DJ Premier: The XXL Icon Interview
Wow. You’ve worked with all three of these artists. Who’s the best MC: Biggie, Jay-Z or Nas?
Biggie. I knew Jay before I knew Big though. We were label mates with Jaz-O so he brought Jay with him all the time.
Why did you stop working with Jay after “So Ghetto?”
Just timing issues. I’m known for being slow. Everyone in the industry knows that.
I interviewed you for The Source in 2003. Back then, you told me that there was a time you had personal problems with Jay-Z. Can you elaborate?
I got mad at him for several things. When M.O.P. was coming out with First Family 4 Life, Rocafella said that they would use their logo on the back [of the CD] to promote but when it came time to do the video for “4 Alarm Blaze,” they wanted $25,000 for Jay to be in the video. But he said non-recoupable to M.O.P. At the time, I was ignorant. He wasn’t charging M.O.P. He was charging the label. We squashed it. I got mad when Big L died too. Jay said that he would get on The Big Picture. We already had Big Daddy Kane on “Platinum Plus.” I gave Jay the reel about a month in advance. I was calling his assistant and she was like, “He’s going to do it. It’s at the studio.” She was telling me the same thing over and over. One day, I saw his assistant and she was like, “The reels are not here.” She got up to go the bathroom so I opened the drawer where I had first put it and it was still in there. We deaded that. American Gangster was just a misunderstanding with getting him the track. They found [the track] and took it to Jay’s house. We were calling, no response. One day it was like, “Oh, he’s MIA.” Next day, no response. I don’t care if you say, “No.” Just let me know.
There are always these rumors about you producing an entire album for Nas. Why haven’t you guys worked together since “2nd Childhood?” Is it just timing?
Yeah. I‘ve been waiting for him to say, “Let’s go.” I just saw him at Rock the Bells in D.C. That was the first time I seen him in a year. He came up to me and these were his exact words: “If you do this album, will you tour with me?” I said, “Hell yeah.” Nas and Premier on tour? That’s going to be a success. The album will bang.
Besides not working with certain artists, what do you consider to be the greatest disappointment of your career?
I wish I obligated my Terror Squad deal with Fat Joe when I was at Atlantic. I told Joe, “I don’t care if you need an album, I’ll do it for free.” They gave me a grip of money and I never delivered an album. When I fuck up, I do make up.
The new compilation, DJ Premier Presents Year Round Records: Get Used to Us, has that classic DJ Premier sound. What prompts you to experiment or to switch styles?
I just liked to always top what I already done. There are always going to be similarities though. I can get away from it without you knowing its me. I’ve done Wal-Mart commercials that you wouldn’t know I did. I’ve done Back to School instrumentals for Wal-Mart. If you listen to them now, you will be like, “Yup, those are your drums, those are your bounces.” When it comes to hip-hop, I just always want to do something that will sound like me but be different from the last record I did. That’s how I think. Sometimes, I will do something and be like, “Man that cut sounds like the way I did it on that record. Scrap it.”
How do you respond to criticism that your sound has gotten stagnant these last few years?
It doesn’t bother me. It reminds of something Angus Young from AC/DC said, “Man, they said that we make the same thing 11 or 12 times. That’s not true. We do the same thing 13 times.” It may be stagnant to an over critical person but to a head, they are happy again.
You’re one of the few big-time producers who never their tried to rap? Why is that?
It’s not my calling. I might do it one day just for fun. I do plan on it.
Looking forward to it. [Laughs] What else is next for you?
Right now is just getting the label up and running. I‘ve had Year Round Records for about six years now. We are finished with the NYG’z album now but we just started mixing so we’re not going to be done by the end of the year. There is the Pete project—Pete Rock vs. Premier. We’re doing six songs each and not telling each other the artists. I already leaked out two artists that I wanted—Beatnuts and GZA. I’m also putting together a Gang Starr DVD. I’m putting out all this footage and sharing it with Guru’s son. We are splitting it 50/50. I went through my legal stuff and I have the rights to Gang Starr with the next of kin, which is his son.
What is the Gang Starr legacy?
The Gang Starr legacy is forever, period. It will never go away. We’ve been crowned icons. We’ve been crowned legends. From Jam Master Jay to Jay-Z to Rakim to Melle Mel to Marley Marl. Every idol that I’ve wanted to like what we were doing, has called us legends. I’m good. And the music never dies.