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DJ Premier and the Vinyl Revival (Interview)

Legendary producer DJ Premier talks vinyl’s role in the history of hip hop, DJing today and his massive record collection.

DJ Premier knows more about vinyl than we can ever dream to. Joe Woods chats to the legendary record producer, DJ and one half of Gang Starr to find out how vinyl has helped shape hip hop, the power of album artwork and his favourite records of all time.

Vinyl was central to 90s hip hop culture, how do you think it helped with the creation of the genre?

The culture of hip hop was born from hard times on the street, a lack of affordable recording equipment and instruments to create music. Kool Herc may have not done it how DJs do it now, and it may have been off time and off beat, but he took two copies of the same record, and extended the part we call the break, which is most people’s favourite part of the song, and that was the early stages of sampling. Repeating the part that we really like to hear, even if it’s just a bar, made people go, ‘damn, that’s hot! This guy is experimenting!’

They just played it over and over, so the crowd can enjoy the song for longer. Then all of a sudden, an MC is like ‘yo keep that going, play that part again’. This was way before the professional stages of hip hop, but it still helped to shape the art form of what we did to make the record last a whole different life. Without vinyl who knows if hip hop would have even came about at all, but it’s still such a big genre of music after all of these years.

What makes vinyl so special? Why have you not chosen to switch over to digital in recent years?

Well for a few years I was using CDJs, and then I felt weird not doing it the vinyl way, so I went back to doing it the vinyl way! I use Serato but I’m still doing it with turntables, still moving the needle, its all about really caring about the vinyl aspect of turntablism. Not that everybody should have Serato and Traktor, you should have to qualify for it, just like how you have to qualify for a credit card, or qualify to buy a new car.

The credit check would be like ‘have you ever held a record, have you ever scratched on a turntable? No? Yo get out of here then, you can’t use Serato!’ That would put a stop to microwave DJs, like these stars and movie actors who get paid $50,000 to do a gig, but when you put them behind a turntable they suck! They ruin the party, because they don’t know how to bring the next record in and their timing is off. The computer can hold 10,000 records, but if you take that computer away what can you do? Go and grab a crate of records and keep the party going, can you do it? No! I think that I actually need to be the President of Serato credit checks!

When searching for new music to sample and play live, do you still go into record shops and think, ‘that vinyl’s artwork looks good, I’m going to try that’?

Absolutely! That’s still fun for me, I’m 50 years old and the same passion I had going into it then when I was 19, is the same passion I still have now when I’m 50. I make beats, I still compete, and always have new stuff coming out all the time from pop to alternative, but I always make my underground jams. As long as I like it, and it’s got a good vibe, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like it.

Records that were used to scratch and sample back then, were records that we had in our household. Our household had Barry White, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole and anything Motown, that’s standard in any black household. If you’re surrounded culturally by your own race, and that’s all you see on the album covers, that’s what you will identify with; but I was always looking for artists who were bringing out good music, with that dope vibe, like The Eagles with Hotel California, so I used to play that, along with Carly Simon, the Bay City Rollers, AC/DC and Rush, y’know? I like that, I like the way it felt. But then hip hop came out and I liked the way it felt too.

I was born in 1966 and music was so pure back then, there’s no way of putting how great it is, and now we are hearing a lot of artists who aren’t so pure, so of course you get disappointed. It does not hold up to what I was fed, and nurtured on. It’s like giving me yellow milk, I don’t like yellow milk! I want the old white milk from a cow! And now I don’t want milk from a cow, but that’s what I was nurtured on.

You’ve worked with some amazing people over the years, from Nas to Kanye West. Is there anyone else that you want to tick off that list, and have you got any projects currently in the pipeline?

I’d like to work with Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang Clan, I’d like to do a whole Wu-Tang album! As well as Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige and Sting, I’d love to do a dope album with him! I wish I could’ve worked with Prince too; I’m a Prince junkie. He left behind so many great records, and original things, I’m still mesmerised by it and he touched my heart a lot. I’d also like to work with James Brown, George Clinton, Ice-T, The Bomb Squad, Rick Rubin and Larry Smith to name a few.

Right now I’m finishing up a mix for an artist called Torii Wolf, we have a new single that is out right now called ‘1st’. I’ve got some underground stuff rolling too, I produced a whole album for NYGZ, who are part of the Gang Starr Foundation, and it’s a straight, raw street album. I also executive produced MC8 from Compton’s Most Wanted’s new album, which is called ‘Which Way Is West’, and I did three songs on there, but the album is really really dope!

There has been a real resurgence in sales of vinyl recently both sides of the pond, why do you think this has happened?

You can’t ever kill off something that is supposed to be here, vinyl is supposed to be here because it’s the pure sound of music. CDs are just too clean, crispy and compressed, which I dislike because I am a purist of sound as I was raised on tape and analogue. With album covers, they’re like a big book, you can open it up and look at the pictures, the artwork, and people have put real time into the artwork. I still feel respect for the artwork and entire package that you sell, and vinyl has that presence and that imagery. That’s why I like Jack White of The White Stripes, he’s got a mobile vinyl store that he takes to his shows.

But hip hop has kept vinyl alive. I used to work in a record store, and hip-hop vinyl was always rockin’, it always sold, and kept on getting requested and to this day, it’s still a big deal in the vinyl world.

We’ve already touched on your musical tastes, but what was your first ever vinyl purchase and what are your top-five must haves?

My first ever vinyl was ‘I Want You Back’ by Motown, it was a 45 that my mother got for me. I remember putting it on the machine, putting the arm on top, and suddenly the needle drops, lands on the beginning of the record and it’s like, ‘how does it know to move that far and land at the beginning of the record? What are the mechanics behind this!?’ My top five records would be Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full, Boogie Down Productions by Criminal Minded, Dirty Mind by Prince, AC/DC’s Back In Black and Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.

Props to The Academy Music Group

Classified Talks Working With DJ Premier & Slug of Atmosphere

Another DJ Premier Interview about Making Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt”

Of course my favorite album of Jay-Z! Enjoy this good read:

Ambrosia for Heads: Back in 1994, you produced “Show & Prove” for Big Daddy Kane and it featured Jay Z. Was that the first time you guys met and worked together?

DJ Premier: I knew Jay back in, like, ’88 when [Gang Starr’s] No More Mr. Nice Guy was out. I used to see Jay around because Jaz-O was my labelmate but prior to that, we all had mutual respect for each other. I was living in Brooklyn again ’cause I had moved from East New York up to the Bronx on 183rd St and lived up there for a while. Going to the corner store on Fulton [St]–and it was wild on the block back then, over on 4th and Marcy–that’s how we met Biggie. Biggie used to be there every day so we’d hang out with him. But prior to that, we used to see Jay Z at all the underground clubs with Jaz-O, like the Milky Way and Mars and the Payday, which my former manager Patrick Moxey used to run. You had to be somebody to get in there, even if you were a platinum artist, which was more rare back then. Jay Z used to come in there with that bigass chain on, you know the one he had on in [the video for Jaz-O’s] “Hawaiian Sophie.” So we used to see them coming in and out of parties, just posted up. And then on top of that, I used to see Big L always bring Jay around, too back then. You know, because Big L was more poppin’ or whatever with a major deal prior to Jay gettin’ a deal. When [Gang Starr] got signed to Chrysalis in ’90, we used to have to go to all these distributor meetings with MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, and Jaz-O and Jay would be at all of those. And he’d be with Big Daddy Kane alot. So I just remember seeing Jay around a lot, and he’d always be the highlight, too. Kane would be like “yo, you gotta check out Jay-Z,” and he’d get him to kick a verse for him. And he would always kill it, and then boom, that’d be the end of it. And then next thing you know, I was doing radio at the time at WBLS and I remember Clark Kent brought Jay Z with him to give me a 12-inch record that they had just done called “In My Lifetime.” Jay gave me the record, I listened to it during the commercial break and right after the break as soon as we were back I went right into it and started cuttin’ it up. So from there, Jay gave me a bottle of Cristal and I didn’t know what that was. I was used to Moet. And he was like “nah, this is way bigger than Moet.” He was already into the whole finer things in life type of lifestyle. So he gave me the bottle of Cristal and he gave me a really dope Cuban cigar as a thank you, and next thing you know, everybody started playin’ that record, and this is way prior to Reasonable Doubt.

Ambrosia for Heads: Patrick Moxey ran Payday Records too and signed that “In My Lifetime” record. Were you the one who took it to Patrick?

DJ Premier: Well Patrick heard the record because it started getting a lot of love from the mix show DJs, and next thing you know, Patrick said “I’m gonna sign Jay Z to Payday [Records]” and it was for a single deal, not an album deal. So that’s when Jaz-O did the remix and then they shot a video, and they used their own money. I knew they were having issues getting funding from the label and they were like “how you gonna sign me to a 12-inch deal but you don’t want to pay for the video?” And then from there, things didn’t work out and they left. We used to all be in the same van together doing promo. Me, Big Shug, Jay, Lil’ Dap, Melachi the Nutcracker, and Jeru [the Damaga]. All of us in the van doing promo.

Ambrosia for Heads: You mentioned Jay had Big L behind him, Jaz-O was a supporter, he had signed to Payday, he knew you. Jay had all these people in his corner from ’89 on, yet it took 7 years for Reasonable Doubt to come out. Why do you think it took so long for him to release an album that got traction?

DJ Premier: Well it’s always about making the right record, number one. Number two, Big L at that time really had a lot of status. A lot. And a lot of respect where his cosign mattered. If he cosigned you, you mattered. And Kane as well, but Kane was also transitioning from the earlier days to the Taste of Chocolate days and all that stuff. And then on top of that, Jay Z always had just one guest spot. He didn’t have a body of work of stuff with him just rhyming by himself. “In My Lifetime” and “I Can’t Get With That” was just two records, you know what I’m sayin’? But around there, that’s when he did “Dead Presidents.” I remember when they were cuttin’ that record because he was starting to come to D&D [Studios] to do work and everybody knew D&D was the place to go. And at that time, we were really hot so Jay started coming to D&D. I remember he brought a white Lexus with a television in it and he popped the trunk and showed me the VCR. He was the first person I saw with movies playing on the headrest. So Jay Z used to be up there all the time with them. And that’s how Ski became a major part of the sound and shape of Reasonable Doubt. He was really the go-to person. He was the Premier of their crew.

Ambrosia for Heads: How did you get involved with the project?

More of the interview can be found here.


Roc-A-Fella Records’ Kareem “Biggs” Burke & DJ Premier Discuss Jay Z’s ‘Reasonable Doubt’

On June 25, 1996, one of the most celebrated albums in Hip Hop history was released. Jay Z began his reign as a member of the culture’s list of highly accomplished emcees when Reasonable Doubt hit stores on that date.

The LP celebrates its 20 year anniversary in 2016. There will surely be plenty of events, articles, and moments honoring Hov’s classic debut.

Viceland recently held a Facebook Q&A with two insiders that played a big role in the creation of Reasonable Doubt. Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke and legendary producer DJ Premier sat down to answer questions from fans.

Watch Kareem “Biggs” Burke and DJ Premier’s interview below.


Tupac Was Working on “One Nation” Album With Outkast, DJ Premier & More When He Died

What makes someone a legend? You’re a legend when people are still fascinated by untold stories of your life and work 20 years after your death. Tupac is a legend.

You still can’t talk hip-hop without at least occasionally talking Pac, but for reasons of fate or cosmic coincidence, it seems like there’s been a spree of Pac related news lately. A powerful, previously buried MTV interview recently surfaced, we just learned from Angie Martinez that he wasn’t going to settle for peace with Biggie and Bad Boy until he had his revenge, and now his close friend Greg Nice has revealed that he was working on a “One Nation” album that, as the name suggests, was all about unity. While it didn’t involve anyone at Bad Boy, there was too much bad blood already spilled for that, he was talking to DJ Premier, Buckshot and had even reached out to Outkast for the project when he was killed.

I’d heard whispers, snippets, of the almost mythical One Nation album before. Buckshot mentioned it briefly in a previous interview, some studio footage briefly emerged that’s now been removed, there was that handwritten note where Pac wrote that he was aiming for a summer release of a, “…group album with me, Greg Nice, Buckshot, Smiff & Wesson, Outkast, The Outlawz, Scarface & E-40.” But to the best of my knowledge, we’ve never heard such a complete accounting of the project from Greg Nice himself, the man who was fundamental in making it happen.

Pac’s legacy, like the legacy of any hero that dies so young, is filled with “what if?”s. It’s tempting to say that if he had lived and put out the One Nation album it would have changed everything, maybe he and Biggie would both still be alive, but who knows how events would have played out? Fatal events had been set in motion long before Pac and Nice began to seriously work on One Nation, but at the very least an album like that could have easily gone down as a hip-hop masterpiece.

Just when you think you’ve reached the limits of Tupac Shakur’s legend, it continues…


Torii Wolf Explains New Single “1st” & Working With DJ Premier

The musical career of DJ Premier includes creating sound beds for some of the most accomplished performers in Hip Hop history. While Premo is widely known for his work with Gang Starr, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, and other rap stars, the legendary producer has also put his stamp on records by D’Angelo, Janet Jackson, and Brandy.

In addition, Premier’s catalog includes the East Coast representative teaming with the likes of Jeru the Damaja, Bumpy Knuckles, and Royce da 5’9″ to forge complete bodies of work. Surprisingly, Preem has yet to produce an entire project by a female vocalist. That omission is about to be corrected.

Singer-songwriter Torii Wolf is joining forces with Premier for the upcoming album Flow Riiot. The duo offered a hint about the direction of the collection with the new single “1st” which premiered last week. It has already collected over 24,000 plays on SoundCloud.

“‘1st’ came very naturally, just lots of raw emotion,” says Wolf. “I really let it go in the booth. Preem’s beat brought a heartbroken animal out of me, and that is a common theme we’ve really held on to throughout the entire album.”

The track features Premo’s signature scratches as well as Wolf lamenting about a lost love. With a sample from Dilated People’s “Good As Gone,” the single effortlessly seams together an underground Hip Hop feel with a modern Sade-esque lyrical approach.

“Working with Preem is the nonpareil. It’s all about the feel, which is how I find myself doing everything I do in this life,” states Wolf. “When it comes to expression, I don’t believe there are any right or wrong ways to do it, and creating with Preem falls right in line with that way of living for me. We have great chemistry in the lab, and I think of our creations like language and our genres are our dialects.”

The Wantagh, New York native adds, “Our conversations flow beautifully. We understand each other, and I feel so grateful to have found each other here and everywhere and even more excited to share our sound babies with the world.”


5 minutes with DJ Premier (Infusion Magazine Interview)


One of the most important names in hip hop thanks to his renowned production and DJ skills, DJ Premier is returning to DXB to play new hip night Dubai With Attitude on Thursday March 24. Our go-to hip hop man Lobito from Deep Crates Cartel got 5 minutes with the highly respected DJ to talk modern hip hop, dope rhymes and collaborations in the UAE…

Peace Primo, this is Lobito representing Zulu Nation out here in the Middle East, this is your second time in Dubai if I’m not mistaken, what was your first impression of the city?
It is a beautiful city and I had a good time seeing the sights. Beautiful women there also.

It’s an understatement to say I’m a fan of your work and primarily the consistency you’ve held in your output quality and production style regardless of the genres and artists you’ve worked with, are there any new projects you’re excited about creatively?
Yes I have an independent underground label called Year Round Records. I have a group called the NYGz who have been a part of the Gang Starr Foundation for many years. They are from New York and we will be releasing a new LP that I produced entirely called (Hustlaz Union: Local NYG).  I am Executive Producing an album with the legend MC Eiht of Compton’s Most Wanted which I Produced 3 tracks.  His album is titled (Which Way Iz West). There’s a new female artist by the name of Torii Wolf who is releasing a new project LP that you will hear from this year. She is very different and unique from anything I have produced and she will be a new sound in my production style. I produced the entire album and I co-produced 4 songs with the legendary King Of Chill (MC Lyte, Audio Two, The Family Stand). I started a new band (The Badder Band) and we are currently recording a new EP. Then there’s a DJ Premier solo LP in the works. There’s more but we will start there.

I grew up on Gang Starr which defined me in my early days as a DJ getting into the music so I have to ask you about the state of rap and hip hop culture today. You were pivotal in developing the New York sound after people like Marley Marl, so whats your opinion on where things are now for the youth and where things are going?
The sound of what the younger generation is doing is different from how I was raised in music, but their generation is made for them and I welcome it. I just prefer to stick to the purest form of how the pioneer’s taught me. There is plenty of room for everyone to do what they do and I do what I am good at which is the Boom Bap style of beats.

I also love lyricists that have something to say., although I love to party at times but I love a dope rhyme most of the time.

A local group The Recipe collaborated recently with Talib Kweli when he was here, do you look out for local collaborations when you travel?
Sometimes I do depending on my schedule. I like to dig for records in other cities and I take the time out to listen to artists as well.  I’ve produced many artists from London, Poland, Korea, Germany, Japan to name a few.

What would you like to see more of and less of in the industry?
I’d like to see more respect for the pioneers from the younger generation and less disrespect for the people who opened doors for them to get into this industry. What goes up always comes down.

I’m still bumping your track “Animals” with Anderson Paak for the recent Dre album. Are there any other new artists you’re excited about or any new producers you follow?
Definitely Anderson .Paak, HXLT, Conway, Westside Gunn, O.G.ology, E.L.B., Jakk Frost…

Props to Infusion Magazine

Royce Da 5’9″ Says “PRhyme 2” Might Be Coming Soon

“I can tell you that me and Preem are going in April to do PRhyme 2” -Royce Da 5’9″

Soundtrack: The Story of the DJ (Trailer 1)

Soundtrack: The Story of the DJ is a documentary about the history of DJing. While certain films have chronicled niche aspects of DJing, “Soundtrack” will take viewers through the evolution of radio DJs, turntablists, DJ producers, DJs as part of hip-hop groups, DJs controlling the main stages at some of the world’s biggest festivals and more. Learn more about the film, support and follow the progress at:

DJ Premier interview with Brudne Południe (Poland)

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