Nas recently discussed his admiration and love for longtime friend DJ Premier and dished on just how great of a music producer he is in an ever-changing rap game.
Nas stated that, Premo does not realize how iconic his craft is.
“I would say outside of Gang Starr, I kind of opened up those flood gates because after I worked with him, he did Biggie, he did Jay [Z], so, right around in that same period, it wasn’t just Gang Starr and KRS-One, he also had the new guys coming in. He had me, Big and then Jay. So he was our sound. He was the sound of hip-hop.
I don’t even know if Premier knows it – I don’t even think he knows how incredible he is. … Behind closed doors, when it’s just him, I don’t know if he really gets how incredible he is. It’s just how he is. He’s always trying to strive for perfection, in my opinion.” (BBC Radio 1)
Today DJ Premier is receiving the Life Time Achievement Award @ 2014 Global Spin Awards, we from djpremierblog wants to congrats him for this big honor! More media to follow, but first this interview before the awards:
Music Times: Now that you’ve been honored by the Global Spin Awards for your lifetime work as DJs, what do you think your legacies will be?
DJ Premier: I still just can’t believe I’m being honored. I mean I’m just thinking about other DJs that came before me that definitely deserve recognition before I do — well not before I do because I put my work in — but there are so many other DJs I look up to that don’t get recognized and people like me recognize them because without them I wouldn’t have done what I chose to do as a DJ/Producer, a recording artist and an entrepreneur. But I’m definitely honored because of the fact that they’re focused on giving me that type of attention and it let’s me know that what I’m doing is the right thing.
Music Times: What is the role of the DJ today in breaking music?
DJ Premier: The role is to always break the records based on what you feel what people need to hear. That’s the school I come from, and that’s the reason I have a radio show every Friday night from 10 p.m. to midnight EST on Sirius XM satellite radio channel 44, which is Hip Hop Nation. It’s called “Live From HeadQCourterz,” and that show is strictly to break anything new that’s hip-hop that I think sounds like the purest form, which is dope beats, dope rhymes. It doesn’t matter if it feels popular to radio. It has to feel popular to me or has a sound that I think people need to hear because I’m a tastemaker, which is what we all are as DJs. Every DJ has different jobs in this culture. We all do it differently. Some people have to follow playlists, but me, I set the playlist. I’m glad I have that window and I make sure that I only do it that way.
Music Times: Where are you finding the best music these days?
DJ Premier: It gets sent to me. It’s crazy. There’s people that are like “I got your email from so-and-so. Check this out, I think you might like it. I listen to your show every week.” So then I’ll download and listen to what they send and I’m like “Wow, this is hot.” And I’m excited to play it that Friday.
Music Times: How important is flexibility and having a taste for different types of music?
DJ Premier: When I’m out of town, I’ll get DJs who make it seems exactly as if I’m there because they do it live. I don’t like to pre-record. I can get DJ Scratch, I can get Kid Capri. I can get DJ Finesse, who does a lot of more EDM stuff and dance music, but as soon as he’s doing my show he’s playing straight underground, raw rap. You should be that flexible to DJ. If I have to do an EDM party, I can do it. If I have to do a rock party, I can do it. If have to do a party for weddings, where you have to have pop, rock, soul, new wave, dance, whatever, you got to be able to do it. Then you go right back to an underground show and playing straight gutter. There are certain DJs that are kind of dependent on one style. But a versatile DJ is what you are supposed to be if you want to be able to last in this game. You want to be able to do more than just one style because once that style starts to slow down, what are you going to do? Sit there and say “My life is over” or find something that can still keep you active as a DJ and get you work.
You can watch the Global Spin Awards live in a couple of hours here (but I don’t think it works outside the USA)
How did the group with DJ Premier start?
We originally were supposed to do it with Slaughterhouse, and it didn’t pan out for a number of reasons. So I ended up getting on the phone with Preem and just asking him how he felt about just me and him doing it based off of our schedules.
Being sober, you have to find things that inspire you in order to truly do it. You lose interest in things, man. Like, you’ve been going to the studio for 20 years, rapping. [Laughs] Now it’s like, okay, you have to find something that drives you to the studio. So this was that thing. Any opportunity that I get to be able to work with Premo, I try to take it. I’ve been working with him on every single album, no matter what the situation is. So once we got three or four songs in, it was starting to feel like the stars were lining up. Everything started falling into place, and I’m into that. So I was like, alright, cool. And by the time we got to nine [songs], that was it. It was like, if we’re gonna do this, let’s do it.
DJ Premier hasn’t been in a group since Gang Starr. Was that weird for you?
It still is a little bit. And it’s only when we go down that road with the comparisons. I try to avoid that at all costs, and I try to big up Guru—God rest his soul—as much as I can. We look at it like we’re kind of continuing the legacy. I don’t feel in my heart that I’m doing anything that he wouldn’t 100 percent approve of. So we just move like that.
DJ Premier recently sat down with Pepsi to talk about his three favorite studio sessions in three different cities, read on:
“One of the best sessions was really doing “Unbelievable” with Biggie. I didn’t have time to do a track when he had already [almost] finished Ready To Die. He was like, ‘Yo. I need this last one. I need a B-side for my first single “Juicy.” I wanna play it for you.’ He came and played it for me, he hadn’t shot the video yet. He was like, ‘I need a beat where I gotta still do it for my [people] at home on the block.’
“I was like, ‘Yo, man. I don’t have anything to concentrate on right now and I don’t wanna hold you up.’ He said, ‘Man, I don’t care. I need something.’ So I told him to just come on up and come down.
“He came down and as soon as he walked in I was playing him those little notes. [Starts humming the intro to “Unbelievable” as we know it.] I was doing all of that. He was like, ‘Yo, I like that. Make it dance and not do the same rhythm.’ So I programmed in the beginning with the intro beats. [Starts beat boxing] And then I did the hook. He was like, ‘Yo. That’s it!’
“Now, the “Unbelievable” part with R. Kelly’s “Your Body’s Callin’”—I didn’t plan on putting that in there. I didn’t know if it was gonna be in the proper key. So when it came down to him asking me to put that in there, I did it. I did it the next day because I didn’t have the record on me at the time. This day and age I could have went straight to Harlem and did it. But it happened. It sounded exactly like how it was supposed to sound.
“I remember the very next day, me and my label manager was driving home back to Brooklyn. There was a car blasting music. You know how when you drive by somebody and they’re blasting something that sounds like hip-hop, you gotta maybe roll down or crack the window? But you don’t want them to see that you’re trying to hear what they’re playing, but you want to hear what they’re playing? I was hearing “Unbelievable” playing. Biggie was always known for giving his stuff away to his boys because they would be playing it in the hood on the block. At that time, I lived right down the block from him. So when I’m driving and I’m hearing the guy playing it. I was like, ‘This has to be one of Big’s homies.’
“I roll up and I’m like, ‘Yo, where you get that from.’ And he goes, ‘Flex is playing it on the air right now.’ And I was like, ‘How is he playing it?’ But they made an acetate from mastering. Acetate is like a dub plate. When you’re mastering a record, they make a dub plate for you to test it out on the turntables, so that everything is cool and that it plays right. Then, you approve it. And then they press up the regular vinyl.
“But the acetate is so thick you can’t really scratch it or run it back. You can only get about three or four plays out of it. And after that all you hear is [distortion]. It’ll eat the record up. So, they gave him an acetate straight from mastering and it was already playing on the radio. That let me know that it was about to pop off. All of sudden, everybody was on it. That was my first gold single. That was a blessing.”
“Another session that was really dear to me just happened recently with this guy that I was put on to when I was visiting record labels in London last year. That guy named Rag. He’s a young kid, Rag ‘n’ Bone man. He’s dope! You can go to YouTube and look him up. Look up “Reuben’s Train.”
“”Reuben’s Train” is an old song that didn’t really have lyrics. It was like an old Jazz/Blues record. He did it and made his own acapella harmony and then wrote his own lyrics. He used “Reuben’s Train” as a concept of focus. He shot the video. He posted the video.
“He’s a big guy. He’s almost like 6’7. He looks like a big bodyguard. And he had a soulful voice that’s way beyond other artists. He had this soulful rock voice like Chris Cornell. Some label played me the “Reuben’s Train” video and they showed me another where he did a little freestyle. He was singing at somebody’s house. That was dope. I was like, ‘Ok. I like this guy. I def wanna work with him.’ And then, they were like, ‘Well, he’s not signed. We’re trying to get him signed.’ So since they were working on getting him signed, I reached out to him because I wanted to work with him. I hit him up on Twitter and I just came to London and got to do three demos with him. They all came out so dope. He’s gonna be somebody you’re gonna see. Rag ‘N’ Bone man.”
“Man, I gotta say working with Miguel in L.A. That was cool because we never worked together. We met at SXSW years ago when he just had the one single out with J. Cole. Back then, he was like, ‘Yo man. You’re one of my idols. I wanna work with you.’ And you know, Mark Pitts, who managed Biggie and handled Big L. I called him Guc. I know him from way back as Gucci. I call him Guc. I told him hook me up with Miguel because I told him I wanted to work with him.
“Me and Miguel covered the extensive. He put me in the studio with him. And, he doesn’t even go in the booth. He sits there at a laptop with his headphones on and he has this old school ’70s mic that they used to have on Soul Train. He sang into that.
“Everybody was in the room and he was telling everybody to be quiet. But we was chilling there, talked, did the hookah, and he laid it down. He was real quick. He knew where to punch his own lyrics where he messed up and everything. We came up with a banger called “Damn.” I’m looking forward to that. It might be a single. It’s not official yet, but I hope it is, because it’s really a dope song.”