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DJ Premier on creating a classic


On the PRhyme project, emcee Royce Da 5’9 teamed up with one of hip-hop’s most acclaimed super producers, DJ Premier, to craft an album of street hip-hop drenched in the soulful samples of acclaimed musician Adrian Younge. It was a heady project, but one that all parties seem to believe brought out the best in everyone involved. Premier spoke to rolling out about the approach he took with recording the album, and revealed that he takes a more meticulous path to album-making than many of today’s producers — who bulk record songs with artists and then pick the best tracks for official release.

“I was just used to that process because of Gang Starr,” Primo explained. “With us, Guru would always say ‘This is the album,’ and we’d stick it on the wall. We’d just check it off — he would put ”Mass Appeal’ — this is our single.’ Or ‘Right Where You Stand’ — A joint with Jadakiss — straight rhymin’ s—.’ That’s what I was used to every album, doing it that way. I never said ‘Let’s do 40 or 50 songs and pick the best ones.’ I know a lot of people do that.”

The producer has been the man behind countless classic East Coast hip-hop albums, from masterpieces by Gang Starr like Step In the Arena and Moment of Truth, to Jeru Da Damaja’s The Sun Rises In the East and his work on classic albums by the Notorious B.I.G. and Nas. Premier says that his approach is inspired by great musicians outside of hip-hop; he studies the processes of other greats in the hopes of taking some of their habits and applying them to his own music-making.

“But I’m really into rock music and stuff like that and I study other people’s processes compared to mine, especially James Brown and people like that,” he says. For Primo, when the album was finished, it was finished. “I’ve always just done the tracks that were on that list and then we were done. Then we’d do B-sides … but they were made that day. Even ‘Dwyck’ — that was a B-side. I always wanted DJs to get a track that wasn’t on the album to cut up on their mixtapes — real mixtapes — with scratching on them.

“That was always the way I did it. With Jeru [Da Damaja] was the same thing,” Preem adds. “‘These are the songs I wanna do and here are the titles.’ And I’d make the music match the titles.”