DJ Premier

djpremier1.jpgChris Martin is more down-to-earth than he should be. In the basement of Detroit’s historic St. Andrew’s Hall, the hip-hop legend known as DJ Premier is running the sound check before a Scion-sponsored show in which he’s the headlining act. Dressed in a simple, navy Sedgwick & Cedar tee and black Adidas wind pants, industry adornments like a Blackberry, necklace or timepiece are noticeably absent as he casually chops it up with other local DJs slated to spin before him that night. Everyone’s laughing and joking, but chills seem to simultaneously ascend the spines of all the DJs as the trademark scratches found on classic tracks from Nas, Jay-Z, and Biggie blare from the speakers—performed live and in-person by the pioneer himself.

Lately, the 40-year-old has been lacing tracks for deserving veterans like Nas and AZ, handling executive producing duties for the upcoming albums by Teflon and the recently-jailed Royce Da 5’9” (“When he gets out, we’ll pick up where we left off,” Primo’s manager attests), blessing less-established newcomers like Termanology and Jae Hood, and jumping off his new label, Year Round Records, with a compilation dropping in early 2007. But most notably, Primo has taken what many consider a left turn by working extensively with pop starlet Christina Aguilera on her recent double-disc, Back To Basics. In an interview with, Primo talks about working with Aguilera, the importance of his hip-hop predecessors and the real status of Gang Starr.

How do you like heading a label?
It is a lot different because I’m used to being signed to a label: I was signed to Virgin Records for a long time, Chrysalis Records, which is all part of the EMI system. All the stuff I hated about my label, I gotta make sure I don’t do [while] running one. I started off a little rocky, but now I’m totally in gear, totally focused, getting all of our maps laid out…our plan’s in effect, and it’s gonna work.

Your style, with an emphasis on scratching and loops, really stands out, especially against today’s hip-hop. How did this sound originally evolve?
That’s from all the people that I looked up to that did it before me and inspired me. Marley Marl is my number one inspiration. Jam Master Jay, Mixmaster Ice and UTFO. Grandmaster B and Whodini. DJ Cheese, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa. Jazzy Jay, even Cut Creator. Seeing them do what they do. It’s black music, it’s black culture, it comes from the ghetto. How can you not relate to ghetto people when that’s the rawest form of blackness? Even though it’s not a good place in regards to the economy and how bad people have it in the neighborhood, the realism’s there, and that’s what we were born out of. So I pay respect by doing the same type of music in return.

It’s interesting that you can be so humble, given that a lot of people would probably cite you as their major influence.
I like that they like what I do. That means they’re taking a piece of what influenced me, and it keeps it going. The one thing I gotta keep doing is keep [releasing] music. That’s why I started the label. I’ve been with the same people I’ve been with since day one, when we were talking about getting a record deal. Still putting it down because I love and respect hip-hop.

What’s your daily grind like nowadays?
Very hectic. [While working on the Royce album] we had a day off in Detroit, and Royce was like, “Oh we’re gonna go out,” do this and that. I was like, “Nah, I’m staying in the room.” When we tour, if we’re ever on the road, we never stay in our hotel. We’re in every club, we in dudes’ houses, out at dinner. For real. A lot of artists—Guru said this a long time ago—a lot of rappers go on tour and stay in their hotels. We never stay in our hotel. We’re going shopping, looking around, even when we don’t have any bread on us, just to see how much of an impact I have on the people prior to the show. Just walking around, people recognizing us, all that just makes me wanna keep doing it.

We’ve gone through that for many years and it’s like, Yo, I’m 40 years old and I still love doing this shit. I haven’t lost any love for hip-hop. I still get excited when a good record comes on, and even the new trends—I like Lil Jon, Slim Thug and Chamillionaire and all them dudes. But I won’t do that style, because the style is just an add on to what the earlier cats were doing. I’m more into traditional hip-hop, the purest form. A lot of that ain’t on the radio anymore, a lot of that people don’t bump in they cars. But since I’m influenced by the game, I’m going to make sure that that side of it still lives through me. That way you have all styles of hip-hop. The South and the Midwest and everybody else, I welcome it, but still somebody’s gotta keep the traditional side out there.

That balance is interesting to hear from you, since a lot of your fans would adamantly declare that Lil Jon isn’t “real hip-hop.”
You talk to Lil Jon, he knows the words to a Slick Rick album, he knows the words to a Stetsasonic album, everything. Just like the cats that did “Laffy Taffy.” The dude is like, KRS-One is my number one MC. They made “Laffy Taffy” and are like, “This is how we do it here, but we listen to that KRS-One in my off time because we love Criminal Minded and all that stuff.” So the fact that he said that, you got to respect that because he probably knows more than the people who buy his records. Most of the people who buy “Laffy Taffy” don’t know about KRS or Kane or Rakim or anyone earlier. You know, Nas, 2pac or Biggie is probably as far back as they go.

djpremier2.jpgHow did the Christina Aguilera project happen?

We got a call from her office saying that she wanted to rock with us. She flew us out to LA to kick it, and when I chopped it up with her, she was like, “Yo, I love ‘Kick in the Door’ by Biggie, I love Group Home.” I was like, “Word? So, we’re gonna be aight. Let’s do it.” And her husband is a big, big hip-hop fan. He’s a DJ. So I’m sure he had a lot of influence on her, but she was totally with all of my ideas and she knew what she wanted. Every track that we laid down, she was like, “Keep recordin’.” I was supposed to just do one song, it turned into five. And I did the intro to the album. I was honored that she was like, “You’re gonna start the album with a dope intro.” There’s crazy scratching and everything, but not where it’s a hip-hop intro, it’s a Christina Aguilera intro. I kept it like what I do. It’s cool how it starts off because it goes into three different parts before she actually comes on to sing, and then it cuts off after one verse—boom—into another song. It’s dope.

How do you feel when people say working with a pop star is equal to “selling out”?
Selling out is seeing me dancing around the video acting silly, when that’s not me. I’m always going to keep my element in there where I could be proud to say, “Yo, what I deal with is dope.” I worry about that too, like, Damn, I don’t know what people are going to think with me working with Christina Aguilera, like, “Is he starting to sell out?” No, as long as I don’t water down what I did production-wise.

When you hear it, you gonna be like, Okay, he kept the breaks in there, he kept it within the hip-hop box. But still, it was smoothed-out to where she could do what she does. The bottom line is this: I make records that I would buy. The record I did with her, if I heard it right now, and I wasn’t me, I would be like, “Yo I’m gonna get that.” A lot of the people that say they love hip-hop, they listen to hip-hop, but they don’t love it and live it. I live it, so I’m never going to be wrong when it comes to hip-hop, unless my love for it starts to decline. My love for hip-hop will never decline because I was there from the very beginning of it. I was around before it even started. So I’ll never sell out, because I know how hip-hop is supposed to sound. The sound that sounds good to me is raw, pure and uncut. That’s what I’m making and that’s what I continue to make. The stuff I did with her is that same style.

Do you think that veterans like yourself get the respect that they deserve?
They get the respect they deserve from people like myself. This isn’t just how I live—I’m still a consumer. Most company people aren’t consumers anymore. They’re just like, “How did we do this week? How much did we sell?” My heart’s still in the music, so as a label, an artist, a DJ, a producer and a consumer that buys records, I’m totally confident with anything that’s coming through my pipeline now, because I’m deeply embedded in seeing how the culture lives. I’m the type of person who misses all the artists who used to knock. I gotta make some shit so that I know I’m not the only person that misses it. Maybe artists come out of the woodwork, wanna get back in the studio and do some shit.

I don’t want to disappear. Some of the audience don’t want to buy the younger cats, because they can’t relate to it. Even if it’s about the streets, you can’t relate to it in certain ways if they doing in a way you can’t relate to it. I make stuff people can relate to, young and old. But I do it in a way where the older generation can say, “He ain’t forget about how we do it.” The new kids obviously don’t care about the style that we do. That’s why I work with some of the younger dudes, so they’re gonna get the pure way. It’s like getting some moonshine versus getting some alcohol that’s only 20 percent. I’m straight moonshine.

A while ago, you had said Gang Starr was on hiatus because of a situation with Virgin. But in an interview, Guru said you guys weren’t working together at all anymore. Have you spoken to him about that?
Nah, but this is what I always say: Gang Starr is forever, number one. Neither of us can ever leave Gang Starr. He can’t leave and I can’t leave. And when the time is definitely right, no matter what he’s saying, there will be another album in effect. We don’t know when that time will be, but I will never confirm that we are broken up. And if I confirm it, then it’s official. If I don’t confirm it, then we still together. Believe that. That’s on the really real. Gang Starr is still together. Don’t let get you all messed up. It’s good.

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  • Bol

    Stephen Furst

  • Australian

    there’s no-one better than preemo.

  • Flip

    damn you bol

  • Fernando

    What ever happened to OC????? Preemo gave him a whole album of heat back in the day & now he doesnt exist…..oh well

  • Gama

    Premo is tha truth he needs to get on the nas album. And oc and the DITC is going to get back together soon Word Is Bond my nigga.


    Hip-Hop NEEDS another Gangstar album.

  • chizamp

    Big ups to Primo…hottest DJ to do it

  • fraser mclaren

    the best producer of all time

  • four fifteen

    THE illest.

  • http://none MC

    Don’t trip, that Christina album is dope. Preem did his thing.

  • Big Chops

    Preme is and alway be the TRUTH!!!!!

  • Big Chops

    Oh yeah, H-A H-A H-A!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Big Chops

    Preme is and always will be the TRUTH!!!!!

    Oh yeah, H-A H-A H-A!!!!!!!!!!!!


  • Three4

    DJ Premier is the shit but…
    …what does it tell u when people are waiting 4 Gangstarr and Dr. Dre 2 drop their albums???

  • john cochran

    I make beats, so I definetly respect premo and love his style. I used to make shit just based on what I heard on the radio. Then I started bumping alot of old shit, which he produced. He’s an inspiration. I really hope he’s all over the new nas shit. We need that right about now. Right now I ‘m just a beatmaker. You cant call yourself a producer until you’ve done all types of music like prem and dre.



  • Big Kev

    Dj premier is the greatest producer of all time.All mc`s spit their best verses on his beats… He is my definition of real hip hop

    Can`t wait for his new stuff.Nas should have done an entire album with him.I really think it would have been one of the greatest albums in the history of music.
    PREEMO FOREVER peace out

  • Omar

    The G.O.A.T.

  • hip hop is on life support

    Fernando Says:

    November 21st, 2006 at 2:10 pm
    What ever happened to OC????? Preemo gave him a whole album of heat back in the day & now he doesnt exist…..oh well

    o.c. put out an album call “smoke and mirrors” last year on hyroplorium? or something like that…but yeah he’s still makin’ music

  • Harry

    thank you xxl for “adult” articles like this.

    Preemo = Realness

  • ace

    premo is best producer alive and dead

  • mikenice

    One of the realest said & done.

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  • let the game begin



  • freehiphop


  • http://xxl big inf

    yo preemo is my dude the best that ever did it i did a amixtape wit him called hood therapy shit was crack m.o.p 4 life motherfucker

  • Belize

    Good interview!

  • Dr Flav

    Will someone inform the writer of this article that Whodini featured the DJ Grandmaster Dee, not Grandmaster B, Bud Bundy of “Married With Children.” (SMH, LOL and silently weeping at the same time)

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  • fly str8

    premier is one grounded dude…hip hop needs more cats like this.

  • Cuban Link

    Premo>Any other producer.Ever.

    I cant think of one beat DJ Premier did that was whack.

  • rob

    gangstarr better not break up! the only duo to kill it on EVERY record.

  • beshi

    preemo’s the man, damn!
    cant wait to hear talib kweli, & nas over premier.
    can still remember when i first heard recognise by lox, knew i did right breaking my safe to get the abulm.

  • New York Nigga

    DJ Premier whoa!

    watch how it go down!

  • Dr Flav

    seriously that error is disrespectful to one of the most prolific DJs of his era. Grandmaster Dee obviously has importance to be recognized if Premier Acknowledged him.

  • […] Speech Is My Hammer…[…]

    “The Ruler’s Back” Pt. 2

  • Real>Tough

    Is Premo gonna be on Hip Hop Is Dead? Everybody is talking right now, about Nas not mixing down the records he did for the album…

  • ollie donitello

    1 love preme!!!!!!i could never forget the illness in those tracks,steez, voice even. that nigga preme is a fuckin icon to this hiphop,rap shit.I anticipate hearing his new shit. fuck yall muafuckas chicago holla!

  • http://n/a illmas

    Nas & premo is tha sickest combination ever, cant wait for dat shit. we dig premo in africa illmas from Zambia,Africa

  • jusabrudda

    u kno i saved that pic.

  • L.A.’s Finest

    Keep doing it Premo, your a legend.

  • Compton_Chick23

    I love the DJ Premier part of X-tina’s album and I can’t wait to hear what he gon’ do with Amerie’s new album.

    Its interesting to see a producer go outside his normal thing and do R&B and whatever…

  • nyrep

    preemo for prez…..
    where the hell is Group Home?

  • doctor69

    premo one love a texan cat is the king of bk and th hip hop g.o.a.t

  • matt blount

    One thing that all you so-called producers need to realize is that the main reason premo is the best in the bizz. Is because he use to be a DJ and has that dj ear for music.

  • Deadrick Jorden

    I am from the south. Yes the dirty but I still listen to the Northern style of music. I feel that Prem is the greatest producer. I told my brother that he should make beatape like how the Alchemist and Pete Rock do. He also need to all his track with Nas. His track are always recognizable on any album I don’t even have to look in the book. Hip hop gods will always respect him

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  • kne81

    It’s good to hear Preem still doin his thing…love his beats I’ll anything that Preem does…big up to XXL for regonizing one of Hip Hop living legends…OUT

  • Tabu

    The best to ever do it and stand the test of time. My top four producers (GOAT) Primo, Jay Dilla, Dr Dre, and Timbaland. Them cats dont even gotta follow no trends man. They don’t gotta do no crunk or snap music to stay relevant. They just doing good music which will stay relevant for many more years to come. Primo, you are an inspiration! Good looking out.

  • kredenc

    primo – tha best producer ever. no one can make it better

  • tbits

    Yeah! Gang Starr is forever!

  • Real Talk

    Is Primo gonna be on Hip Hop Is Dead? I’d be real disappointed if he wasn’t! Considering they did the Scratch cover together, and every interview Nas did was talking about Premier is definitely gonna be on the record!

  • DownRiteDerelict

    Gang Starr
    Royce da 5’9″
    - need I say more

  • DownRiteDerelict

    Gang Starr
    Royce da 5’9″
    - need I say more

  • squeak

    That was one of realest interviews i ever read. I am 32yo, and I do not even listen to the radio anymore. I really only listen to old school HIP-HOP. Thesse cats nowadays have no substance to the music they are making. Premo is a true LIVING LEDGEND, and may his music live on 4eva. ONE.

  • Insane Macbeth

    respect to PREMIER……i’m still a DR. DRE man though!

  • ghost

    primo goin take the way

  • OZ

    Nobody can say anything bad about him…
    All of homies think dat primo is a big producer..
    i think so,too…
    he keep it hip-hop….
    he doesnt sell his soul…
    i luv his music on screwball/gangstarr/fredie foxx

    RESPECT !!! n PEACE!!!

  • http://xxlmagazinedjpremier Panco

    He is the greatest east coast producer but we all now who is the greatest in the world is DR.DRE my niggaz.

  • music lives

    Gang Starr forever, hell yeah!

  • DARK

    To insane macbeth fuck you you the one talking all that shit bout pac nobody knows your non producing ass you bitch nigga who trys to be white by drinking tea and eating crumpets.You in the u.k. no one in america respects the fucking homo funny talking u.k. fuck you.

  • DARK

    P.s. macbeth bitch you one ugly ass nigga.

  • Tha Refried Mexican

    2nd best producer of all time(Dr. Dre)

  • da chronic

    i prefer dres style but dj premier…he definitly comes second with storch and timbo

  • Zee Prod.

    Tupac, Biggie, Big L – Deadly Combination ZeeMix

    The Game – One Blood ZeeMix

    Nas – Hope ZeeMix

    Prod. By Zee…Hottest Beats Comin from the UK, and from a 16 year old!
    add the tracks to your profiles.


  • CMoney

    DJ Premier & Dr. Dre = The best producers ever! 8-)

  • Optimus Prime

    Next to Dre, Premo is with a doubt 2nd best producer ever.
    Want proof?
    Unbelievable & Kick in the Door- Biggie
    NY State of Mind, Memory Lane, 2nd Childhood- Nas
    Mathematics- Mos Def
    The Come Up, The Format- AZ

    Do I even need to continue?

  • K Brill

    Think about this……No matter what artist album you listen to, if there is a Premo track on it, it immediately jumps out at your ears and grabs them until the song is done. Time after time, Premos’ song will be the best on the album and the artist spits his best lyrics over a Premo track.

    Premo is #1!