DJ Premier: Cornerstone of Power

The iconic MC’s of the New York 1990’s had one rite of passage above all else – they had to get by DJ Premier to be great. Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z, Big L, Rakim, Jeru, O.C., G Rap, Kane and countless others all ended up in D&D Studios, building with the pride of Prairie View Texas.

Two decades after relocating to New York, DJ Premier is still out for musical truth. Admitting that the past three years were some of the roughest he’s ever seen, 2006 promises to restore the king of the boards to the status he’s reclaimed so many times over.

On a snowy New York afternoon, Premier lounges in a conference room unveiling his vision to AllHipHop.com. With the renamed studio, now HeadQcourterz, prospects of a Nas album, plus work with Teflon, Screwball’s Blaq Poet, and NYG’z, it all seems prophetic. The whimpering and happy-go-lucky sound of Hip-Hop is only existing because Premier’s permitted it, and his grin reveals that in one single swoop, he can take it all back and prove that reputation as solid as his is Hard To Earn.

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[Click here to hear DJ Premier talk about his career and contributions to Hip-Hop]

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AllHipHop.com: New York is an underdog in Hip-Hop in 2005. Do you think the way you rebounded with Illmatic and Ready To Die in response to The Chronic and Doggystyle is what will happen in 2006?

DJ Premier: It has to. We’re puttin’ out albums – not just one or two joints, but complete albums. [Teflon’s] album is called Contraband and the album, the title, the way it sounds, it all fits. Every song has a piece to that one word. Nowadays, it’s all about people tryin’ to make a couple hot singles and the rest can be whatever. Hip-Hop never had that “first week” thing till Soundscan came into play. After Soundscan, it changed everybody’s way of thinking like, “If I don’t sell a lot of records in the first week, I’m doomed.” Before, it was all about the momentum of the record and checkin’ up on it the old-fashioned way.

AllHipHop.com: Radio accounts for a lot. On De La Soul’s “Much More”, you screamed at Program Directors and Radio DJ’s for not taking risks on records anymore. You’re still saying that on your latest mixtape. What is the solution? Is it Serius and XFM?

DJ Premier: Satelite radio is the answer – which I’m on, every Friday from 8-10, Serius. I do a radio show called “Live From HeadQcourterz” and we actually go live as of Febraury 1st where we can take calls and play the records. People will call from Kentucky and Oklahoma – some say, “Love your stuff,” others, “F**k you,” now they can actually get it from the artists. Plus, it’s uncensored. You can get it as raw as you gotta give it to ’em. That’s where Hip-Hop was born, from the ghetto society. Now that’s being taken away from it, the purity don’t sound good. Something’s gotta go inside your gut when a record’s on. If it don’t give you that certain emotion, somethin’s wrong with the record – it’s nothin’ wrong with me. ‘Cause I know the great records that I grew up on are still great. I’m never mad when a new artist comes through. I welcome as many new artists as possible – just do quality work. I play Chamillionaire, I play Bun B, I play Sheek Louch, I just bought Canibus, Ghost and Trife, DPG, O.C….

AllHipHop.com: Do you think that after the Scratch cover-story with you and Nas, you’re held accountable to deliver this album with him?

DJ Premier: That’s on Nas. ‘Cause I’m always down. That’s like a no-brainer. I put high expectations on myself for any project I do. [Teflon and I] have been workin’ on [Contraband] for over four years. All projects are that important to me. But a Nas album, definitely – you already know that this dude is not a slouch, I’m not a slouch, but at the same – my greatest s**t has to come out based off of what he’s left behind so far. His history speaks for what would be if we all of a sudden connected for a full-time project.

AllHipHop.com: Your arm tattoo says, “Reputation is the cornerstone of power.” I love that quote, but what does that mean in the fabric of who you are?

DJ Premier: Even before I started being in the rap game as an artist, I always said – in everything I do, I gotta make a name for it. I read The 48 Laws of Power [by Robert Greene] on a plane one time, saw that passage, and it stuck with me. Part of it is my father. Everybody knows my father. Everybody in the neighborhood knew him ’cause he was really in the hood – still to this day. He put pressure on me to be the man, the warrior, all that. You gotta have a sensitive side, but if you pull it out at the wrong time, you gonna really wish you didn’t do it. I’ve always followed that guideline where nothing’s gonna keep me in a f**ked up situation – and we been in a f**ked up situation for three years, and we maintained through that struggle out of love for each other and love for this Hip-Hop s**t. Believe me, there’s so many positions we could take. I could get a label job, right now. I’d bring in good artists too. But that’s not what I wanna do. I wanna develop a label that’s filling in the blanks like Juelz Santana said, of “what the game’s been missing.” They’re missing us right now.

AllHipHop.com: You are certainly one of my biggest inspirations. But there’s a lot of dudes who equate you to the second coming. That said, what’s the craziest experience you’ve ever had with a fan?

DJ Premier: I have a couple. One was in Europe. A kid showed up in every city like Germany, Amsterdam, France. I’m like, “He must have some money!” [laughs] I was hoping he’d loan me some. [laughs] He showed up in every city over three weeks of shows. I kept him around for a minute to see what was goin’ on – “Oh, I love you. You mean so much to me. I just wanna be at every show.” It was weird at first. He didn’t mean no harm. He wasn’t showin’ up at my hotel and ringin’ my room – that, I probably would’ve stomped him out. I had a girl do the same thing in like 1992. She was a lil’ psycho. Watch who you sleep around with, ’cause sometimes they’ll flip out on your ass too. But it all smoothed out. I’m pretty good at leveling things out.

AllHipHop.com: Looking at records like “Waiting for the World to End” by Rakim or “The Sixth Sense” by Common, do you ever get emotionally involved to your work?

DJ Premier: Some of ’em, yeah. There’s certain songs, definitely. “The Sixth Sense” was one of ’em, “Mathematics” with Mos Def, and a song I did with M.O.P. called “Faceoff 2K”. Certain records just get me.

AllHipHop.com: David Axelrod told me how film and books influence his work. What inspires you away from the music?

DJ Premier: I love watchin’ TV. Even though it is an idiot box, I take it in a different way. I watch History Channel. I also watch TV just to study how intensely they are in control of controlling the minds of how people think. I always gotta compare things. We’re caught up in a matrix. I used to love Six Feet Under the whole series. I ain’t never miss an episode! I loved the variety of characters. The Wire, same thing. I used to be into playin’ sports. I read a lot too. I’m into real basic books and a lot of Black books, Black authors, Donald Goines and [Milton Cooper’s] Behold a Pale Horse and stuff like that.

AllHipHop.com: It’s funny you mention TV. How do you feel about MTV using your instrumentals on shows like Cribs and others when they refuse to play Gang Starr videos since “Full Clip”?

DJ Premier: All the time! If you complain to them and say, “Yo, stop playin’ my s**t,” they’ll never play my videos. They’ll pull that. That’s really the mentality. When I hear it, I let it go. I would never show my crib on no show. I don’t care how fly it is, even if I have 28 cars, I’ll never do it. For those that do, do it. I’m more of a down low person. I been wearing these same clothes three days in a row, I don’t give a f**k. I’m still dope. I know how to get clean too. [laughs]

AllHipHop.com: Looking at 1995 and The Group Home Livin’ Proof album, ten years later, is there any correlation from then to now that you can see?

DJ Premier: There’s nothing that’s raw out there, and pure. Everything just sounds too happy. If the world is really that happy like you puttin’ out there, fine, but it’s not that way. We gotta touch on the people that’s really strugglin’ out there from the ghetto. The music was born from there. This music originated in the ghettos of New York City. Now, this is so microwaved, that it doesn’t sound like the city it came from. The streets are always the testing ground for anything great. Do it fly all the time!

AllHipHop.com: Last question, will “Counter Punch” be the last time Guru and Premier collaborate?

DJ Premier: Nah. We just on a long hiatus right now. We been rollin’ hard for a lot of years. Let’s leave each other alone for a while. The label f**ked us all up, and didn’t promote The Ownerz album right – that was a good album too! Then HeadQcourterz passed. He was bigger than any billboard or any wrapped van. He was our inside promoter. He was the human billboard. He didn’t care if you was 90 years old, bent over with a cane – he’d tell you about the album. But we about to regroup, we got the studio in his name, and live on.

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