The mere mention of the name can elicit a million different emotions from a million different residents of the house of Hip-Hop. Whether you’re a primetime industry player, artist with a collage of shiny plaques or disciple of the culture who’s allotted a percentage of your budget to the cause over the years, the Works of Mart have impacted your life in some shape or fashion. What would life be without DJ Premier? George Bailey was a nobody and his existence was very meaningful so, Hip-Hop without Premo is pretty much impossible to fathom.
Listing off his various accomplishments could take hours and quite possibly derail the treat we have on hand today, so, let’s move on. When opportunity arouse to interview the legendary one, I concluded it that would be interesting for him to have his brain picked by someone who adhered more closer to the lines of his breed’s wax poetics. Trackstar The DJ was more than up for the challenge and although they dissected a multitude of topics like the anatomy of a 5 Cig album, his newly-launched Year Round Records and its accompanying release, DJ Premier Presents: Get Used To Us (available now), it was more of Sunday afternoon conversation amongst Hip-Hop purists than your typical press Q&A.
Have a look for yourself.
TSS: Let’s start with the label, Year Round Records, I know you’re dropping the four singles more or less at the same time, let the people know the science behind that.
DJ Premier: Basically I just don’t want to follow the map of what the industry does because I’ve already lived the industry and I still live the industry so I already understand how it works. The industry doesn’t really like us around anyway once we get older because we know too much so, that’s fine—cut us off—and we’ll find another way to get it out there. Thank God for the ‘Net, and thank God for my fans and supporters still being excited about when I drop something. So I was like “you know what?,” if my own people are excited about me dropping something—and even if they weren’t, I’m excited about dropping something. So as a DJ who loves to buy music, who still really hunts down records like we’re hunting deer in the wild, I’m still that deep rooted in making sure that if I’m gonna do the same thing. Let me do it how I would do it as a consumer that’s different.
It’s like if someone is analyzing a football game, they’re like I wouldn’t have thrown that pass; I would have run the option instead; even though that’s only college ball, but still. I’m the same way with Hip-Hop. I’m like “damn man I would do it this way; I wouldn’t stay on one record,” that’s the standard. Why be standard, be different? So let me drop four records, all at the same time. Let’s do four videos and let’s do videos for the whole album and put it out as a DVD and that’s what we’re doing.
I have three artists on the label: Khaleel, Nick Javas and the NYGz, and they’re the only artists that I will ever sign to the label on that note of an artist signing. I have other projects I’m doing on the label which I call speciality projects like me and KRS-One doing Return of the Boom Bip, me and MC Eiht working on Which Way is West—which is a project he already had done—and I’m just adding a couple songs to the project. And I said yo, I’ll just put it out on Year Round [Records], no biggie and let’s just mix the songs down and get a better mix than what you gave me in L.A. And that was just from bumping into each other on a humble, and getting on a remix for one of my artists Blaq Poet who came out last year, so his record is gonna be a single called “Fine By Me.” They’re shooting a video Saturday, the NYGz video will be shot soon after, Khaleel’s video just got shot while I was at my homecoming in Texas and we filmed my whole homecoming and my school so I saw all my homies and everything. And I filmed all of that so people get to see me in my hometown, showing that I can go there at anytime and everybody showing me dumb love because I never changed my whole career; I still been the same ol Preme—Chris to most people down there.
They know me, I used to get crazy and wild and silly and get into a lot of shit, but I was also so serious about music and with the NYGz, Khaleel and Nick Javas and all these other projects that I wanted to drop this year, since I wasn’t ready. I said let me just drop a compilation and take a bit of every project that I’m doing and just make it a quick album, so we have something for the fourth quarter, before 2011 rolls around. That way, we’ll have all the albums lined up and ready to go, and like I said, four singles I can work in so many angles. I can work Eiht on the West Coast, and if everybody jumps on it past that, then everybody else is welcome to it, then I got Khaleel in Texas, I can work him, and then I work NYGz from the New York side, and then Nick Javas is a whole different scale; he’s more of an artist that can go a little mainstream quicker, because that’s his goal, and he has a different package from the other artists. Plus he’s Italian, so I have different ways of approaching him from my street artists and the MC Eiht record.
And all of this comes from my DJ know-how and then also knowing radio. And I have a show that’s very very dedicated to breaking new records like the way I broke records in 1992 when I was on WBLS with The Thunderstorm. So I’m doing the same exact thing now, only with 21st century records, that I think people need to hear. We make the map instead of following the map.
TSS: You mentioned your college experience, I know personally for me college radio was a big part of my DJ evolution. I was wondering if you could speak on your experience with Hip-Hop in college; if you did college radio and how that affected your trajectory?
DJ Premier: Nah, I didn’t do college radio, I didn’t even know how to scratch until I went to college because a DJ named RP Cola taught me how to scratch. We became very good friends and he used to DJ at a club called the Rhinestone Wrangler, which was South Main over by the Astrodome in Houston and it was the club, like, I guess like how New York had The Roxy and The Fever, and all that stuff. Well in Houston, if you ask anybody back in that era, the Rhinestone Wrangler was the place to be. If you wasn’t up in there, you really wasn’t down with nothin’ that was happening in Hip-Hop and it was the rawest! Like RP would be playing Stetsasonic, “Nobody Beats the Biz” and Mr. Big Stuff, and everything had the heaviest 808, and you had the Beastie Boys, you know “Hold It Now Hit It“, you know, Mantronix “Fresh Was the Word;” just records like that, and you’d hear a couple Texas records, cause it wasn’t that many records from Texas. You had Captain Jack—who was a radio personality—and had records called “Don’t Do It Like That Baby.” The Geto Boys were on the scene before Scarface or any of them was even in the group. There was no Willie D, there was no Scarface, there was no Bushwick Bill. It was Jukebox, and Prince Johnny C and all them, and it was just a whole different era, and there was just no other thing to be guided by than New York, or Philly.
I had family in New York anyway; I already knew that when I’m able to get on my feet by myself, I’m moving there, and I’m gonna take care of myself and crack this industry and make a name for myself. And that’s still the way I am now, I’m like a Brett Favre, I mean I’m not as sensitive as Brett Favre, but as far as my staying power, and my passion to play, and be a part of this, that’s the reason I do it.
TSS: Speaking of New York, and speaking of staying power, we’ve got Fat Beats closing recently, what kind of effect does that have on a label like yours, and what do you think, if anything, will come up to try and replace what Fat Beats was to the record culture and Hip-Hop culture in general?
DJ Premier: Well, there’s still diggin’ spots. If you’re in that world like I am, you know the spots, you see everybody—Just Blaze, Alchemist, Large Professor, Pete Rock—we still pop up in those spots. You got Big City records, you got Turntable Lab, you still have A1, you got Academy, you know. I’m not gonna tell you all the digging spots, but even those guys are gonna start taking all the vinyl and CDs and start carrying ’em in their stores. I talked to my man about it a couple of weeks ago and he said he’s in the process of doing that, because if he cares about what we’re doing, he should do that and when I made the suggestion, he was like “Oh yeah, I’ve already talked to Fat Beats about it” because Fat Beats still operates; it’s just that they are doing it from the Internet and from their warehouse.
There are other people that have taken up the slack, even shout out to my man Siddiq from Rhymesayers. He has a record store in Minnesota.
TSS: Fifth Element.
DJ Premier: Yeah yeah, that’s based on the same style as what Fat Beats does. It’s almost like how it used to be back in the days when we were coming up in the 80s when I moved to New York. You had to find and hunt that shit down, and it’s gone back to that. Now it’s just our own little world, and it’s not oversaturated anymore like it was, and the ones that ain’t got staying power, they’ll be gone soon and we’ll be right back in the position we deserve to be in in a matter of days. I’m in a good place and I feel good about what’s about to happen.
TSS: What record labels do you see doing the type of music that you’re trying to do with Year Round, and that you in a way want to pattern what you’re doing after?
DJ Premier: Well, you got Statik Selektah with Showoff, with Termanology’s stuff with ST;I love what they’re doing. You know, Raekwon got Ice Water, N.O.R.E. has Thugged Out Militainment. Duck Down’s still doing their thing, with 15 years deep of putting out record; they signed Black Rob, put out the !llmind and Skyzoo album, and they got the whole Black Moon, Smif-N-Wesson, Pharoahe Monch, on and on, they’re going at it! I’m happy with what they’re doing.
As far as just the rawest rawest gritty-gritty, it’s me. Year Round Records.
TSS: No doubt. Do you have any horror stories with record labels? I know everyone has their stories of an A&R trying to pressure them into something, or force them into an unfavorable contract, you got any stories from your past dealing with record labels that might have pushed you into starting your own situation?
DJ Premier: I have some horror stories that everybody knows from like 1990 that got really violent, that made MTV News and all that, but that’s when I was ignorant. Pulling guns on executives and stuff like that, but I’m not really like that anymore. It was an ignorant thing, I don’t really feel good about it, but at the time, it was to have them do the right thing because it was the executives who we helped get the job at the label. We voted that he should be the guy to make all this money, and be the one to run the label, and have a better life, and be a part of a bigger system, because he came from a smaller system, a successful one but then he moved on to a major label with us, and the fact that we put him in position and locked in and he started trippin’, I lost my cool. Plus he threw my mother in the mix. And once you put my mother in the mix, there’s no turning back; I’ma do what I’ma do. My mother has nothing to do with my issues that I do outside of my family. The fact that he crossed that line, I showed him what type of guy I was, or no, that I am, and it was a horror story for him, not for me. So I stayed on the label, and Gang Starr continued to grow and grow, and we got bigger and better, and we had a very successful career, and made lots of money, got cars, houses, all of that stuff, while staying underground our whole career. We stayed consistent, and we always made sure we took care of the underground heads. And I do that exact same thing now.
I’m a little older, but I still have the exact same know-how as when I was younger, and I’m just a lot more wise on how I deal with things, but, just the fact that major labels started to act funny with “Oh, now you’re 30 now, and we don’t want to sign you because you’re a little too old,” that definitely makes you want to do your own label. Because you’re like “man, let me just go back to what I know now,” because when I got in, I didn’t know and now I know, so it’s like shit, “why not start a label?” It’s nothin’; you gotta get a proper staff, and really we’re just a two man staff, but we know what we’re doing, and we do things carefully. And I’m very calculating, that’s why I move how I move, but at the end of the day, it’s time to get some product out on the steady, and get these guys’ careers off the ground, and then I’m gonna grow into the next phase of my career.
TSS: I don’t know how familiar you are or aren’t with TSS, but we do album reviews, and instead of stars we do Cigs, like, cigarettes cause it’s The Smoking Section. Basically a 5 Cig album, we just mean classic, and we just wanted to get your perspective. What qualities does an album need to have to be considered an all-time classic, as someone whose had a hand in making classic albums?