When it comes to hip-hop architects, few are as revered as DJ Premier. As one-half of the legendary Gang Starr, the Brooklyn beatsmith (by way of Houston) has crafted classic tracks ranging from underground gems (Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind,” the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments”) to radio jams (Common’s “The 6th Sense,” Jeru the Damaja’s “Come Clean”) to mainstream smashes (Christina Aguilera’s “Back in the Day,” Limp Bizkit’s “N 2 Gether Now”). Through it all, Preemo maintains his true school roots. That’s most evident with his label, Year Round Records, which houses hardcore acts like the NYGz and Blaq Poet. Taking a break from his Friday night satellite radio show on Sirius XM, “Live From HeadQCourterz,” Premier breaks down the foundation for his budding label and extends open invitations to Cory Gunz and Dr. Dre to spit on his tracks.
XXLMag.com: Why did you start Year Round Records?
DJ Premier: I started to see how the labels would not open their arms to the pure hip-hop. They were just taking the sucker shit so whatever way to alleviate that and just do your own shit is very time consuming, very costly but the love of the culture for me makes me wanna stick behind this and push this label through immediately.
XXL: What was it about the NYGz that made you sign them?
Preemo: I like the way the NYGz sound, plus they lived the lifestyle of what they talk about and they’re well respected in their hood. I appreciate someone I can develop more and they’re older—they’re in their mid 30s—and I’m not concerned about the age difference. I wanna be a label that doesn’t do whatever the other labels do. We all out to win together as a team despite all the stress and what it takes to survive in this shitty ass industry.
XXL: What about Blaq Poet?
Preemo: Blaq Poet’s album we’re about to drop in February. It’s done; I’m just mixing it. We just shot the video to Poet’s single called “Ain’t Nuttin’ Changed” right in the Bridge. It’s a record showin’ he still gets love whenever he comes and sees his people. It was fun shootin’ it in the cold and we got it in, but I produced the whole album and it’s called The Blaq Prince.
XXL: What should fans expect off that one?
Preemo: The album is actually a collection of songs that we just started working on in the studio and a lot of people was asking what we were gonna put out as a release. There are sick songs we have done in the past but I really like this record that we did called “Voices,” where he was hearin’ voices of Biggie and Pac and other deceased MCs—just great MCs period—talking in his head and he says it was ’cause he was drunk but he’s really telling the story of hip-hop. He does it in such an ill way where you gotta respect it, so a lot of people ask about that record.
XXL: Will this be the first official release off Year Round?
Preemo: This is the second release on my label as far as albums go. NYGz dropped Welcome to G-Dom last October and that did well for us just ’cause we were able to get them some shows in Europe. Now they’re working on their new album, Pros and Cons, and I’m producing the entire album.
XXL: What do you look for in an artist?
Preemo: Like I said, it’s very hardcore it’s very much needed right now ’cause I just like hard lyrics and hard beats. You don’t gotta be hardcore like a M.O.P. or a N.W.A, but you still gotta have some ill rhymes. Poet has the illest rhymes for a hardcore rapper that’s out right now and he makes sense. He’s a grown ass man but his lyrics can penetrate even the young ignorant muthafucka who still thinks he knows everything ’cause we’re speaking the language of the street. Everybody’s not thinking about the people that’s left behind and the people that’s on lock down, but we do it with a certain class.
XXL: Being that you’re independent and are working primarily with underground artists, what do you consider a success sales wise?
Preemo: I’m willing to start from the bottom. I don’t expect to be platinum overnight, we have that drive to win but not like, “Oh, yeah, we’re going platinum and this and that.” We just let it roll ’cause we understand that we gotta start from zero and even though I’ve had mad success in the industry, I don’t mind starting from the bottom because I’ve been there before so it’s easy to walk that road. It’s nothing I’m not familiar with and the artists have the same mentality because I could stop right now and I’m good. I’ve done my whole career and I’ve achieved pretty much everything I’ve wanted to. There’s still a lot more that I wanna achieve but if it stopped today I know I did a lot.
XXL: Is there anyone you wouldn’t work with?
Preemo: Dope is dope, but I really wouldn’t deal with a younger kid who’s like 15 because they really can’t rhyme about much that I can relate to unless he really just has some experience like when we were coming up. Other than that [I could] pump up some of the younger artists because they can hit the mainstream easier and the money comes a little quicker, but the hassle of doing something that you don’t love? I’m not gonna do it.
XXL: What about someone like Cory Gunz, who’s young but a beast on the mic?
Preemo: Yeah, I would work with him because I know his father [Peter Gunz] is showing him [the ropes]. So Cory I would definitely do a deal with… But I also have this kid Nick Javas from New Jersey. He just graduated from Rutgers and is a real witty MC. I’m really looking forward to working with him. We’re actually about to leak a song called “Opportunity Knocks.”
XXL: What’s that about?
Preemo: He told me he wanted to do a song about him trying to convince me to sign him, so it’s him coming to see me at the studio but I’m busy. He’s sayin’, “Look, I’m here; why don’t you let me get in the booth?” I told him I don’t do it like that and he’s still pushing me and I’m like aight, I’ll give you one shot so I give him one shot and he drops 16. When he asks me my opinion on the verse I respond to him with cuts. I don’t ever speak, I’m just letting the cuts say it like, one line I’m like why are you wasting my time like this? I cut that line from Fast Times at Ridgemont High so instead of me talking, the record’s talking.
XXL: What’s going on with your solo album, Man of Few Words?
Preemo: I’m thinking about starting my album [soon], but my wish list [of artists] keeps changing. I’ve changed it at least seven or eight times, but I finally found one I like and now I’m gonna stick to that. Now it’s more of a time thing. It has to be timed out right because it’s like me gathering 10 or 12 of my favorite artists. It’s a lot of pressure but I’ma make sure that it happens. Yeah, let’s just make sure we don’t end up with a bunch of delays like Dr. Dre’s Detox. [Laughs] I would love to get Dre on my album. I wish I could do a beat and he would spit to it. I don’t care who writes it for him—Dre just has a dope flow when he recites rhymes that he wrote or were written for him. He always knows how to project it right that’s why he’s a true producer. Maybe one day that will happen…That’ll be a good collaboration.
XXL: Word, any possibility for one more Gang Starr album?
Preemo: My answer is if Guru is ready, then I’m ready. It’s really up to him, he says Gang Starr is originally his creation, which I really have no problem of giving him that, but the history we made together from ’89-2004, that’s the purest part of Gang Starr history that anybody will ever remember. In order to do it right again, if he’s ever ready again, I’ll be in the lab that day with the tape burnin’. —Anslem Samuel