Without a doubt, DJ Premier is top-five dead-or-alive, one of the greatest hip hop producers ever, and your favorite producer's producer won't tell you any different. The Houston, Texas native's sound, which consists of chopped samples looped over crisply punched drums, and accented with a signature scratch chorus, hasn't changed much, but still fits as the perfect hip hop soundtrack for New York's Timberland-boots-certified street aesthetic.
Even after 22 years in the game, reports about his production credits possibly surfacing on the upcoming albums of everyone from Drake to Immortal Technique keep fans on their toes. His continuous relevance asserts that East Coast boom-bap sound is still beloved by many, and upcoming projects like the collaboration album with Pete Rock will only maintain the flame. With that said, to the jizzing joy of those who masturbate to MPC noises, we recently went to the legendary HeadQCourterz (formerly known as D&D Studios) in Manhattan to hear the master craftsman share anecdoetes behind some of his all-time classics...
I didn't know it at the time, but DJ Premier affected my perspective of hip hop in a way that made me feel validated in listening to street stories. Between the ages of 12 and 14, I didn't want anything to do with hip hop music. I thought it was too vulgar, too arrogant, or too violent, and I couldn't identify with the words I heard. I was also quite resistant to what was considered "popular". In some ways, I suppose I still am. Nevertheless, most of my musical taste then involved jazz and r&b, not hip hop.
Then came the summer before my junior year in high school. My brother was visiting home during his time stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia. And when he brought all his stuff in the house, I noticed this grey padded case he used for carrying his CD collection. I jumped on it, and I spent an entire night picking through his music in the hopes of something interesting. Two of the albums in that case claimed me, ATLiens by OutKast and The Score by The Fugees. I commandeered them for more scrutiny, and they were heavily rotated!
So here I am, I'm 16 years old and I'm thinking to myself, "Alright. I'm not really into hip hop, but I like this two albums. I'll just listen to them." And for a long while, that's what I did. Nothing else in hip hop mattered for me except The Fugees or OutKast. I listened to those two records over and over, and practically learned every single word on both. In fact, I'm pretty sure I could crank out 60-70% of either one on the spot. Those albums are ingrained in my body for the rest of time, I can assure you.
So this is where DJ Premier came in.
The year was 1997 and Jay-z's album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 was released a few months into my OutKast/Fugees binge. EVERYBODY had it. The first single "Who You Wit" had already been spinning on the radio for some time by then and in September we got hit with the second one, "(Always Be My) Sunshine." So Jay was everywhere, all the time; I couldn't stand it. Like I mentioned earlier, I couldn't identify with much of what artists like Jay were saying. I was much more attracted to emcees who composed with a more cosmopolitan sense of the world; emcees like Dre or Lauryn.
But then I heard "...A Million and One Questions...""
I think I first heard this at my boy Omarr's crib. My first response was that I loved it. My second was how much I hated myself for loving it so much. Jay wasn't saying anything that was relevant to my life. He was promoting such misogyny and materialism. All I can remember thinking is how regressive his lyrics would be for black society and that he wasn't doing anyone any good. And I didn't care. It made a twisted sort of sense to me. There was something about the way this track moved that felt completely organic, completely embodied. I couldn't take my ears off of it.
It took many years for me to realize why I had this response. It had nothing to do with Jay's lyrics, but everything to do with DJ Premier's production. It felt as if he had awakened in me a musical experience that had been dormant for years; it had always been there, Premio just unveiled it for me to enjoy. I was instantly intoxicated, I just didn't know to what. At that time I had no interest to know who produced the song, so my addiction had no name.
For a long while after that, I had similar responses to other Premier-produced tracks like Mos Def's "Mathematics", Nas' "Nas Is Like", and D'angelo's "Devil's Pie." (Go youtubing!) I had no idea who it was making these beats, I just knew I loved these songs. So the first time I even saw his name was when I finally decided to check out the liner notes for Common's Like Water For Chocolate album to figure out why "The 6th Sense" had become my favorite song from my favorite emcee of all time. And there is was, "...produced by DJ Premier."
There he's been all along, making some of the best hip hop records of all time.