Gumsole Beatdowns #1: Premier

Despite what Common believes, has not found the new Premo. And we don’t want to. Few producers have introduced (and reintroduced) as many artists as credibly or as eloquently as that signature dusty, chopped and scratch-based sound coming from “The East.” At 41 years old, the man born Christopher Martin has only endured. The Texas native was one of the first producers to go national, locking in early ‘90s work with MC Eiht and Scarface, introducing Nas, Jay-Z, and Biggie, helping Mos Def, Common and J-Live get street acceptance, and making Christina Aguilera, Limp Bizkit and Macy Gray credible to the streets. This visionary speaks with his hands in dangerous ways, and cannot be duplicated or outdone. To kick off our new musical blog series “Gum Sole Beatdowns”—shout out to Bonz Malone— editors Aqua and Paine revisit 10 joints from the former Waxmaster C’s catalogue that demonstrate his evolution, his timelessness and his genius. Great MCs don’t shop at Wal-Mart, they shop at Works of Mart. “Next Level (Premier's Nytetyme Remix)” by Show & A.G. (Payday/Polygram, 1995)Show & A.G.’s second LP was recorded in Virginia, but the brothers from The Bronx borough-hopped to Brooklyn to get this stretched out Jazz composition, that celebrated Andre the Giant’s larger-than-life microphone persona. This remains one of the finest single joints out of the D.I.T.C. collective, “showing all you corny mothaf**kas what Hip-Hop’s supposed to sound like.” “Credit Is Due” by Gang Starr (Chrysalis, 1991)Step In The Arena saw Gang Starr come into their own as Hip-Hop force to be reckoned with. At first listen you might say there isn’t much to what technically didn’t make the album’s cut—it was the B-side to “Love Sick.” Cavernous drums, the slightest soul vocal swipe, thunderous rim shots and subtle keys. Put that all together, and it just bangs. Makes ya wonder what else Preme might have laying around. “The Actual” by All City (Armee/MCA, 1998)Under the mentorship of Onyx, few would argue that either J.Mega or Greg Valentine were stellar rappers. Still, with what sounds like a chopped Curtis Mayfield score (congas and all), DJ Premier gave reason for this New York duo to sound good and still be in conversation a decade later. B-list rappers today ought to keep room in their budgets for Premier instead of the textbook Akon feature move. This is “Come Clean” on steroids.“Unbelievable” by The Notorious B.I.G. (Bad Boy, 1994)Biggie and Premo had a chemistry that exceeds the mixmaster’s simultaneous work with Jay-Z and Nas. This is evident of just that, with lyrical delivery matching the percussion near perfectly. The pounding thumps is the result of beat manipulation that makes the sample almost unidentifiable—De La’s “Potholes,” “Ultra’s “Ego Trippin” or anything else that uses said lift sound nothing like this. The producer built in the chorus, a signature that Alchemist would later emulate. “Supa Star” by Group Home (Payday, 1996)The question is, does a great production inspire the lyricist or does it make you overlook his flaws? Group Home may never inspire a debate about lyrical quotables but their Premier helmed debut, Livin’ Proof, illustrates that meeting somewhere halfway can mean a masterpiece. If anyone has the “Supa Dupa Star (1994 June Demo Version)” from the “Livin’ Proof” vinyl flip, do share. “The Militia” by Gang Starr featuring Big Shug & Freddie Foxxx (Virgin/Noo Trybe, 1998)Like Lil’ Jon or D/R Period, DJ Premier can make a fight-inciting music. With samples of everything from train conductor announcements to ad-libs, this mosaic music arguably was a single catalyst for Freddie Foxxx’s Industry Shakedown album two years later, and Shug’s Who’s Hard? in 2005. Few rap songs outside of M.O.P. and Boot Camp Clik have ever celebrated the knuckle game to this extent, and with a sequel and a remix, the Militia was a voltron of Hip-Hop truth preserved by ugly force. “Physical Stamina” by Jeru the Damaja featuring Afu-Ra (Payday, 1996)Critics and fans praise The Sun Rises in the East for its attitude and formal Jeru introduction. However Wrath of the Math caught Jeru amidst Premier’s creative transition period. Few joints ever went this far beyond convention. With circuit-bending like sounds, DJ Premier arguably rolled out a red carpet for what would come a year later with Timbaland and The Neptunes. Organized chaos never sounded so gully. “Words I Manifest (Remix)” by Gang Starr (Wild Pitch, 1989)Note to would be contenders, makes sure your crates are deep. New to the Gang Starr fold, on this No More Mr. Nice Guy standout Premier bring the Jazz aesthetic with a Donald Byrd sax solo that he has converse with a James Brown break, which becomes a stunning amalgamation of swing and boom bap. “Hope to be, dope as me,” said Guru of his technique, or was he talking about Premo? “Speak Ya Clout” by Gang Starr featuring Jeru The Damaja & Lil Dap (Chrysalis, 1994)Most producers struggle to put together one head-nodder, on “Speak Ya Clout” from the underrated Hard To Earn, he drops a three for one special. Jeru sets it off over rambunctious drums, Lil Dap assaults moody rimshots and Guru gets a funky assembly of staccato guitar licks. Premier simultaneously demonstrates his charity with the bounce to his Gang Starr Foundation members and his deft tailoring their groove’s moods. “The 6th Sense” by Common (MCA, 2000)“If revolution had a movie I’d be theme music,” raps Common. So be it, just make Premier the conductor responsible for creating that score. No disrespect to Kanye West, but Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. already had a classic, or two, under his belt, Like Water for Chocolate, which included this bit of assistance from a trusty contributor. New Premo? Nah, we’ll take the old and current one, thank you very much. Oh sh*t, we didn’t include an MOP joint…