DJ Premier

DJ Premier

"I’m part of the culture. I’m not just in it for the music. I live the culture. If you live the culture you have a whole different approach to making it last."  - DJ Premier      

You will find his name in any debate about great Hip-Hop producers. DJ Premier's career is characterized by his meticulous attention to detail, his ability to retain his signature sound even while collaborating outside of Hip-Hop, and his expansive discography. He is without question a Hip-Hop icon.

Photo of DJ Premier at Howard Theatre, July 2013. Courtesy of Violetta Markelou

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Excerpts from Q&A 

Who would you say your major influences and inspirations were? Who inspired you to make the type of music that you make?

DJ Premier: Really, all the music that came before Hip-Hop culture was actually born [inspired me]. I mean, they date it at 1973 when it started to really kick in, but I talked to some of the great legends like Grand Mixer D.ST—which he calls himself DXT now—but he said that Hip-Hop didn’t really kick in until ’78 for him. And if he says that, it’s law because he was there. But Kool Herc set the whole thing off in 1973 by throwing a party for his sister... Herc’s the man! And then on top of that, I was brought up on—you know I’m 47 years old—so I was brought up on music like the Jackson 5, anything Motown, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes. Then I went to Curtis Mayfield, Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole - things like that. Ohio Players, Parliament, all that stuff. James Brown especially groomed me to respect musicianship and music in general. And then blues was in my family; jazz was in my family.

And it wasn’t even called R&B back then. It was called Soul Music. We used to go to record stores with my mom to go shopping because she’s an art teacher. She had a big record collection. We’d go to the soul section—there was no R&B. But they switched it for a reason. There is a difference because soul music is all the artists that I named; it’s way before Rick James, way before Prince. This is the pure form of those artists. Even Quincy Jones. Then you’ve got to take it to the Cold Crush Brothers, Run-D.M.C., Kool Moe Dee, Marley Marl who was my biggest inspiration as a Hip-Hop producer. He did it for me as far as making me want to really take a chance at doing it as a producer and an artist because I’m a DJ first. 


How has working with contemporary artists changed the way you think about Hip-Hop, or the way you produce music?

DJ Premier: Well, with me, again, it goes back to DJing. Anything that you do for an occupation, you’re supposed to do your research at all times. I still do my research. I know who all these younger artists are, but I also know who the veterans are and I know who’s popping on the charts. I study and make sure I read up on people. I even sometimes read those gossip magazines to see who paparazzi are following around... 

[On working with Christina Aguilera]: …one thing I like about her, she told me to just do me. She said don’t change what you do as far as your Hip-Hop style - give me what you do. I remember when I announced that I was working with her a lot of people were worried like: “Oh Nooo, you’re gonna go pop and cross into that. Please Premier, don’t violate like these other producers have,” but every single person that heard what we did together was like: “Yo, you kept it in the box that we wanted you to keep it in.” But that, again, goes for me understanding and respecting music. You have to really respect music overall. It’s still the same application. You’ve got to just know how to key into that artist. But that goes back to DJing again because I play all of their songs. That’s DJing versatility, which is my job. 


Where do you think Hip-Hop will be in the next 40 years and where would you like it to be?

DJ Premier: I think Hip-Hop’s getting better in the next 40 years because, for one, my generation - which is more the ‘90’s generation - really power-housed a big section of the greatest Hip-Hop ever. You know, along with the ‘80’s era. But a lot of us still exist and a lot of us are making records that are about to come out. I’m even doing a classics division of my label, Year Round Records, where I’m putting out another MOP album. There’s MC Eiht from Compton’s Most Wanted, Lady of Rage who used to be on Death Row - we’re doing an album together. Heather B… artists that I already know are still nice, but people won’t give them an opportunity because they’re like, “Oh, you know, well, you’re older and we don’t want to put our time and money into that.” But their market’s already established! If their market’s established and the music’s good, why not put it out? Let’s put it out. But it takes somebody who already knows, like myself, that these artists still got what it takes to do it. Allof them are still in the studio killin’ it with their lyrics and still got the attitude. So let’s put the records out.

We’re all doing something that’s in today’s world, but we’re still veterans of the past. And we’re still hot at what we do with that. So, it’s very important that our generation still exists because the younger guys - we like them too - but a lot of them don’t respect their elders. I keep wanting to warn them, like “Yo, you’re gonna be in the poorhouse later on and we’ll still be rising up buying new houses, new cars, sitting back, sitting on money if you don’t put a balance on respecting who opened the door for you.”  When I see Kurtis Blow I still get goose bumps. Like, “Oh my god, Kurtis Blow!” I’m not like, “Yeah, yo, what’s up, man? I remember you.” Nah, it’s, “KURTIS!” It’s a major thing to me. And plus, I’m part of the culture. I’m not just in it for the music. I live the culture. If you live the culture, you have a whole different approach to making it last. That’s the reason why we ain’t going nowhere.       

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