A Conversation with DJ Premier: One Of The Best Yet

DJ Premier is a pioneer of hip-hop and an absolute living legend, he has accomplished an astonishing amount in his career and just about a month ago he released his latest masterpiece, a brand new Gang Starr album titled One Of The Best Yet. I grew up a huge fan of Gang Starr in my adolescent years as I am sure many of the people reading this did as well, so when I first head about this new album I was in complete shock, partially because their last album prior to this came out way back in 2003 and also because it has been nearly a decade since the passing of the legendary emcee Guru who made up of one half of the group. This was the first time in his career that DJ Premier had to piece together an album without Guru by his side helping him compose it, he had previously recorded verses that we anywhere from 10-20 years old and he somehow managed to craft it into a tremendous + memorable body of work.

Needless to say, when I got the opportunity to interview one of my idols and someone who I have studied like DJ Premier, I was stunned and excited to ask him about this new album as well as questions about his career. Stream One Of The Best Yet via Spotify below while you read our conversation below, and if you would like to support DJ Premier + Guru’s estate, visit this website to purchase some of their merchandise.

 

EM: What it was like growing up in Texas?

DJ Premier: Growing up in Texas was actually fun because you know we had a lot of friends as a child, then on top of that I have two sisters I’m the only boy I’m the youngest of the three so three children of my parents and my oldest sister is four years older and my other sister is two years older than me so in my neighborhood all of our friends hung together like maybe not as we got older but early in my childhood. We all hung you know what I’m saying, and there was a lot of us in our neighborhood. So, you know we always do the typical games, red light/green light and hide and go seek, cops and robbers, we did Batman and Robin. We did you know just did all those typical games and the only difference was you wouldn’t hear my oldest sister saying you’re too young to hang with my friends you know, that didn’t really happen until she became a teenager once she became a teenager it’s too late. I don’t want to hang out with my friends anymore because now you know that’s an age where you start to discover your adulthood. You know girls kiss at the house parties and our neighborhood had a lot of house parties. You know Travis Scott’s uncle and his dad used to be at those parties and I used to want to go in there you know because Travis Scott’s uncle almost always one of the coolest people in our neighborhood and even said that he named himself “Travis Scott” because of his cool uncle and he’s definitely right. You know again I hung around Travis when I was a kid you know so, “Travis Scott” that didn’t exist yet. His dad wasn’t even married with kids yet so I envied his uncle so I mean yes, I could imagine how he feels being attached to his own blood you know. And plus, Travis taught me how to ride motorcycles, he used to let me ride a Suzuki motorcycle his dad Travis as they used to ride minibikes back in the day and one with a lawnmower engine. He taught me how to put them together. And you know change the oil and he let me ride his it as I became a teenager you know. You know I started hanging out with his dad, learned how to play drums at their house and his grandmother my English teacher and his uncle Travis taught me how to play bass so that’s where I learned, you know, I took piano lessons I guess as a kid you know above second grade I was like “I don’t wanna do this I wanna play sports I play football a few years and you know that just typical you know I did little league baseball, I played for the little league Astros got one trophy we won first place, so I was really into sports back then as a kid so you know just typical shit. And then as you go in your teenage years you just smoking weed experiment with chicks and in a small town, I think you grow up a little quicker because there’s nothing else to do. You know sound like you have a big city even though Houston is the city that’s right next to us, I moved from Houston to a town called Prairieview. So, it’s an all-black community so even that just being around an all-black neighborhood I’m used to what I’m used to just from the people that surround me there weren’t any white families in our neighborhood until I went to school you know. 

EM: How did the move to New York come about?

DJ Premier: My grandfather was named William or grandfather Bill, grandfather Bill lived in Brooklyn and my mom is from Baltimore and my father’s from South Carolina, so whenever we would go out on our little summer vacations every year after year you know we would always go to Baltimore was checkup my grandmother and my aunt and then we drive to New York because there’s only a three-hour drive and we would stay with my grandfather. So, I was very into baseball heavy back then. So, my grandfather used to take me to Yankee games. So, I was really into it and I guess he looked to me, as close as he was to all of us, I was the only boy and you know I liked to do boy stuff. He was always happy to take me places because it’s like hanging out with the guys you know so and that’s when Pinball Machines were really big. I was really into that. He’s taking the Playland in Times Square and I’ve been on it just people stealing the bikes and all that I thought it was really cool versus you know a small town I come from. So, you know when you come back from the summer “like man I see people stealing bikes in broad daylight. You know got a guy committing suicide on a train or subway and we had to get off the train and we realized what he had just done and we even felt how we ran over him because he could feel the train jump, you know. And when they had to back up off of it jumped again almost like a speed bump type of feeling. They told us don’t look that way and of course, I looked at the body and for me, I was like “wow this is amazing”. You know so, come forward 1977, I was there when the blackout happened. But I also witnessed the b-boys you know to boom box, the Kangos, not really the big chain yet, but just the whole flystyle and the music and that’s when I started getting fascinated with the hip-hop where I was like man I want to move here when I get old enough, this is when I’m like maybe 12 or 13. So I was already used to go to New York a lot, so it wasn’t a foreign place once I made my move. 

Now what brought me to the career side of it, was two friends of mine from Brooklyn, my grandfather passed so then after he passed, I met two friends of mine who went to my college in Prairieview. And they were from Brooklyn. So, we got cool. I became one of the hottest DJ’s at my school and they did they went with me on that journey. When I went to New York they had me stay at their parents’ house and I stayed live with those two guys and their parents and father was very strict they were a West Indian family from Trinidad, his father was like you can’t stay in the house during the day unless you have a job cause I’m not gonna have you post up at my house, I’m gone to work, my wife gone to work and y’all just hanging out in my house and I don’t really know you like that so. But you’ve got to have a job so I went and got a job at a daycare, young people’s day camp as a counselor didn’t have any experience but they said you know it’s all about entertaining the kids and just kind of keep an eye on him. And me and my emcee from college we were both on that journey to get a record deal and our dancer at the time who also went to college with us so we were like now we’ll be counselors and we ended up doing that and then we would like rap and the kids or I beatbox or whatever and my MC would rap and the kids loved us and because we were different from the other counselors we weren’t really straight and we were rebellious at the time anyway so. So, moving forward eventually Guru heard my demo tape because I shutout one of my friends in Houston they got me a job at a record store. He used to be the billboard reporter; this was back when Billboard just added a rap category in Billboard. And he was a reporter for the Houston region.

So, when he hopes to find the second end about getting his record reported. He told him about me. There may still be covered in New York this summer. Maybe you can listen to his demo, he said: “yeah, have him send the demo to me.” So, once he sent it to him and it came to be that summer, Guru was helping a white label wild pitch records, so it was only the two of them working out of their apartment. So, Guru used to always be up there since he was already signed to the label and he would always go to the demo tapes that came to him. So, once he heard my demo tape. That’s when he said man, I want to I work with this guy and that kind of trickled down to me getting to meet him. My emcee. Well they didn’t really like him, but I stayed loyal to my emcee and I said I can’t join Gang Starr and leave my guy and we can’t really get our group off the ground.

When it came down to them saying “Well your demo is not really tight with him let me put you in a real studio.” Because we were doing everything on our four-track machine in our dorm room and once he said let’s get it crackin’ in a real studio we did our demos, they still didn’t like them. He said, “Man if we don’t get a deal in the next three or four months I’m going to go ahead and enlist in the military cause it’s just not working.” and I’m like “well you do that. I’m not going to wait for you.” You know some time passed and he said, “Hey man I’m going to enlist.” And I thought he was bluffing because I didn’t go with him when he went to go enlist.

Next thing you know on a Saturday the recruiting officer comes knocks on the door and I happened to be the only one at the house that, everybody else had gone out doing whatever they’re doing, and they were like yo we came to pick him up and I’m like are you serious?. When I yelled out for his name down in the basement where we saw where we slept that he was upstairs with his bags already packed. He knew he was leaving I didn’t know when he leaves, I’m like “Dude how long did you enlist for?” he said four years I’m like “well I’m not going to wait for you for four years”.

If you were just gone for a year, I could just stick it out and just go back to Texas and just get my life together and then come back and a year later, but he said four years I’m like “fuck it”. I called Wild Pitch back and told them I’m available and I told Guru “look I want to be a producer so I don’t want to be a Gang Starr, but I will always be your DJ. and I will always be the producer himself.

Well, I didn’t even know I had to be producing till Guru said you’re not getting 50% just scratching on the records. You got to do more now because you don’t write the rhymes and I do. So, you gotta learn how to produce and make beats or sometimes so even I thought was making beats I was on that level and then it got to a point where I was like OK I’ll earn my 50 percent while you know perfecting my productions. So, what I did when I “manifest” that was me still learning and that was me, Guru and our engineer programming those pieces together.

Once we got a major deal that “seven-year reign” was about to come out that’s when I locked in and started practicing on the machines to get better as a beatmaker and production-wise I already knew what I wanted so I considered myself producer because I was able to tell you “6 deadline” or you sound like you’re not matching last parts and stuff like that, so I already knew how to judge it and I knew how to arrange I’ve always known how to arrange songs. So, I was confident as a producer, but I wasn’t really confident to call myself a producer until you know on a level that I’m at now. So, I started out very operational. Once we got there I was confident that I was ready to say I’m a full-fledged producer and that’s when KRS One called to have me help him work on the “return of the boombox” so I was like I’m definitely good now where anybody that I deal with I’m going to know how to you know make their record turning you know, a shining light.

EM: Congratulations on the release of One Of The Best Yet, how long have you been piecing together this album?

DJ Premier: About a year. You would have been a year and a half. It would have been shorter but my dad passed and the mix of working on it and I had to get all my family stuff straight with him passing and my mom is 90 years old and you know she has dementia and she is confined to a wheelchair. So, I had to make sure she was straight, so everything was just I didn’t care about working on the album until my family was straight and family is always number one with me.

EM: How did you come up with the title to the album?

DJ Premier: That’s just this been one of our slogans since “Full Clip”. Because I took the line from the 1998 single “you know my steez” on the third verse when he says  “on the microphone, you know that I’m one of the best yet”, and when we do it live the whole crew we adlibbed it so dope you know. And then when “Full Clip” came out and I used “do you want to mess this Gang Starr? One of the best yet.” we started going to shows and every time we say, “Gang Starr” and we drop the music the whole crowd go “one of the best yet!” and we were like Wow man, they know that line. So even on some of our outros we would leave the stage to “all for the cash” (instrumental) and we would just be like “Gang Starr, One of the best yet, best yet,  best yet, one of the best yet!” like me, Krumb Snatch, Suge, Guru and that’s how we would leave the stage and it was just so dope that we were like yo man that’s got to stay and so it was the perfect time.

EM: The lead single Family & Loyalty had a touching music video, did you come up for the concept for that?

DJ Premier: Only making sure that we had archive footage. I didn’t really want Fab Five Freddy to put the old footage of our video but the said the editor said he worked with me years ago and he said I can maybe manipulate those videos to make it look like Guru saying some of those words in those old videos, some of them did look like he was saying it, you know certain words, some were off but that wasn’t my vision. I wanted to be some type of photo album with his son looking through it and it just every time he turns a page you see it get morphed into more video footage but because I didn’t have a plan for that one yet because the J Cole record was supposed to be our second single “Bad Name” which launched today, that was supposed to be the first video so I already had the idea of Spice Adam’s being it and Guru’s son transforming into his father so. And so that was my vision that we carried it out and then like I said it just aired at noon today so it’s officially out. So, I hadn’t had any thoughts on the “Family and Loyalty” yet so being that I’m cramming ideas. I was like man I need a director I could just fucking jump in where I’m not seeing you know any other ideas. And that’s when I called Fab Five Freddy just out of nowhere and asked can he help me. And he was like Yo you know what’s the video about, I told him, sent him the song and he was like I’ll make it happen. He said man you know I just like that dude that he was with you come up with a will and all that fake shit. He said man we should reenact the will and have it where his son is getting these precious diamonds and stones, he’s giving them out to the people in the hood. I was like, yo I like that idea. He said alright I’m going yo write a treatment and send it to you and he wrote it and sent it to me, I sent it to Guru’s son who was 9 when Guru passed but he’s 19 now and he’s like yo I love this. And he said I’ll be in the video and Guru’s nephew Justin is in the video and Suge who is obviously in it, was the co-founder of Gang Starr. So, I did that purposely just to make sure that those key people were seen because it was important that they were seen. And next thing you know we’ve got the video done and it turned out great.

EM: That was one thing I wanted to ask about, because I saw the cameo in the video + heard the interlude on the project, what is your relationship like with Guru’s son?

DJ Premier: Oh, it’s excellent. It’s very excellent because. Because I told Guru in the hospital, I know he heard me even though he was in a coma. I told him I said “Yo man. If you do not make it, I’m gonna make sure your family is straight and everything’s is still moving like it’s supposed to move. So, I kept my word, you know I’ve been selling some march on my site for the last five years. You know half of the money goes out immediately to his family’s estate. You know so, his son has been taken care of, he has a nice home that he is staying in on the West Side of Manhattan and he’s doing well and he’s a good kid and on top of that, I’ve known him since he was born. So, he’s familiar with me he’s been calling me Uncle Primo since we were like two years old and two years old you can hardly talk. But he was already you know he seems already familiar with being around me.

EM: The J. Cole feature on that track felt very organic and felt perfect, what is your relationship like with J. Cole?

DJ Premier: Me and Cole had met way back in the day, but he is a part of this thread that we do that Questlove created. And it’s called “Ask On” on meaning come ask Cool-V, Biz Markie’s cousin. And the reason why is because it’s a long story but it’s because of a Biz Markie joke so well but a lot of us on this thread. I give you a list, Created by Questlove, Lord Finesse is on it, Alchemist, Ninth Wonder, Swizz Beats, Mally Mall, Posdnuos, De La Soul, Peanut Butter Wolf, Eliot from the Roots, Adrian Young, Blackmilk, James from the Roots, Jeremy Ellis, Karriem Riggins, Khan, Clark Kent. J. Cole, Salaam Remi, Questlove, DJ Harrison, Kilo Saunders, DJ Spinner, Buckwild of PITC, Kenny Doak, Jazzy Jeff and Just Blaze. We had Diplo but we lost him, we had QTip, we lost him, but we are in this thread every now and then we even have funny jokes we do, and Cole is on it as well. Every now and then I say hey Cole great job on such and such, I keep it a short or he’ll be like here is some new music, check it out. From there I’ll text him directly and let him know that I wanted to remix 1995 off this album, could you send me an acapella, he said yeah, no problem. And so, I did it. I liked it. Let me put it out. So now from that, I told him hey man I’m working on a Gang Starr album, I told him it was a secret. I want to send you some music when the time is right. He was like “bet”. First, I sent him “So many rappers” which was not the right one to send. So. When that happened, I was like damn. The reason why I sent it was because the version on the album, it was not the same version at the time, it was a very simple piano loop. But it was a very hardcore/sinister piano. And the subject matter was too similar to actually to 1995. Coincidentally when I set the tone I actually set up an apology text literally made me half-hour after I sent it to him I was like man have to listen to this, I’ll let yall listen to this and I was like y’all I want to apologize. I Shouldn’t have sent you this because while the topic of what you already spoke on, he goes damn man I was literally going to type you back to tell you that and you beat me to it and he was like “cool”.

So, I said I’ll send you another one when I get to that point. So maybe a good three months later once I did the new one, with Family & Loyalty.

I texted him to say hey man this was more what I want. What do you think about this? And it was exactly 10 minutes to the tee. He hit me back and said “bro, I got chills right now. This is amazing. Wow, the way you got Guru sounding on this beat. I’m definitely down, I’ll get on this and get right to it, and I was like can I get a video too? He was like “Absolutely” He said let’s get it. And as time pass right when we were shooting the video. He’s like hey man, can yall release this just before “bad name” because I’m about to disappear for a minute. And I need to just put a space between me and the next time I come out any music. I been doing so many features this year. You’re the last one I did this year and after that, I’m just on it just to you know just stop for a minute. You know I didn’t know he was going to post it on Twitter. And all that you know because you know your album.

So, when he posted this last feature. He told me in private, so I didn’t know it was I put it out public, but he did, and we went to North Carolina, shot the video and Fab Five Freddy did a great job. You know it was a perfect video.

EM: How did you go about picking the features on this project?

DJ Premier:  Just brainstorm and based on what the lyrics said to me, usually I make the beat and Guru writes to my beat. This is the first album where I had to make the beats without his lyrics because I have no choice. So, I did this listen. Just be like the let me figure out where to go. Music-wise and once I got music go on then I feel like damn who would fit on this and that you know “lights out” I was like I gotta get MOP on a song. But I don’t want him on nothing mellow, I want him on something hard, I said let me find a vocal that fits, then when I heard the hook, I’m like yo you know what. That’s not really the, (actually shout out to Aguilar.) Aguilar just recently gave me the original version which was done back in 2000 and he wrote that hook and the original version has Aguilar and Guru, doing it together. When I got it from Sola? There was nothing there but Guru’s vocals and hooks. So, I never knew it was Aguilar on it to begin with until EP brought it up to me recently. But it’s all good because he’s proud to have it on the album and that just lets me Sola had nothing to do with that song. You know he said he wrote and produced every cut that I bought from him because I bought files from him and you know put out another album and that seems to be a false truth because it was done in 2000 we didn’t know him and met him in 2002.

So, you know it is what it is. Because they are in my possession and we have the receipts so to speak so that if there’s any funny stuff when we have original songs from the people that really deal you know say some crazy shit man but. You know. We’re on a positive vibe this whole journey so we are not letting any of that evil shit put us out the way you know that they’ll get theirs when they get theirs.

EM: One thing I was curious about when listening to the album, whose voice was the featured on the tenth track NYGz/183rd?

DJ Premier:  That’s Panchi of the group NYGz. I have two labels I have “TTP” which stands for “To the Top” that’s with my manager. Which is a Gang Starr album and Gang Starr enterprises. Gang Starr enterprises is me, Guru’s son, Guru’s oldest sister Trish and Guru’s son’s mom of course and his nephew Justin so all of us are Gang Starr enterprises, we’ve run everything together from anything Gang Starr oriented, and we split the pie you know 50/50. 50 goes to me, 50 goes to the estate and they split it however they want. We you know we’ve been doing very financially well with all the stuff we sell on our store and all the new releases. We also make sure Guru’s publishing was going back to his estate and not to that guy. So, we won in court. All that’s back to normal. Guru had a label called “yo kid records” where he used to put demos out. And that’s actually where Jeru The Damaja – Come Clean which I did was put on Guru’s “Ill Kid” project and then he got a record deal through my former manager who at payday records. So, because of that with “Come clean” and “Ill Kid” Guru also put out the Panchi of the group NYGz, and his partner, they were the NYGz which is short for the “New York Giants” but we can’t use that name because of the team. But they change the name to “Operation Ratification”. And they had a record called Pray Power God and that was on Guru’s label, as time passed Guru can really handle the keeping it going so he asked me, I told him I mess with NYGz and I’m going to have them just spell it “NYG” and small a small “z”, I met Panchi through Guru So when he moved to the Bronx and I was living in Brooklyn all of us were there and when he was going out to chick and the girl was leaving for a year to sublet her apartment and Guru was like I’ll take it so that I wouldn’t have to stay living in the basement with the other family because I wanted to be on my own So me, Guru and our Dancer (HL Rock) Moved in together and that’s how we met Panchi. He was a hustler on the blocks, dealing out there went to jail for a long stint. But he was always good with everybody, always funny always had respect. Everybody used to salute him in the hood everywhere he goes, and you know he’s always known everybody raps and that’s why Guru was the man, you had a cool voice and you know everybody’s rhymes you should rap. He’s like man I don’t know how to rap. He kind of groomed him into rapping and then I took it from there and groomed him into a rapping even better. He wanted to be on the album but I was like there’s no place to put you for the songs I have so maybe you could do an interlude, he’s of the co-host of my radio show “live from headquarters” which is on Eminem’s channel “Shade 45” every Tuesday on Sirius XM Satellite Radio 7 and 9 p.m. on Tuesday nights and this last. So the fact that that was the case when we had Conway up there and Benny as guests Panchi’s telling them about how long he’s known us and we record every episode and I take the episodes home so I can have them on file and so when he was saying all that I was a “Shit you need to come into the booth and do an interlude, that’s the interlude right there. It seemed natural instead of me going alright hop in the booth and say some things about us. He just explained to them how long he’s known us and how proud he is of us so I said imma just take that skit and he’s also did an incredible skit on The Ownerz album that some whack ass fucking reviewers said it was that Premier wasted space with a corny ass interlude called “Hiney”. You even could you even hear Guru laughing at the end and he goes “that’s some brilliant chillznit”, and it is brilliant. This guy took the song from the clips grinding and converted it into having anal sex with a chick and use their entire slow and wording and transformed it into sexual innuendos and he didn’t write that he you just buggin out and he was doing it earlier. That day, that’s why. If you go to that skit on the Ownerz Album “Hiney” you hear him go “You know what we need to do?” And he goes “Hiney the bitch said, “Panch stand behind me” and you hear Guru already laughing his ass off because he was doing it earlier that day when he wasn’t doing the lyrics. He was just doing the Hiney parts, because like “finding” you know “the lining”. You know that he just phoned the whole cadence and then so this time he’s doing the lyrics in the sexual tone and that’s why you hear guru laughing nonstop through that thing because you can’t do that and not write it down and make that into a joke unless you’re cleverly in tune. So that’s why when the reviewer said that was a waste, they totally didn’t get it. Even when he did the part about busting a nut “He started going pop pop pop pop, when I bust a nut it go pop pop pop” That’s what I remember in-grind and the breakdown parts of “pop pop pop pop pop pop pop pop”. So, he even took that sound effect and equated that with busting a nut and you can visualize the whole thing. I mean that is brilliant. So that’s the answer. He’s a raw dog, he has no filter and he’s a great co-host on my show. Big Suges from Gang Starr who was the original host son would have a lot of early Saturday games and back then we on Fridays years ago, he couldn’t always make it up all the time and I was like I need a set co-host so Panchi was like “can I do it?” and I was like you don’t have radio experience but I’ll give you a shot. So, I gave him a shot and he caught on. You know he start off a little rusty and then it gets better and now if I’m out of town and I have another backup DJ. I know that he can hold it down and still make the show move and feel like I am there.

EM: You had mentioned briefly about when you and Guru moved in together. That was one of my questions I had like you guys lived together for some years I could picture that you guys would probably putting in work like 24/7 just being very creative, what was that experience like living with him?

DJ Premier: Good and bad. We fought a lot. Because. Of his alcoholism and you know wherever he’s happy, drugs are great when he’s a mad drunk, he won’t calm down and you won’t even have anything to do with his anger. But he’ll blame it you, and it’s just like “not today man” like stop. You know it’s like abusive and it got to the point where I finally said fuck it and I put my hands on him because he was doing it to me first I would let it slide because I know I know how well I fight and I didn’t want to fight him. You know I said we’re partners. I don’t want to fight you. But he kept pushing and pushing and pushing and even after he did that, we still will prevail in making more records. I mean we both had busted lips and scars on our body. Bite marks on my hand. That till has not gone away since 1992. And we still made seven successful albums and two of them garnered gold status, and we got our plaques wall and I produced at least one track for every Jazzmatazz album we so you know our fights would also be brotherly fights because you know even if it was fuck you and I’m not seeing you for two weeks and whatever. So, we finally calmed down we went back to the ma feck. Yo let’s get back. Let’s go out. So that was all good.

EM: I thought that the cover for the new album was very well put together. Who made the cover?

DJ Premier: The pictures from Daniel Hastings who has been doing our album covers since “Hard to Earn”. I love the way it looks, and Brent Rollins does the artwork, so pictures Danny and the artwork is Brent Rollins. So, they’ve been my guys since “Hard to Earn”, “Moment of Truth” “Full Clip”. I skim the idea of what I want and then they make it happen. So, like “Full Clip” I was like yo man since it’s the greatest hits and we’re not going to call it greatest hits. I wanted to like a medal. Like a little like a medal with the numbers pulsing out of the medal. He was like “alright” and I’ll get back to you. When he showed it to me, I was like yep that’s it. With the gray/silver look and then from there with the “The Ownerzs” I said I want to look like on a mansion but it’s like hip-hop mansion and you know he did a great job with the speakers coming out of the stone you know stuff like that. You know Brandon knows what he’s doing, so I figured since Guru is not here and we can’t do photoshoot, we started going through all the archived pictures that Danny had sent me of the hard to earn photo shoot. And my manager here Ian Schwartzman was like yo look at this one and I was like “that is dope” and I said I like that. And I was like yo let me give this to Brent and I called Danny and said, “Daniel we want to use one of your shots forms 1993 are you cool with that?” and he was like “Yeah”. He said just send it to me so I can see it and I’ll get you the vector file and I sent it to him and he’s like ok, we look forward because we weren’t doing it on computers back then. You know we were going through our negatives, he found it, he copied the negative sent to me, I sent it to Brent. Brent was on a vacation of Europe, going to Italy to look at art. And I was like dude I need a turnaround quick. I sent him the picture. He said what do you want the vision. And I said well kind of like a museum you know like we’re on display and like we’re you know we almost like a painting of value but it’s a picture instead of a painting something in that world, but I said no matter what it’s got out of a turntable on the on one side. And then mic, then I said he is either in the forefront or somewhere in the back I said play around with it. And then he sent me two different markups and I was like there it is. That’s definitely it. 

EM: Do you have a favorite song off the new album, and then do you have a favorite Gang Starr track from your guy’s entire catalog?

DJ Premier: Nah, that’s the most asked question that I have all the time. And with the new album “Hitman” one of our favorites. I love “Get together” with Neyo because it sounds so ghetto, but it is melodic, and it sounds like you’re just driving you know on the highway. You know I’m saying that that’s how it feels, I love the whole album but those are two of my favorite standouts, “Hitman” and “Get Together” and I love “Bad Name”. First song I did on the album “Bless the Mic” and it just was me getting back into the grove just doing a song that has Guru’s vocals on it, so I was both nervous and you know just anxious and just so I had all kinds of things go through my head but once bless Mike was done I was like OK I think I can do this. And then I did “Bad Name” and when that was roughly done, I was like “Yo This sounds like Gang Starr” that’s why I wanted to go for. Then I did “Family and Loyalty” and no I did “So Many Rappers” then I did “Family and Loyalty”. So, once I did that, I was like I called his family I say yo I think I could do this, y’all in? They were like absolutely and we did the album. 

EM: One of my personal favorite “Gang Starr” tracks was “Moment of Truth”. Can you talk about the impact of that song in like the creation process behind it because not many songs have that much like you know it just has so much emotion and like it’s very well put together? 

DJ Premier: I mean Guru was facing a five-year bid at the time for an assault and then a second gun charge which the gun was not found but you know it was you know his word that these two girls that assaulted him in this house and they made up all these rumors about you know stuff about him and being that he just got off a gun case at the airport. You know with being caught with a gun, he had to take it to trial. So I was like Yo man we need to call our album “moment of truth” because if you don’t make it and you blow trial, the album is going to be out you’re not going to be around to help promote it, you know so we need to have the album match what’s really going on. So that if it does come out that way, you’re really in jail you’re safe from that, and the cover spoke for itself. So, we always take really deep-rooted in the art and what we put out day one.

EM: So, you’re widely considered the best producer of all time, but I’d like to know who some of your favorite producers?

DJ Premier: James Brown, George Clinton, Quincy Jones. Howie T., Marley Marl not to be confused with Mally Mall, Larry Smith, Rick Rubin, The Bomb Squad, Dr. Dre, Pharrell, Timbaland. I mean there’s more of that Mantronik, Thomas Dolby,

EM: Another thing I wanted to ask about was your friendship with J Dilla.

DJ Premier: Oh yeah, Dilla throw him in there, oh yeah Pete Rock. Pete Rock, QTip, Large Prof, you know we did Illmatic together and that was a fun time. Dilla definitely man I met him from Qtip. We became really great friends. There is footage of us at that Deangelo has and we were working on Devil’s Pie. They happened to be in session when I was working on it and I don’t know if you’ve seen that picture of me, Dilla and Alchemist.

EM: One random question I had was you got the chance to work with Mac Miller very early in his career. What was that experience like?

DJ Premier: We didn’t even plan on working, he wanted to meet me, Statik Selektah asked me is it cool? and he came by the lab. I was working and we just kicked in smoke and drank and just took an easy come around six o’clock in the morning, I started to mess around with a beat just bugging out and he’s like “yo imma write to that” and next thing you know he went in the booth spit that song and we called it “Face The Facts” you know because I was with sweats. We were just messing around and you know it was never really like officially released.

EM: Are there still any artists that you haven’t worked with yet that you want to? 

DJ Premier: Yeah – DMX, Ghostface Killah, I just did a remix with Ghostface with this group called “Emotional Origin”, I don’t count that though because I want to do just some regular Ghost, for like his album or whatever.

EM: You’ve seen plenty of different places. What is your favorite place that you’ve got the chance to visit? 

DJ Premier: Australia was nice. I always liked Amsterdam obviously the smoke factor, you know we got a red-light district back way before Euro money was out and it killed us. I used to go to relight district partake in the action. You know when in Amsterdam, smoke and fuck. So, those two places I like, Australia and Amsterdam.

EM: I know that the video for “Bad Name” recently dropped and obviously. We already talked about the “Family and Loyalty” video but can we expect any more visuals off of this album?

DJ Premier: Oh definitely, be expecting more off of the album.

EM: Do you have any advice that you would give to like upcoming artists in today’s day and age? 

DJ Premier: Do your homework on the history of where you want to be in this business, if you want to be in rock, know the rock pioneers, if you want to be in hip-hop, know the hip-hop pioneers. And you don’t have to just be that genre. But you’re supposed to be aware of who came before you in order to be great you know, otherwise don’t consider yourself personally a legend and that makes classic stuff because you’re going to be limited even if your record is a hit. You’re still going to be limited. That’s like being categorized as a legend. I’m in it for the long haul, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. So that’s the reason why at 53 years of age I still feel like I’m in my 20s making some bangers.

EM: One last question, so you’re obviously a pioneer in hip hop. You got to witness the growth from the beginning. Did you ever think hip hop would get this big?

DJ Premier: Yeah, it is a culture, so rock is not a culture. It’s a music, a genre. But it’s not a culture the same way hip hop is, hip hop music came from nothing and borrowed from everything to become a sound and style. And a language is a different language you know saying we have slang, our style, dress is different. It’s just a different man, even with the fights and the shootings and that shit don’t happen in other genres of music and it shouldn’t happen in ours either. But it comes from the ghetto and the from the Latino and black community, so it comes from hard times and even has grown into now you have fun hip-hop, now you have kiddy hip-hop, you have the regular street gangsta shit which is what I like because I can relate to the pain struggles. I know what it was like to struggle when I was wanting to get put on and I know what it’s like to struggle versus finally making it in this business, so I respect it differently. It’s a culture you never outgrow, a lot goes with that. That’s why some people don’t put the culture part into it. I denounce certain things that they say when it comes to their opinions or comments on it because you know culturally it could only go so far to tell me about it.