DJ Premier Blog » 2016 » January

Soulbrotha – The Golden Era Isn’t Finished (Feat. Big Shug, Afu-Ra & Blaq Poet)

Big Shug, Afu-Ra and Blaq Poet on the same track?! Dope!

Taken from Soulbrotha latest album = Classic SP1200 production by 12 Finger Dan & B-Base, buy it on iTunes or Vinyl!

DJ Premier Looks Back at Gang Starr’s ‘Step In The Arena’ with Author Brian Coleman

AUTHOR’S PREFACE: The interview used for this piece was done with DJ Premier many years back, in 2001, when Guru was still alive. The intention – beyond the initial, much shorter piece done for XXL’s “Classic Material” – was always to have a Step In The Arena chapter in one of my books. But I was always blocked from getting to Guru by the justifiably vilified Solar.

It didn’t seem right to do a Gang Starr chapter without input from both men (or without all songs discussed), so it never happened in print. But as that incredible album turns 25, I still wanted to get a fuller story of the album out there. I don’t like to keep knowledge from legends like Premier tucked away in my file cabinet. Considering the context above, I hope everyone enjoys this. Long live Gang Starr and R.I.P. Guru [Keith “Keithy E” Elam].

Many thanks to Bill Adler, Ben Ortiz and Katherine Reagan for the use of selected visuals taken from the Adler Hip-Hop Archive at the Cornell Hip Hop Collection.

Gang Starr — Step In The Arena
(Chrysalis, 1991)

There have been worlds of change in the hip-hop game since 1991, but one thing remains the same: Gang Starr’s Step In The Arena still sounds amazing.

The group’s accomplished sophomore platter was stripped down, but sophisticated. MC Guru’s poetic, sometimes abstract battle rhymes, and DJ Premier’s savvy, street-honed beats and hugely influential DJing combined that year for 18 tracks of pure, no-nonsense rap heaven.

Both Guru and Premier made New York their home in the late ‘80s, but neither one was a product of the five boroughs. Preemo [Christopher Martin] was raised in the Houston, TX suburb of Prairie View. His father, a biologist, taught at Prairie View A&M University. Premier explains, “A&M was a black school that produced some of the best engineers around. And we had one of the illest marching bands around, too! Our marching band was dangerous.”

He says, of his hometown, “Prairie View was country, but it had a city side, too. There was an urban social structure, just like in New York or LA, but on a smaller scale. Everyone there was very independent and did things for themselves, and I think that helped give me the drive to come to New York and do it on my own without any help. People are definitely nicer in Prairie View than New York, though [laughs].”

By the time that Premier hit New York for good, he wasn’t exactly a hayseed right off the farm, though. Since his earliest teens he had been traveling to the Big Apple consistently, so he had already soaked in a bit of BK atmosphere. Preemo recalls, “My grandfather, William Manuel, lived in Brooklyn, so we used to come to visit him on holidays. By the time I was 12 or 13, I was coming to visit him on my own, which was always an amazing experience for me. He was an upright bassist, and played trombone and electric guitar in jazz bands. He toured a lot, and he’d always show me his photo albums and tell me about his life in music. I was really interested in what Grandfather Bill – that’s what I called him – was doing, I was fascinated by his life. I have a tattoo of Bill, because I feel like I’m a duplicate of him. Hip-hop is my era, jazz was his era, and I appreciate his era, even though he didn’t really appreciate hip-hop. He just didn’t understand it, he looked at it as noise.”

Premier continues, “Earlier on, I also remember seeing hip-hop going on in the Bronx in 1977 and 1978 when I went to New York. Grandfather Bill had friends in the Bronx, on 183rd, so we’d go to visit them and I saw the sound systems and people in the park, breakdancing, all that. Then, when I started going to Brooklyn more often in the early ‘80s, [hip-hop] was more full-blown, it was everywhere. The music had grown so much, and I always loved that with hip-hop, you would let the music fight for you, instead of using your fists, like with DJ and MC battles. I brought all that with me when I’d go back to Texas and DJ parties and start working on demos. Music definitely has a way of travelin’, and I guess I was part of that, in my own way.”

In the mid-‘80s [he says from 1984 to 1986], Premier had a local crew in Texas, and they went from MCs In Control to being called ICP (for Inner Circle Posse). The group included Premier, then going by Waxmaster C, and MCs Top Ski, Sugar Pop and Stylee T. Sugar Pop and Stylee were from Texas, and Top Ski was from Boston, but going to school with Premier at Prairie View A&M. Premier explains, “It wasn’t too serious, but we were trying to do our thing. Stylee T was a really unique dude. I swear to God, before I ever saw Flavor Flav with Public Enemy, Stylee was exactly like him. He dressed and danced crazy and he was just so original.” The group never put out anything on wax, although they had a name around the area, in part because of Premier’s rep as a DJ.

In 1985, Premier decided to give the home of hip-hop a try for real, so he left Texas and his studies at Prairie View A&M and headed to Brooklyn. He remembers, “I said: ‘I’m gonna try the music thing, and if it don’t work out then I’ll just go back to school.’ Top Ski moved to New York when I did, so we gave it a shot as a team. When I got there, I lived in East New York [Brooklyn], with a family named the Franklins. They took me in like I was their own son, but they also wasn’t gonna let me stay for free. I had to work. That summer I worked at a young peoples’ camp in Prospect Park to earn my keep. It was definitely a new thing to be there in New York coming from Texas, but I had been there many times before, and was already used to it by then. I met a lot of the friends that I still hang with today during that time.”

The earliest seeds for the Gang Starr partnership were planted in the mid-to-late ‘80s during record label demo shopping that Premier had begun. He had worked on music even before he got to New York, but once he arrived, he picked up the pace with dreams of landing a deal. He says, “All my demos back then were getting turned away. I even had a meeting with [super-producer and head of the famed Juice Crew] Marley Marl back then, face to face, but it didn’t come to anything. The demo I gave him at the time wasn’t that tight, though, so it’s not surprising. It was my first one.” Years later, Premier would go on to work with Marley, on his Future Flavas radio show out of New York.

Preemo knew (and worked for) Carlos Garza, who promoted parties at Prairie View A&M and also owned a hip-hop record store in the Houston area called Sound Waves. Carlos bought plenty of New York hip-hop, of course, and knew Stu Fine at Wild Pitch Records, who had put out records like Chill Rob G’s “The Court Is Now In Session”; Latee’s “This Cut’s Got Flavor”; and Gang Starr Posse’s “Believe Dat!”.

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DJ Premier Tells The Story Of This Photo With D’Angelo, Alchemist & J. Dilla, In His Words

DJ Premier tells Ambrosia For Heads the story about the night he, D’Angelo, Alchemist and J. Dilla gathered in the studio and took what would become an iconic photo. These are his words about the photo, that night, and the other supremely talented men with whom he posed:

“Gang Starr Moment Of Truth was out. We were feeling a real good way ’cause Guru had just won his trial. He was facing five years in prison, and he won the trial, which is why we named the album Moment Of Truth and had the court room setting as the theme of the album cover. He didn’t know if he was gonna beat the case or have to go to jail once the album was released. His lawyer—who actually [since] passed away, God bless him—told [Guru], ‘If you lose, the album’s still gonna be out while you’re in prison, so we need to promote it as much as possible the best we can in case you do go to jail. So that was a pivotal moment of him winning the case, and our first gold album—that was our first gold [Gang Starr] album, ever in our career.

Then Belly came out, at the same time that I did [‘Devil’s Pie’] with D’Angelo. I remember [then Def Jam Records CEO] Lyor Cohen asked us if we could put it in the movie. They showed us the scene that they wanted it to be in. It ended up being in the movie as well, which got us another check and more exposure for the record. The record actually happened because…it was originally Canibus. We had worked on the song at my studio, D&D [Studios] at the time. It didn’t pan out to do the record. Once Canibus left, that same maybe hour later, D’Angelo just called me out of the blue. Like, ‘Hey, what are you up to?’ I’m like, ‘Yo, I’m just ending a session. I was working on a beat for Canibus, but we’re not using it.’ He said, ‘Can I hear it?’ I said yeah. He said, ‘Well, come over here to Electric Lady [Studios]. I’m over here just bangin’ out my album.’ So I went over there. I already knew D’Angelo from when his first album, Brown Sugar came out. We were [Virgin/EMI Records] label-mates. We knew each other through mutual people. So we were already cool with each other.

DJ Premier Dangelo J Dilla Alchemist

So I went over to Electric Lady, played him the beat. He immediately just screamed, ‘Whooooooo! Oh my—yo! Let me do somethin’ to it! I’ll come over [to Electric Lady Studios] tomorrow!’ That whole night, before I came back to cut the vocals with him, he wanted to film me scratchin’ on the turntables so he’d have it for the archive footage. So we were just runnin’ the beat. I guess he has the footage. His engineer, [Russell “Dragon” Elevado] may have it. Dragon is in the picture too—in the background, the Asian guy. I just remember they were filming for almost a half hour, nonstop, of just me goin’ off, doing crazy things with his D’Angelo 12″ records that we had there, in the room. I was just finding little things to bug out on just to show him—I was freestyling everything. I did that for maybe a half hour, just to show me scratch.

The next thing you knew, the next day, when I got there, I had Alchemist with me. We had just got done touring together for The Smokin’ Grooves Tour, which was with Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Busta Rhymes and the Flipmode Squad, the Black Eyed Peas—who were a brand new group that nobody even heard of. They had a small band and they were doin’ all these dance moves. They were nothing like they are now; Fergie wasn’t in the group yet. Mya was on the tour. Wyclef [Jean] and Pras was on the tour. Canibus was on the tour with us. Literally, right after is when we did the record. Everything’s all love with me and ‘Bis anyway, ’cause we did a record [‘Golden Terra Of Rap’] after that. It was a massive tour. I told Al—he liked to smoke, I liked to smoke, ‘We’re gonna go over there and blaze up, so bring some of that Cali’ good.’ [Laughs] He was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll roll wit’chu.’ So when he came over, Questlove was just finishing up doing drums to ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel?)’—the one where he was naked in the video. He was there. Raphael Saadiq had just left. And J Dilla was there at the session.

Al was in the loop with the Dilla stage, so he could lamp with us and smoke for a lil’ bit. We just hung out. I knew him for a long time as well. So we were just buggin’ out and smokin’, and whatnot. I forgot the guy who took the picture. But I know somebody ran into me last year, and was like, ‘Hey man, I know the guy that took that picture.’ I said, ‘Tell him I want an original copy of it. Because I always wondered what happened with that picture because I never had a copy. Back then, it wasn’t email or text messaging a pic on the phone. We weren’t even at that stage in ’98. The [copy] I got has a lil’ splotch on it. If you Google it, it has a lil’ splotch. I want the clear copy. If he wants me to pay for it, everything’s negotiable. Whoever that guy was that took it captured an incredible moment. Hey, we’ll give you your credit. That was a great moment.

On the third day is when Lyor Cohen said, ‘Hey, we want to put it in Belly.’ First D’Angelo said, ‘No. We want to save it just for the album.’ Then I saw Belly; they showed us the film. I was like, ‘You know what? I think it’d be dope—especially where they put it [in the film]. They were showin’ the drugs, how that applies to what he meant [by] ‘Everybody wants a slice of devil’s pie’ in the lyrics. I remember there’s part where he mumbles, and said, ‘Yo, I’ma leave it like that. I didn’t know what to put there.’ But whenever it came on in the clubs or around women—’cause I always gauge certain records that have a groove to it based on how women react–I said, ‘Alright, I guess we got a banger.’ [Laughs] That actually [resulted] in my second Grammy that I earned. Jay Z’s [Vol 2. Hard Knock Life] album, which I was on, I got a Grammy for that one. I got one for Voodoo, ’cause I was one of the producers on there besides D’Angelo and his team that produced a record on the album. And Voodoo was just a dope album anyway.

I met Dilla through Q-Tip years ago—back when [A Tribe Called Quest] was doing Midnight Marauders. We met then. I think Large Professor was with me. It was just one of those days where…we used to just all be around each other. Me, Large, Pete [Rock], Q-Tip as well—we’ve clearly each got bugged out memories. I got stuff that’s crazy! [Laughs] But we all got memories. We were all very active and high on the level of popularity during that era. Tribe was big, Gang Starr was big, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth was big, Main Source was big. And then all of us as producers, we were all poppin’. Aside from our groups, we were all getting a lot of work doing a lot of remixes and production. Me and all of us…and Dilla were already doin’ [production work outside of our groups]. As the years passed, Dilla got even crazier styles. His styles went a whole different direction.

His approach to sampling was not like any other. I know Madlib is an extension of what we miss about Dilla. But Dilla formed his own crazy world of samplin’ that I never heard from anybody. Nobody was doin’ it like Dilla. And no one [has since]. The closest thing is Madlib, and I know they had the kind of relationship where I know Dilla rubbed off on him, to a certain degree, to carry that torch, so to speak.

DJs and producers, we’re scientists. So we really dissect where we place things. You look at The Bomb Squad in all of those Public Enemy productions. You look at where they placed stuff. Marley Marl, where he placed stuff. We would know what it is. ‘Yo, he took such-and-such and where he put it!’ Dilla was just the most upside down—the man without eyes who could still hit his target. He’s crazy, man! Nobody placed the stuff like he did. He just did it in a really, really strange way—and I like strange. [Chuckles] The weirder you are the better I like it.

He was playing the drums when I was in the session with D’Angelo. But we all play drums. That’s the way I mix the bass and drums the way I do with my beats when I do Hip-Hop. Yeah, there was a nice drum kit that was set up at Electric Lady. When I got there, Dilla was on the drums. Quest’ had just laid the drums to ‘Untitled,’ and he had to leave. So Dilla was on the drums, bangin’ out. The one thing I do remember [about what we were listening to] is…I’m a big Prince fan. I know Prince as much as Prince knows himself. I go back to the For You album, all the way to what he’s doing now. And I met Prince, with D’Angelo. He told me he was a Gang Starr fan. I introduced myself; Treach from Naughty By Nature was standing right there with me in the back room at Tramps, which no longer exists. That was a club that used to have a lot of Hip-Hop [at a time] when there were really no performances in New York, in Midtown. Prince was back there, and Treach from Naughty By Nature was standing there. I walked right there said, ‘Oh my God, this is Prince!’ He was like, ‘Yo, I just want to let you know that I’m a big Gang Starr fan.’ I was just like, ‘…what? Fuck.’ But me being a Prince fanatic, owning all of his imported records, B-sides, all the collections, all of his [Paisley Park] umbrella…I remember D’Angelo had the 1999 picture of the whole Revolution, which was—and they weren’t called The Revolution to us yet. If you look at the 1999 album, it says “Prince and The Revolution” on the one, in the middle, real small. [D’Angelo’s recording studio room at Electric Lady] had the Venetian blinds, The Isley Brothers album cover in the room, Parliament, Sly & The Family Stone, and of course [Jimi] Hendrix everywhere. He left those up. He said that was his inspiration to lay it all out when he was recording.

This was way before [J Dilla] got sick. He didn’t tell people. Again, we already had a relationship prior to D’Angelo; we were already cool. So it wasn’t, ‘Hey, it’s so nice to meet you. Let me hear some of your stuff,’ it was, ‘Hey, what up, my nigga?’ Alchemist was the new guy. ‘Cause I told him to come with me, [D’Angelo] was like, ‘Yeah, yeah. Bring him.’ I brought him.

[D’Angelo] played me ‘One mo’Gin.’ Once I heard that—I didn’t need anything else—I was like, ”Yo, whatever else you got on that album, it doesn’t even matter. [Chuckles] It’s gon’ bang. I was just a big fan of ‘One Mo’Gin’. He played me maybe three songs, ’cause he’s very meticulous about playing stuff [before] it’s done—we’re all like that, really. We always feel like you’re gonna judge it before it’s done and not understand what stage it’s at unless you are an artist. If you’re an artist—a true purist like we are, you’re gonna get it, even if it’s rough. He played me maybe five joints. But he would always give me the disclaimer, ‘Okay, this one’s gonna be this right now. It’s not gonna have this, it’s not gonna have that.’ But it didn’t matter to me; I knew how to gauge a rough song that’s not finished versus a finished song. The labels and A&Rs and execs all go, ‘Hey, bring in these guys. You can bring in this guy to finish this.’ It’s like, ‘Yo. It’s not done yet. Let me finish it before you start commenting.’ D’Angelo would say what records he wanted to roll with. No one told us what to do. It made it easier for them to do the marketing and promotion because we knew what would work as far as what would make the records really big.

[I did not know that Alchemist would reach] the stage that he’s at now. He was already playin’ beats on the tour bus. We would hang all the time on the Cypress Hill bus, on the Gang Starr bus. We were all on each others bus, ’cause we also had M.O.P. and Freddie Foxxx, and Big Shug. All the Gang Starr Foundation, they were all on tour with us. We just hung like a family, man. If there was any drama in a town, we like, ‘Yo, we ridin’ together. We fightin’? We all jumpin’ in. Whatever goes down, we all together.’ We protected each other and never had any problems.

[That photograph] will carry major effects for the rest of our lives. Dilla’s not here, physically. His music will always speak to us like he is physically here. To have [known] him prior to his being sick and puttin’ the memory of that session together, that’s my screensaver at the studio. It penetrates every time it comes on. Even when I turn off my computer, before it goes black, I always say, ‘Peace out, Dilla.’ And I take my hand and fist-bump his face to salute him before it goes black. It’s a little spiritual thing that I do. Honestly, I can’t turn away from that because that’s energy he still possesses in my life and everybody else’s.”

DJ Premier is performing at this year’s Dilla Weekend, celebrating the fallen MC, DJ and Producer. The Miami, Florida event will take place the weekend of February 5-7, and will be hosted by Dilla’s mother, Maureen “Ma Dukes” Yancey. With Slum Village, Royce Da 5’9″, Rapsody & 9th Wonder, Bun B, Blu & Exile, Pro Era, Diamond D, AG, A-F-R-O, and Mr. Green already as confirmed guests, and more announcements coming. For tickets to the all-star weekend visit the event’s site here. Preemo said the following about what to expect from his set:

“I actually made a beat the week he passed away that I did to imitate him. M.O.P. used it on their [Foundation] album. It’s called ‘What I Wanna Be.’ I chopped it—not intending for M.O.P. to use [it] but I just wanted to make the beat to say, ‘Hey, this is how Dilla would do it.’ I’m gonna open the [Dilla Weekend] show with that beat, and then I’ll explain, after I introduce myself. It’s chopped into all these weird places. It’s almost like, ‘Damn, I can see you chopped it. But where’d you grab it to make it loop around like that?’ That’s how I’ma start my show.”

DJ Premier also named his favorite Dilla beats. Perhaps some of these classics will creep into his set, as well:

“Body Movin’”
“Love Jones”
“One For Ghost”

Props to Ambrosia For Heads

“In Control” Interview with Marley Marl, DJ Kevy Kev, Pete Rock, & DJ Premier

DJ Premier & The Badder – Rockin With The Best (Feat. Royce Da 5’9″)

NBA Countdown – ESPN’s NBA pregame show – has earned an excellent reputation for its stellar music selection – a smooth mix of modern and classic hip-hop.

Music director Kevin Wilson and Countdown production team members Amina Hussein, Lisa James, Terrell Bouza, Alvin Anol, Brandon Lowe and Tyrone Frison always have their ears to the streets for music that will add to the show.

And, starting on the latest edition of NBA Countdown (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), the show will be rockin’ with the best.

Legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier, the driving force behind several legendary acts and artists, has teamed up with Royce Da 5’9”, one of the most respected lyricists in the genre, for a new track called “Rockin’ With The Best.” The track will be the central part of NBA Countdown’s new broadcast open, which features highlights of the top NBA stars.

For Premier, this is his second go-around with NBA Countdown. In 2014, the “Preemo,” through his connection with famous hip-hop fan and ESPN NBA Countdown analyst Jalen Rose, contributed several new beats to the show.

Front Row caught up with both Premier and Royce to discuss the collaboration.

How would you describe “Rockin With The Best” with Royce Da 5’9”?
DJ Premier: The title describes us and it describes the competition that goes along with basketball. It’s the attitude that you need, so we wanted this track to carry that vision.

What is it about working with NBA Countdown that prompted you to collaborate again?
DJ Premier: I’m such a fan of sports and ESPN is the “go to” channel, as soon as I wake up every single morning, in order to get the happenings of the day. It’s a blessing to even have the opportunity to get involved musically with NBA Countdown.

Describe working with DJ Premier.
Royce Da 5’9″: Working with Premier is always an honor no matter how much music we’ve made together in the past. Being recognized for our talents and having the opportunity to work with ESPN and the NBA is next level. You forget the magnitude of your work until your father calls you and says he just heard you on ESPN; that’s when it really hits you!

Source: ESPN Front Row

DJ Premier’s D&D Studios Has Shuttered, But The Music & Memories Created There Live On (Interview)

DJ Premier, Steele, Statik Selektah, Lil Fame, and Tek recount the legendary times they spent at the iconic D&D studios.

A photo from DJ Premier’s Instagram from earlier this year shows him blankly staring at the camera while sitting inside of a hole in an empty wall: foam padding covers a small segment of it, but the rest is wooden planks, stripped from any other padding or carpet that used to be there.

“There used to be a speaker in that hole,” the caption reads.

Decades earlier, those desolate walls were filled with studio equipment and were full of life, bouncing the sound waves of rhymes from rap luminaries like Nas, Notorious B.I.G., and Jay Z. Behind Premier’s somber eyes in the photo remained memories from D&D Studios, the iconic recording space that shut its doors in January 2015 after more than 20 years of housing some of rap’s most important records.

Premier first visited D&D Studios in early 1992, when he was asked to lay scratches on a Showbiz (of Showbiz & A.G.) remix of Lord Finesse’s “Return of the Funky Man.” Before that, he had worked up the block at Calliope Studios, the Brooklyn recording home for Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Queen Latifah and Naughty By Nature. But when he listened to D&D engineer Eddie Sancho’s mix of the song on the van’s sound system—Premier’s go-to set of speakers to test mix quality—he was ready to relocate. He and Guru had just received the budget for Gang Starr’s third album Daily Operation, and he knew where they had to go.

“Everything was just really thumping. It was clear and loud, and just heavy,” Premier remembered of the mix. “I told Guru, ‘Yo, I found a spot that we’re gonna be at for now on.’ And that was D&D.”

From there, D&D was Premier’s home base. He built rapport with owners Douglas Grama and David Lotwin, and since major labels were handling recording budgets, he kept the studio busy with his clients. Along with Gang Starr records, he also brought the rest of his clientele to D&D to record their golden era records: from easily recognized zeitgeist records like Biggie’s Ready To Die and Nas’s Illmatic, to underground classics like Smif-N-Wessun’s Dah Shinin and M.O.P.’s To The Death.

The studio had three rooms labeled A, B and C; during the 1990s, Premier would set up shop in the B Room. Sessions as “a madhouse of fun,” he remembers, with most acts bringing along 10 to 15 people to party. He has memories of Biggie and Junior M.A.F.I.A. rolling deep while gulping Bacardi Limon, and Dame Dash and Biggs Burke cracking jokes while Jay Z would record. Artists would shoot pool on a table in the studio, gamble, smoke, and drink—seemingly normal occurrences that were anything but when artists were recording in sanitized studios funded by major labels. Anyone from Shaquille O’Neal or Kevin Garnett to Mary J. Blige and Bobby Brown could pop up.

But the fun inside of the building contrasted with the grimness outside: the studio was on the fourth floor of 320 W. 37th Street in New York City, on a block infested with heroin dealing, and on a road without streetlights. So when artists burned the midnight oil in the booth, they had to keep an eye out for stragglers. And workers of a paper route would constantly end up blocking in artists’ cars outside, prompting a young Jay Z to double park the white Lexus name-checked in songs like “Empire State of Mind” and “Public Service Announcement.”
The Mecca That Was D&D Studios

Tek (of Smif-N-Wessun): “Everybody came through D&D, man. It was so much traffic flowing through there, so many people that probably at times you didn’t know who they were. But if you did, and if you were in there, it was an honor to be in there that night.”

Lil Fame (of M.O.P.): “We would run into Jay-Z, Biggie, ain’t no telling. You could even run into Mary J. Blige up in that mu’fucka. Bobby Brown. Ain’t no telling who coming through that mu’fucka when you go in there.”

DJ Premier: During that time it was very, very, very, very, very zombied out, it was just zombies everywhere on drugs, lingering around our building and everything. It was just not safe. They had a paper route that ran in the middle of the night so they would be blocking our cars, and we’d always get into fights with them. I’m talking ‘bout like three or four in the morning we’d be telling them to step outside so we could beat ‘em up because they would always block our cars in. And they were all foreigners that didn’t speak any English, and we’d have to call out the license plate number to tell ‘em what car needed to be moved and, you know, when you’re ready to go home at three or four in the morning, you don’t want to have to wait for forty cars blocking you.

I remember Jay-Z used to always park his white Lexus in that same parking lot, and they used to do it to him, so he was like, “You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna block the whole entrance so they can’t even come in or out.” And he started to do that to keep them from even getting in their cars, and that used to frustrate them because they couldn’t call the cops because they were using the open parking lot to do the route. Which maybe they were paying somebody on the side, I don’t know. But if they were or were not they were still using that whole lot, to hog it as a hub to load up their papers, before they went out on their routes. So, after that, we finally came to an understanding with them and they stopped giving us a problem. But, those were the good old days of it being like that.

Tek (of Smif-N-Wessun): “I mean, at the time for me I don’t think I was recognizing history in the making. We were just enjoying a good atmosphere, good times. Like in there you playing pool, you gambling, shit you do around the block in the hood, you with your homies up there, you drinking 40s, you smoking, vibing out to music. … It wasn’t like when we went to D&D we had to be like these other kind of guys; we could just be regular. We used to spend the night at D&D like, real talk. We ain’t need no bed, you know we from East New York — Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights — we sleep on the floor, we good. You know what I mean; you put your jacket over you, that’s your cover. You know how you live — you get up, you do your vocals.”

Lil Fame: “It was like hanging out in our hallway. We just fell in love with that spot. It wasn’t a bougie [sic] studio basically, so that’s why it’s like home. Some of our greatest hits came from there. And that’s one studio where you can create right there on the spot. I go to other studios where I can’t come up with nothing ‘cause it’s just so fucking clean and, you know what I mean, you can’t smoke in there, you can’t drink… You gotta watch your manners and shit, you can’t be yourself. D&D allowed us to be ourselves.

“When it’s back to the block, we’re ducking shots, throwing shots. Ducking killers, nigga. We were going to war during them days. Like it wasn’t just rap nigga, the rap shit was a getaway for us. When we do a show we had, we get off that block, you know what I mean, ‘cause it was hell. So D&D was like a vacation for us… just to go to Manhattan and hang out and record and get some work done. That shit, it was a beautiful thing for us. It kept us out a lot of trouble man.”

Premier: “We were just more of a home away from home type of a place. And that’s exactly what you got when you came to that studio. And then again with the pool table, and the vending machine that had rolling papers and blunts in it — where you could get at the party, you didn’t have to go to the corner store, you could buy it right out of the vending machine. That’s how raw that we kept it.”
M.O.P.’s “4 Alarm Blaze,” Gang Starr’s catalog, “1,2 Pass It”

Lil Fame: “Those are great times man. Just to be around our era, most of the stars was humble. It was humble when we did the song called “4 Alarm Blaze.” We was just mixing the song, Jay-Z just happened to walk in and he like, “Yo it was only 3 of y’all niggas on the song, it’s a “4 Alarm Blaze,” let me jump on that shit.” [Laughs] And that’s love, that’s no fucking paperwork and ‘speak to my manager’ and all that… that shit was love, we all had respect for each other ‘cause we all came up in the same circle. And D&D played a big part in that shit.”

DJ Premier: “When me and Guru used made records, we’d already be like, “Ooh, wait ‘til they hear this one!” We already knew… Every album we did, we always had a list of the titles before. So being that we always had the titles and what not… we knew “Mass Appeal” gonna be a single, “DWYCK” gonna be a B-side for a twelve inch, “Take It Personal” was gonna be a single, you know, “Ex Girl To The Next Girl” is gonna be our radio record. We always knew and had it mapped out, and all I did was fill it in with the music to match the titles.”

Steele: “This is one instance when we did the “1, 2 Pass” song (by the D&D All-Stars), and me and Tek was pretty much fresh into the game, we didn’t record our album yet. It was like 94, and we were still dressing bummy, still wearing Timberland shit straight off the street. But we in the studio with KRS-One, Fat Joe, Premier… Who else was on that track? Doug E. Fresh, like we’re seeing these guys, you know?

“… We got behind the board. Premo, everybody was partying, and we got behind the board. There was a little safe where you could actually go behind there and we got low. We sitting there writing our rhymes and then once we finished our rhymes we stood up. Premo was sitting there by the board and he was like, “Yo what the fuck,” he said, “Yo where y’all niggas came from just now?” Nobody knew we were sitting there, ‘cause we just got low in the room. It was like full of people. … From that part, I think that was one of the things that gained us a lot of respect amongst the dudes that we were around that day. Their rap sheets were crazy long already. … So we got a privilege to be on a powerful song that’s gonna be dope historically, forever.”
Closing Up Shop

Gang Starr found out that D&D’s owners planned to shut down the studio in late 2002 before they finished recording their album The Ownerz, and that wasn’t even the worst news they received around then. Two days after the death of Jam Master Jay, Premier got a phone call from the police. Kenneth “HeadQCourterz” Walker—a friend who had toured with the group and appeared on skits from the album—was found dead, and Premier’s phone number was found scribbled on a piece of paper officers found in Walker’s wallet. He answered officers’ questions, identified the body and honored a request from Walker’s mother to dress him in his casket.

He got back to business with Guru, taking a recommendation from Rakim to finish recording the last four songs of The Ownerz at Avatar Studios in Manhattan since D&D had closed. Before leaving for a Gang Starr tour, Premier met with the landlord to put in his bid to take over D&D.

DJ Premier: “Right before we went on The Ownerz tour, I went to go see the landlord that ran the building because he knew that I used to keep the bill paid by shoveling extra money into D&D, so that they wouldn’t go through certain things that would put them under pressure of being closed. We did our best to negotiate some numbers, and he didn’t like the numbers I wanted to negotiate so he said no deal. I went on the Ownerz tour, and the day we got back from Australia, the landlord called me again and goes, “Hey, you still want to pay that number that I said no to?” I was like, “Yeah,” and he was like, “Alright, I’ll do it for that amount that you wanted to do and I’ll cut you a deal.”

“I had a house in Long Island that I wasn’t really living in, and I sold it, and got three times the money that I put into it. Next thing you know, I was putting the money into the studio, bought all new equipment, and D&D gave me the original speakers back. And boom, next thing you knew, we were up and running and we got the studio back.

“I said, “D&D was the legacy that Dave and Doug had already done. Let’s call it HeadQCourterz, after Kenneth Walker.” So we did that and next thing you knew, HeadQCourterz Studio was the new name.”

The pool table was removed, but otherwise, Premier describes the HeadQCourterz as a continuation of what they were doing at D&D. His lab in Studio B was left the same as it was before aside from new ceiling tiles, and Room A, which was previously reserved for live bands, was changed into a control room.

The studio continued to be the spot for artists to churn out new songs and continued to be a hangout spot. Statik Selektah recalls hearing movie and TV set stories from LL Cool J, arguing hoops with Showbiz, and recording songs like Termanology’s “Watch How It Go Down” and records with Reks, A.G. and O.C., and Slaughterhouse. He also remembers Premier being secretive while recording with Christina Aguilera for her 2006 album Back to Basics, which had a handful of Premier productions.

Statik Selektah: “Everybody that’s ever been there understands what it is. You kind of feel it when you walk in the building, you feel like the spirit of Biggie and Big L and all these guys. It’s just a classic spot. When Premier changed the name of the studio … a lot of fans didn’t necessarily know it was the same place. But anyone that’s ever gone there knows the deal. You weren’t worthy of working there if you didn’t know the deal.”

DJ Premier: “We didn’t want the memory of what was closed to go away, so we left it as is. … We continued the legacy and, you know, more records came after that. The sound continued to stay rocking.”

Statik Selektah: “I’ve been hearing that (the studio would close) for a long time. They said it a couple times where, for the last probably like six or seven years there’s been a couple times when they were like, “Yo, we might have to move, we’re going have to move.” When I heard it the last time I was like, “Ah, I’ve heard that before,” and then Premier was like, “Nah, it’s real. We’re out in January.””

And earlier this year, that’s exactly what happened. On Wednesday, January 7, the home of D&D Studios closed its doors for good, reportedly for new building owners to make room for luxury apartments. Premier’s Instagram page leading up to the big day reveals photos of people breaking down the insulation and taking down ceiling tiles, leaving the walls barren and all of the equipment boxed up to be moved to the reported new HeadQCourterz studio at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens. The final photo from the series is two light switches, turned down.

“And we are Outta Here…..So Long D & D,” the photo caption reads. “#premierwuzhere #DaveAndDoug #TheLegacyWillNeverEnd.”

Tek: “The world is forever regenerating, it’s forever revolving and going around. So there’s always going to be a next, not so to say a next Biggie Smalls, or next Nas, or a next Smif-n-Wessun, but there’s going to be artists that are going to be dope. They’re going to be ahead of their time. And as long as there’s a building or housing that can accommodate these sizes of people’s groups, attitudes, and atmospheres, then, of course, yeah it’ll definitely be another D&D.”

Steele: “…It will be dope to see the legacy of that continue. And I think that DJ Premier, Show, they can keep it up but I will also like to see other DJs and producers, and even artists, create places where even some of the artists we haven’t heard yet can do some of the things that we was able to do at that particular time.”

Lil Fame: “We just gotta make [the new building] home. The more you feel comfortable, you got good people around you, shit should be able to work out. Word. And that shit gotta bang. The room gotta knock. [Laughs] Speakers gotta knock man. Play it loud or don’t play it at all.”

Props to HipHopDX

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