DJ Premier: The XXL Icon Interview

What were your acid trips like?

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.

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  • Magnetic

    Dope interview. Gangstarr has got to be the sureshot

  • mick

    the greatest producer of all time. premo when you coming to scotland?

  • Worley

    Salute to Preemo. A Nas/Preemo album and tour would be epic. Some Fresh Fest type sh!t.

  • Don mcCaine

    “I’ve heard you say that Group Home’s Livin’ Proof was your toughest project


    A lot of people think it’s your best work.

    I had to make it that way [because of] their lack of lyrical ability and technique”

    ^ BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA…AND WE STILL SUPPORTED IT…’Baby Pa’ is my fave song on ‘Livin’ Proof’.

    good read here…Can you “fans” see that there was no rap cumbaya holding hands sh^t? None of that “I’m too good to respond” bullsh^t. Anyway…

    “I’ve done Wal-Mart commercials that you wouldn’t know I did. I’ve done Back to School instrumentals for Wal-Mart”

    ^ I have a blog up about the ‘The Rap Alphabets’ that speaks on stuff like this. There are other ways to get you’re music out there…

  • Q461

    Wow. My thoughts.

    # 1 Primo is the best producer in hip-hop history. Pete Rock, Dre, Rza are all up there but Primo’s sound defined a whole era, a whole coast. Greatest of all time that’s my word.

    # 2. I’m disappointed his work wit Kanye wasn’t on the album . I was looking forward to that shit.

    # 3. I always thought it was ironic how Primo is from Texas and Guru is from Boston, yet Gang Starr epitomizes the whole New York sound of the mid 90′s.

    # 4. Crazy had Primo pretty much outright admitted Grouphome was wack lyrically, but that it was widely considered his best work ( the Livin Proof album).

    # 5. I remember when Chuck D was swoll about that Biggie sample. Crazy how Primo went off on dude at a 711 lol.

    #6. For someone wit only a few albums, Jeru the Damaja had beef wit a lot of niggaz. Dude threw darts at the Fugees, Threw subliminals at Puff and Biggie and hinted that he thought Death Row and Foxy weren’t “real hip hop” Must have been crazy for Primo to produce Kick in the Door knowing Big was throwing shots at Jeru (Not to mention Nas, Ghost and Rae). Respect to Primo for having Jeru’s back even when around Biggie and Puff.

    #7 Crazy how dude didn’t hesitate about the question Who’s the best MC Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas? If anyone would know it would be Premier.

    # 8. Funny how far back some of Jay-z’s shady business dealings go.

    # 9. That album Premier vs Pete Rock got me souped! That will be some historical shit yall.

    # 10. Premier’s sound ain’t stagnant. I think dude is like Michael Jordan, he makes any nigga sound better over one of his soundscapes. RIP Guru. Gang Starr one of the best groups to ever do it, fuck going platinum, those niggaz are legends. Period.

    • Don mcCaine

      Q whaddup? you know I was aggy there were only 4 comments…

      #1 will be debated to the death (tho’ I agree). #3 is on point. heads are gonna overlook #8. #10? his sound ain’t stagnant, cats are fickle trend followers, no longer trend setters. So with that said…

      ‘Moment Of Truth’
      ‘Beyond Comprehension’
      ‘Come Clean’
      ‘Nas Is Like’
      ‘My Mind Spray’
      ‘Mental Stamina’
      ‘Da Realness’


    yo, this interview is one of the MOST f*** UP .
    Premo dropped a bunch rap secretzzz..s***

    interview review 10/10

  • Q461

    @ Don McCaine

    What up nigga? Yeah tere were zero comments when I first read this, but 4 by the time I finished my novel lol.

    In keeping with tradition:

    Krs one-outta here
    Jeru The Damaja- D Original
    Das Efx-Real Hip-Hop
    Fat Joe-The Shit is Real remix
    D an D All stars- 1, 2 pass it ( one of the best posse cuts of the 90s imo)
    Bahamadia-3 tha hard way
    MOP and G Rap-Stick to ya Gunz
    Rakim-Been a long time
    Gang Star-Mass Appeal
    Bun B-Let em know

    I can keep going lol… dudes got a million classics….

  • Sha

    You know what? I would love to read a whole book about behind the scenes convo with Preemo, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, and any other mega producer. I’ll bet they have hella stories. Preemo did XXL a solid. He could have made a book with this info. Just goes to show you how down to earth dude is. A true legend. Take notes young producers.

  • Don mcCaine

    Sha I see you ova here…name some songs homie…

    ‘Salute pt 2′
    ‘Robin Hood Theory’
    ‘Who Got Gunz’
    ’1st Of Tha Month (rmx)’
    ‘Next Level (rmx)’
    ‘Lady (rmx f/AZ)’
    ‘Ten Crack Commandments’
    ‘Rap Phenomenon’
    ‘Devils Pie’

  • Dick B.

    Premier’s the best, what else is there to say except why doesn’t he have XXL cover?

  • Q461

    @ Sha

    Co-sign dog. I think a Behind the scenes book on producers would be crazy to read… So many hidden stories niggaz don’t know about …

    @ Don

    Gang Starr- Royalty
    CNN-Grand Royal
    Rakim-New York ( Ya out there)
    Rakim-When I be on the mic
    AZ- the format
    Pitch Black-It’s all real
    Xzibit-what a mess
    Snoop Dogg-the one and only
    Royce da 5’9-Boom
    Common-6th sense
    Mos Def-mathematics
    Limp Bizkit and Meth N 2gether now
    Jay-Z- a million and one questions

    • Don mcCaine

      OK my niggg…I quit…I’ma put one in the air for ya…knickerbockers almost had them…’bout to 2 check blazers/mavs at the bar…

  • Q461

    lol Word we can be here all night with Primo’s hits…

    Yup My knicks showin some heart though…Amare’s a monster and if we get Melo it’s fuckin on for real….

  • abhishek denzil

    nice interview!

  • Don mcCaine

    word Q…

    if this post don’t reach plat status, on everything I’ma throw DARTS…there will be a 100 comments on BULLSH^T media PRESS RELEASES, BUT there will be few comments on HIP HOP MUSIC.

    Hip Hop music lover>>>>>>>>>>>>>mainstream rap fan

    p.s. them my Knicks 2 n^gga…shouts 2 my homie Black Just (Melo’s physical)…


  • ell

    this interview made my whole day man premo..some info whe would have never heard of the best interviews

  • scjoha

    Great anecdotes. Probably the best of all the recent Premo interviews. Thanks and respect to Premo and the XXLmag reporter for this interview. This is how hiphop history is to be covered!

  • SenghorChild

    This GOTTA be one of the BEST interview I ever read from anicon. In comparison the DRE interview which drops this month is weak…

  • sb

    one of the best interviews i’ve read on this site all year!!!!

  • EmCDL

    That was a dope interview, and I think thats the first one I’ve read from him…ever. Them albums he working on got me hyped…Nas and Preemo? Lets Goooooo!


  • Sha

    What up $yk!

    1. Baby Pa— I love the Dice skit. That beat is so sick! The way he brought in some Spanish Music on that shit. Preemo is the master of the Intros and Loops.

    2. B.Y.S.—– The way Preemo cut up that Slick Rick and Dougie.

    3. Invasion—- Don’t need to say anything about that one

    4. Rappaz R. N. Dainja ——Kris slayed that one

    5. Unbelievable—- Flippin R Kelly was some shit I never thought of. Definitely from another angle.

    6. New York (Ya out there)—– The way he sliced up New York was on some mind blowin stuff

    7. In Memory Of..—– Seems kinda prophetic with Guru’s passing

    8. 2nd Childhood—— Nas and Preem. Dope!

    9. Represent—— Another Nas joint

    10. New York Ryder Music —— He HAS made some new classics. Agallah killed that one.

  • Curtis75Black

    This is one hot interview. Straight thorough. Premo went thru a lot of shit. That background book would be hot. Funny how homie is surrounded in a studio taking up for Jeru !! What’s crazy is didn’t Nas say “Kick in the door” for him ?


    premo is a legend, a true king on this rap s***.Dude blessing us with affiliattions like I GAVE YOU POWER,NAS IS LIKE,KICK IN THE DOOR,UNBELIVABLE,MASS APPEAL,ABOVE THE CLOUDS,WHATEVA…

    nobody can t touch him,bro…. =_= ( good ***d ) !

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  • caino

    See XXL, you can pull off real hiphop if you interview the correct person! Dope interview, Preemo coming across as a straight up guy, with enough stories for that novel , like sha suggested! .

    The sun rises in the east – full album
    Memory LAne
    NY State of Mind

    like everyone else l could go on!

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  • oskamadison

    Dammit!!!!!! I was late as hell seeing this joint. It looks like y’all covered evrything there is to say about Preme. Most of y’all even share some of my top 5 favorite Preme joints (Gang Starr’s Speak Ya Clout, Unbelievable, Kick In The Door, Royce Da 5’9′s Boom and Rakim’s New York.) Peace to all the TRUE heads that really know and can comment on the MUSIC, not just all the b.s. As always, $yk, what’s up!!!! Q, I see you too. 75 Black, ain’t seen you in a minute, what’s up?

  • TUMI