DJ Premier: The XXL Icon Interview
The first time I tripped on acid was right out of high school. I went to this rock concert, the Texas Jam. It was Uriah Heep, Styx, Ted Nugent, a big line up like a Summer Jam. When Uriah Heep came out, I was tripping a little too hard and the guitarist was making devil horns. It seemed like they turned into real horns and he turned into a red devil. Then it looked like his tail came out and was slapping me. I was sitting in the front row. I took off and went to get some water. While I was trying to find water, it seemed like they were following me. Another time in college, one of my suitemates was tripping. We had empty 40 bottles of Olde English everywhere. There was one lying on its side and he said it looked like Jesus was in the bottle saying, ‘Come here.’ He was trying to get into the bottle, like trying to put his feet in the bottle. I tripped the next day and saw the same thing. It wasn’t Jesus though, it was a guy in the bottle. Everybody’s trip is not the same.
Legend has it that you stole your first set of turntables during college.
Yes, it was a college dorm thing. This guy had some 1200’s. We thought he was a sucker and we stole his turntables. He never did a thing about it.
When did you decide that you were going to pursue music full time?
It was 1985, ’86 when I decided to try and make it. I decided that if I couldn’t make it in New York, I would be a fan and just buy records and go to concerts.
Around 1987, you met Guru. What were thoughts after first hearing him rap?
I thought he was unique.
Each Gang Starr record, from your debut, No More Mr. Nice Guy, until 1992’s Daily Operation, got better and more successful. Then, in 1993, you branched out, doing production for other artists. I think KRS-One’s Return of the Boom-Bap was one of your first high profile freelance projects. Why make the jump?
Ice-T’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous” was the first but that was just a remix. I didn’t really want to be in Gang Starr. I just wanted to be a guy who made beats. I wanted to work with Gang Starr though so when Guru gave me that chance, I didn’t want to sign. I got a lawyer and he was like, ‘You’re signing your life away if you sign this deal.’ But I wanted to make a record so bad so I signed it. We found a real good lawyer, who is still the Gang Starr lawyer, and he got us out of that contract with Wild Pitch. We never dissolved our contract. We are still signed as Gang Starr.
You’ve previously spoken about how you and Guru had some differences. Did those arguments inspire the art?
Yeah, I’ve had songs written about me when we were having problems. “Now You’re Mine” was written about me. Guru was a lot of personalities. Not “was,” he has a lot of personalities. He goes from the coolest fun guy to the meanest, most dangerous guy. He is so many different moods. I used to think he was bipolar but it made our stuff great. We both had three different houses, cars and more cars and our homies are driving our old cars. We had Benzs, BMW’s, Jaguars and we did that with underground Gang Starr money. That’s why the last time we spoke, which was on April 1, 2004, we were on a good note. I still have this email stored in my inbox. It was a disagreement about a show in Vail, Colorado that he didn’t want to do. We already got paid for it and he didn’t want to give it back. He was like, “You can’t do it without me.” So I did the show. We got the money. It went to the Gang Starr account anyway. He sent me a letter after that saying he wanted to record [elsewhere]. I could mix it here though. That never happened. We even had some royalty issues. We were fighting with people who we sued in 1991. The money had been on hold for 18 years and we just got the money a year before he got sick. We had to correspond with each other because we both had to sign off on it. We got a nice fat six-figure check. We got to divvy that up. It wasn’t none of this, “My ex-DJ.”
I interviewed Solar for a story I wrote on Guru [“Lost,” XXL, June 2010]. He said that Guru was upset that you didn’t get him on those tracks you produced for other artists.
Whenever I was hired, I always pushed for Guru to spit a verse. If they are like, “Nah,” I can’t force them to do it. That’s why when he got the Jazzmatazz situation, I let that be his gig. I could have done that with him. He was getting all these big budgets and that was all him. He actually caught up with me financially. I was cool with that like, “Yeah, now he won’t complain about who is making more money.” It was never a secret that his drinking was out of control. That triggered a lot of the jealousy too. Liquor makes you either violent or happy and he was both. He is both. I’ve lived with that for 23 years. I know the last six years we weren’t seeing each other face-to-face and he cleaned up his act.
How tough was it these last few years?
When I would see the stuff with him and old boy, I would be like, “That’s not him.” He didn’t look like he was in command.