A master manipulator of jazz records since the early 1990s, DJ Premier casts a long shadow over anyone who makes sample-based music. Routinely named one of the top five hip-hop producers of all-time, the Brooklynite is in an especially talkative mood when he calls the Straight, tackling a variety of topics in a rambling hour-long chat. On the subject of his own longevity, for instance, he claims he’s among the last of a dying breed.
“I wish Whodini or Stetsasonic or Big Daddy Kane would come out with an album right now,” he says. “But a lot of these guys are either mad or bitter that they’re not as relevant as they used to be. You have to know who you’re making music for. I can’t make the new generation like me, because they didn’t grow up on me. So I stick to what I know.”
To that end, Premo has established Year Round Records to showcase his productions for rappers who share his reverence for the old school. Later this year, he will release a label compilation to preview upcoming albums he’s currently producing for upstarts like Nick Javas (a fiery Italian-American spitter) and Houston’s Khaleel (a laid-back drawler) and legends like KRS-One and MC Eiht.
“I told all my artists that we’re going to be struggling together,” says Premier, who enjoyed big-label riches as a member of Gang Starr in the 1990s. “You might see me wearing the same old Big L [a deceased ’90s-era rapper] shirt all the time because I always put my money back into the company.”
A hitmaker for artists ranging from Nas (1994’s seminal “N.Y. State of Mind”) to Christina Aguilera (2006’s retro-tinged “Ain’t No Other Man”), Premier is unparalleled among boardsmen in his ability to coax great vocal performances from his collaborators. That should be the key for any producer, says the Houston native, who counts Bun B, Fat Joe, and Busta Rhymes among his most recent clients.
“I’m from the pre–Pro Tools era where you had to meet up with the artist and go over things if you wanted to record a track,” he says. “I’m real particular about delivery. You can write the illest rhymes in the world, but can you deliver it right? It’s like, we all know how to put our dick in the hole, but can you tear it up?”
One of those who routinely tore it up was Guru, Premier’s iconic Gang Starr collaborator. After the rapper passed away in February, a farewell letter surfaced in which Guru purportedly denounced Premier. The letter’s validity has been questioned by the rapper’s family and by Premier himself, who is planning a tribute concert in 2011 that will reunite everyone with whom Gang Starr collaborated, including Jadakiss and Snoop Dogg.
“I miss yelling and arguing with that bastard,” says Premo of his long-time partner. “That motherfucker is a roach; he doesn’t die. I can’t believe he’s gone. When I spoke at the funeral, I promised I’m never going to speak of him in the past tense. I won’t say he was; I’ll say he is.”
DJ Premier plays Bar None on Thursday (October 28).