsta” came about and that it was a must that the streets hear it despite it not making the album’s deadline.
Tell me a little bit about this Joey Bada$$ record and how it came about?
I got a call from my manager about Mountain Dew starting a label called Green Label Sound. They are putting together a compilation album with different artists and producers – 9th Wonder, Diplo, people like that. Now, Joey and I met on Twitter because a friend of mine hipped me to him and I saw his first video “Survival Tactics” with his Pro Era Crew. Then I saw one of his interviews where he was asked what made him want to rap and he said, “Gang Starr’s Moment of Truth.” That’s the closest album to my heart -one of my favorites- in all the years I’d been with Guru (God bless his soul). When I shouted him out on Twitter, we just started DMing each other after that.
What was it like doing a record for a major beverage subsidiary like Mountain Dew?
It’s a good look. They originally approached him and asked him who he wanted to work with on his record for the project and he mentioned me. We did the record as a one-off single. For Mountain Dew, they didn’t want any cursing and Joey couldn’t say “BMF” because it could be misconstrued for pertaining to criminal elements. The record is super-edited. He couldn’t say “cops” or “my left nut” either. Actually, we did two records and Joey didn’t really like the first song, didn’t want to use it for this project. He freestyled it and wasn’t feeling it even though everyone else was. So, he wanted to do another record and he came in about a week later where he wrote to a beat and that became “Unorthodox.”
What’s the video look like for this collaboration?
The video came out really dope! It’s kinda like half animation where we kinda morph into animation but our faces are still human. It goes back to animated scenes in Brooklyn, fighting in the hood, riding the train and I really like how it came out. They just showed me the video how we blend and transform and I was definitely impressed with what they did.
You’ve always embraced the new artists coming up. How have you been able to stay at the forefront of the production game with this new generation?
I think that’s what does it. Being a producer, I’m looking to do new things and then I still do my veteran things like with Shabeeno and Panchi (NYG’z). I’m about to drop their album and the material is strong and relevant. I like the younger talent that’s out there, too. I’m a big fan of Drake.
You’ve mentioned 2 Chainz several times in our conversation. What’s your connection to him?
I’d do a record with 2 Chainz! I know him as Tity Boi, so I knew him back when he started with Luda. We’ve had a long-standing relationship going back to when he was first doing Playaz Circle; we’ve been boys for a long time. I remember when he first told me that he was changing his name to 2 Chainz. I was like, ok, cool, and then he started blowing up. He’s still really humble and a good guy. A lot of people think his rhymes are simple and dumbed down, but he can really spit. If he and I hit the studio and got busy, it would come out like what a DJ Premier/2 Chainz record was supposed to sound like. Otherwise, it wouldn’t leave the studio.
How do you think people would receive that record?
I’ve always wanted to be a versatile producer. I’ve worked with a variety of artists over the years and not all fans initially feel some of the music. I’ll go on blogs and read the comments saying, “Oh, Premier you’re playing yourself out by making these kinds of songs.” Even the DJ Premier Blog (www.djpremierblog.com) -which I do not own, but a cat out of Belgium runs it- had comments saying, “This beat is so simple and you’re not showing any versatility.” They don’t understand that every record doesn’t have to sound complicated. As a producer, I do my unique and weird beats, but I know how to shape a beat regardless of who is rapping or singing on it.
What artists of this current generation are you working with or who do you want to work with?
I would definitely like to work with Drake. I would do something with A$AP Rocky, too. I don’t really put 2 Chainz in that category because he’s been out for awhile. He just got his due finally by reinventing himself. I’ve already worked with Mac Miller, just bugging out in the studio. I’d do something with Justin Bieber and make something ill.
This is really no different than what you did with Christina Aguilera several years, correct?
Even with the Christina Aguilera records and other records like that, it’s gotta have that Premier style regardless. When people heard that I worked with her, cats were telling me not to sell out and stray from my style. When they finally heard the songs, they knew that I stayed true to myself and my sound. We were supposed to work together on her last album, but our schedules didn’t work out. My son was just born so I was getting used to being a father. I wasn’t gonna be away from him. We’ll work again though. With Christina, I can be real and genuine with her and she gets me, and vice versa. I mean, my engineer, Christina, and I all connected in L.A. and we ran into Flavor Flav and Warren G as well. Later on, we’re all back at her crib playing Mario Kart, drinking and just acting a fool.
Talk a little about the new Game record “Heaven For A Gangsta” and it not making the final tracklist for his latest album.
Game gave me a text and said that he needs me for the new album. So, I sent him some beats. He wasn’t really feeling the first beat. The second joint was one that I wasn’t sure he would like and I was kinda doubtful that he’d jump on it. I sent it to him and five minutes later he hit me back and said, “This is it.” Game said he just talked to Master P about doing a hook. At least having P on it solidifies it since it draws inspiration from his record of the same name. Anyway, P came in and wanted to do a verse, too. They tracked it and sent it to me the same day. Game wanted R. Kelly on it to do the singing part but that didn’t happen. Game got one of his singers on it and I loved how the song came out. I thought I had more time to get this record done for the album. But, I was on tour with Bumpy Knuckles and I had three other sessions to get to first. Game wanted me to mix the record and neither of us had completed the business side of things. So, I had my engineer tweak it the best he could and I added the scratches to it. The record is very relatable to the hood, especially with Chief Keef having the drama with Lil Jojo and him getting killed in Chicago. P kept it ghetto on that record. Comments out there on the blogs mention Master P’s lyrics and calling them wack. I mean, it was hood and I can relate; and when you’re not hood, it doesn’t make sense to you. Those fans are not listening to the lyrics because, if they were, they would see that the words are heartfelt and real.
What projects are on your immediate horizon?
MC Eiht’s Which Way Iz West is coming soon. We’re mixing the album now and I only have two more new songs to finish. He is doing a record with Bumpy Knuckles and another with his CMW crew –Bam and Chill. We wanted to drop something in 2012, so we decided release an EP (Keep It Hood). I picked the seven songs and I put scratches on them, plus I mixed them, too. He had Brenk Sinatra do the beats on the EP and I’m executive producing it. As for the album, I produced five songs and Brenk is doing the rest. I like the way Brenk approaches production. NYGz is a priority and Khaleel out of Texas is releasing an EP, too, with an album later in the summer. I’m going to be working on the new M.O.P. album that is coming soon. I want to get projects out at least every other month.
Thanks to Al Lindstrom & Chris Moss for this interview!