MC Eiht and DJ Premier Go for Quality Over Quantity on ‘Which Way Iz West’ Album
When two legends cross paths, it's usually an occasion for celebration, and an opportunity to bask in the presence of greatness. Despite hailing from different coasts, Compton, Calif. rep MC Eiht and New York native DJ Premier serve as example of what can occur when two kindred spirits come together musically, as they do on their collaborative project, Which Way Iz West. A seemingly odd pairing on paper, given MC Eiht's laconic musings and Premier's boom-bap pedigree, what many fans may not know is that Eiht and Premo share a kinship that dates back to the genesis of their respective careers. The two have joined forces on numerous occasions over the past few decades.
MC Eiht's latest album, Which Way Iz West, is the Compton native's 13th solo set and his first since 2006's Compton O.G., making it one of the more anticipated releases of his career. Executive produced by DJ Premier, who continues his hot streak of collaborative efforts with his alliance with MC Eiht, Which Way Iz West features production from Premo and Austrian producer Brenk Sinatra, and boasts features from veteran talent like The Outlawz, WC, Lady of Rage, Xzibit, B-Real, Bumpy Knuckles, Compton's Most Wanted and more.
XXL got MC Eiht and DJ Premier on the phone to discuss Which Way Iz West, their storied history and the power of quality over quantity.
XXL: How did the concept of you two doing a collaborative project come about?
MC Eiht: Man really, I've been knowing Premo for a long time, so just the fact of just knowing Premo, just being homies and friends in the business for a long time. And being that we done did a couple of works together in the past, he did a couple of remixes for me, I got on a couple of things for him, so just doing work like that and us talking and just meeting up and hollering about what I been doing.
So after that, I just started sending him tracks and I'd send him five songs and 10 songs and 15, 20 and so on and so on and from there, we was just like, "Let's do something."
What spurred you to tap DJ Premier as a executive producer on this album?
MC Eiht: You know, Premo, he's still out there in the streets, you know, in the clubs and he's producing for a lot of folks, so it was only right to get his knowledge and input on the project. Not just as a producer, but someone who's ran his own label and has done his own project and has spearheaded a lot of things. So it was only right to get him to go in and executive produce so he can pull his knowledge into the project and his direction being one of the prolific producers and knowing what's the sound and everything.
You both have been in the rap game for nearly 30 years. Do y'all have any interesting stories of times you two crossed paths over the years?
MC Eiht: Shit, my stories of just being on Premo's promo tour and shit and going to New York and not even on no record shit, just Preme picking me up in the MPV van and riding around, just hanging out. I'm getting able to hang out with people like Nas and Premo and Guru, just on the friend tip, so that was always exciting to me, just to be around that element.
DJ Premier: Yeah, and to go to the hood and get respect. Everybody knows with rap artists, if you can't go to the hood, it's almost like you're not authentic, even if you're a dope artist that's respected. That part has always been important to certify you and it was always love, even when we went in the projects, it was all love. It wasn't like, "Man, fuck them niggas."
Because lot of artists still have trouble today, even the young artists I hear about all the trouble they have and they're like, "You can't go around the way," and that's bad when you can't, and then not ’cause you're famous and you're gonna get too much attention, it's just you're not even respected around your own neighborhood. So Eiht and WC, and R.I.P. to his brother Crazy Tunes, have always come around the way from day one. I met WC a little bit before with Aladdin when they were Low Profile, but Eiht's the second person I ever met [from California], in 1989.
And it's funny ’cause one of the songs on the album with Xzibit is called "Medicate" and at the beginning of the record, Xzibit goes, "Premo, I know you ain't fucking with us out here, my nigga" and I go, "Yeah, since 1989," and we're laughing at the beginning, just talking to each other on the song, but those are my memories. We had our first Gang Starr show and Masta Ace had just joined our management team at the time, so my manager was like, "Why don't you take Masta Ace with you to the show in California?" and we were like, "All right."
And we go there and we're about to go do soundcheck and get ready for the show and Eiht was standing out there with Chill and we didn't know who he was and he had on all Black, khakis, fresh jheri curl and I'll always say this, he had two beepers on his hip, and back then everybody had to have pagers on their hip, but I never seen anyone with two beepers on their hip. And then when I walked up, I ain't even introduced myself, I was like "Damn, you got two beepers?!" and the first thing he said was "Geah, my name is MC Eiht, we're labelmates" and I said "We are?" and he said, "Yeah, we're on Orpheus Records."
We were all apart of the same distribution, so back then, in the late ’80s, early ’90s, I was on Chrysalis, so anything under SEMA distribution, we was always doing promo together, from Eiht, to MC Hammer to Jaz-O that was with JAY-Z, to Vanilla Ice, we were all doing similar stuff on the same run just because we as all through the same distributor. So Eiht told me, "Yo, I got an album coming out called Compton's Most Wanted, we just did a video, you gonna see it coming out in the next couple of weeks." And soon as I got to New York, we seen the video come on. "Yo, that's the guy I met out in L.A. He told me he was gonna be on there," [I said].
I went right to my label distribution the next day and grabbed every free promo item and I grabbed the Compton's Most Wanted CD and the vinyl and from there, I fell in love with the first album and we just stayed in contact and from that very point. We been friends ever since.
Is this your first time working together and if not, can you speak on your history working with each other?
MC Eiht: "Death Wish Remix," that was the first. They did an East Coast remix, Sony, they asked me who I wanted to get down on the remix. First person I said was Premo, so they hit him up and that muthafucka was cracking, it was banging.
DJ Premier: And on top of that, he had just gone from Orpheus to Epic for the second album, Straight Checkn 'Em, and that's when everybody was shout-out conscious. And they have an outro on that album and he says, "Gang Starr in the house" and we was like "Ooh, they shouted us out on the West Coast on a record" ’cause that was a big deal, to look at the back of a record and see if your name was on there.
MC Eiht: That was a big deal to be recognized on the back of someone else's record.
DJ Premier: E-40 did the same thing. We had a run-in with some back promoters and we had to give the promoter a little chase-down and everything. We were in Fresno, and this is when E-40 was having the cassettes in his car he wasn't even on Jive and all of that and being that we went to look out on the situation, we got cool from that time. They were known on the West Coast, but they was just trying to get known on the East Coast and we saw our names on there, saying "Guru and Premier, Gang Starr, nice looking out on that funny ass promoter" or something to that extent and I been cool with E-40 ever since.
The title of the new album is Which Way Iz West. What was the rhyme and reason behind naming it that?
MC Eiht: Well, for me, I was just trying to signify the status of what I felt was missing with West Coast music. And we're known for storytelling and street vibes and whatever and I just felt we weren't getting back familiar with that so just coming up with the title, it was simple for me to say Which Way Iz West ’cause I was just trying to ask myself the question what really was the West Coast sound.
’Cause seeing how music has evolved, and it's going all over the place lately, some people felt that we were getting away from our identity as West Coast artists so I just took it upon myself to make a nice West Coast street record. Not that we're gonna be glorifying dive-bys and drug sales and that type of shit, but just on the West Coast vibe with the music and the flows and whatever. That was my interpretation of naming this record Which Way Iz West.
DJ Premier: We have a video montage we're about to release called the Geah campaign and we're gonna have to break it up into three pieces for Instagram being that it's only 60 seconds because everybody from Dr. Dre to LL Cool J, Ice Cube Queen Latifah, you name it, did the video for us, used their iPhone, sent it to us and said, "Geah, MC Eiht, Which Way Iz West." So you're gonna start seeing that.
And it's gonna be so ill, we got Kendrick, Nas, everybody sent just a quick request and everybody sent their video in by their phone and did the drop. So when people see how many people is on there, they're gonna say, "Damn, they got everybody that's well-respected from every generation doing this Geah campaign, and every time I called them to say what it was, all of ’em was like, "MC Eiht, geah" before I even got to explain it.
So he holds that crown to that word and for somebody to say that before I even explain it, that shows you how much of a impact. Even JAY-Z putting him on Twitter saying the people that inspired, so that's dope Jay put that up means Eiht has an impact way beyond some of your biggest platinum artists of today. Even my distributor, because when I said I wanna set up how we market Eiht's album, they was like, "Honestly, it's not even gonna be difficult because Eiht already has a fan base, so we're not really gonna have to plot and plan on how we're gonna get people aware." Once we really put it out that we're coming with this everybody's been coming to the table with open arms, so it's a beautiful thing.
There's a song on the album called "Compton Zoo." What was the inspiration behind that song?
MC Eiht: My inspiration behind "Compton Zoo" was, you know everybody knows the famous "Brooklyn Zoo" by ODB. So really, I was just trying to pay homage to ODB on that aspect, but then, on the West Coast aspect, I was trying to show people it's still a struggle in the streets, it's still a war zone, it's still people stressed out or whatever.
And the concept behind the record was to show people I'm still representing that, as far as the video being shot in Compton and parts of the city and not trying to be all glamour and glitz, but just trying to give you an in-depth look of what the streets and the neighborhood and the streets is like, basically with the flow of the rap and the flow song. So "Compton Zoo" was just showing people the struggle rap is still around and that we ain't forgotten about it.
Premier, what was it like working alongside a producer like Bank Sinatra and constructing the music for this project together?
DJ Premier: First of all, I met him through Eiht, ’cause when Eiht was sending me all the demos, it kept saying "Brink Sinatra on the beat," and I had to call him and was like, "Who's this Brink Sinatra, dude?" and he was like, "Man, I met him in Europe, I was doing some shows and he came to the show and played me some beats and I started recording on all of the stuff I like." He has his own sound, his own lane and style, and then the next thing you know, when it came to the mixes, he's very particular about his mixes and I'm very particular about the mixes on my music.
So I was like, "Why don't I send you the track, you mix it how you want, you send me the music back, EQ'd the way you're into and then I'll mix Eiht's vocals into your beats and then I'll put scratches wherever there's empty space where it needs some scratches and we'll do it like that?" So I was just like, "Send the album back the way you like it" and he sent the whole album back the way he liked it, except for two songs that I mixed myself, like "Got That" and I think the other one was "Sittin' Around Smokin'." I mixed that one just straight from using all of his drums and he was happy with it, but everything else, he mixed, sent it back to me as a two-track mix and I blended Eiht's vocals into ’em and sent them back for approval and Eiht would just respond and say, "That shit's banging" or "Geah" and we would move on to the next one and then we were ready.
What song would you say set the tone for the album when y'all were putting it together?
MC Eiht: For me, I think it was the Big Mike song ["Born to Hustle"] that really started making it feel like we was putting together this banging ass record. Because Big Mike was a guy I respected from the Geto Boys days and I used to tour with him all the time so when I hooked back up with him and he was like, "Man, we gotta do some work," and I was just like, "Well, I'm putting together with Premo."
So we had been working on songs and we know the Rages, we know Bumpy, we know the people that are gonna deliver, but I think with the Big Mike song, it just hit home and just the wordplay and the direction. So I think for me, it was that song.
DJ Premier: I would definitely say "Compton Zoo" did it for me just because that's not a style of beat I'm used to hearing Eiht rap on and just his approach to it made me go "Wow, this is definitely a different type of song," even music-wise. Eiht has always stepped outside of the box of the West Coast sound and will still rap to other styles of beats because like he said, he doesn't like to stay in that style of it being the traditional West Coast sound. He likes to experiment with different stuff. So "Compton Zoo" really just drew me from way back [and I thought] that this is the one that should definitely set off the album whenever we get it finished and from that time, I've always felt that "Compton Zoo" always had that place to be the jump off.
There's a song on the album titled "Last Ones Left" featuring Compton's Most Wanted. What was it like getting back in the studio with your crew?
MC Eiht: I mean, it was a good feeling. Getting Chill back in the studio, getting Bam back in the studio, being able to vibe and create a sound that was classic CMW, that was personal to me because we never had any differences, for whatever people think. We were just trying to chase our own dreams or whatever and be solo artists. And Chill was trying to be a producer and Bam was trying to have a family and all that.
Even though people have personal things to do, we always planned of coming back together. So I just felt doing this record and it being so West Coast-driven and them knowing Premo so good ’cause they was always there with me when we was on the road with Premo or when we bumped heads or went to New York or whatever. So just to have them and contribute on the project, it was real good to get them back in the studio. So now we been doing shows together and all that.
What would you say were the most memorable moments you both had during the making of this album?
MC Eith: To me, it was just the fact of putting it together and it finally coming to fruition ’cause we been working on it for a long time. And for me, just to be able to show and prove ’cause a lot of people doubted that it was gonna finally coming out. We started getting the Detox quotes, but like I always say, we like to go quality over quantity. My most exciting thing about this record is that it's finally out for the people that doubted it and now that they can finally hear it. They're even giving good responses.
DJ Premier: Same thing. I'm known for taking a long time getting music out, partially, my schedule is bananas, I'm only human, and then on top of that, I'm a one-man-producer. I don't have session players come in and guitars, I'm doing the drums, I'm doing the scratching, I'm doing every sound you hear and that's always been my way. And not only that, I'm very meticulous about it just sounding right.
I don't wanna just give it to you any way, I want you to have it where everything is airtight. And Dr. Dre's known for that same issue of taking forever, but we really care about the product. If I'm cooking some crack, I want my shit to be the hottest shit on the street. I don't want no grey shit, I want my shit yellow, you know what I'm saying? The good shit. If it's not buttery yellow, it's not ready to hit the street and that means you care about your customer. EPMD said it a long time ago, it's all about the product being quality for your customers. If you don't care about that, there's gonna be a limitation on your success.
What's next for the two of you individually moving forward?
MC Eiht: Like Premo said, I'm getting show offers and all that stuff so just trying to plan it out and get ready starting to start hitting this road and promoting this record. And in the meantime, trying to start on the next one. Like Premo said, you gotta keep the streets supplied with good music. That's how these other dudes are winning. It's not that we wanna try to compete with somebody or think that we have to by putting out 1,000 songs, but like you said, we still got that quality work and that's me. I'm back in the studio trying to work on something new to get the next project ready.
DJ Premier: And I think this album right here is also gonna also get Brink Sinatra a lot more work because if it wasn't for Eiht, I wouldn't have known who he is and I'm seeing a lot of people respond saying, "This Brink Sinatra dude is aight." And Brink, when I saw him in Europe, he was like, "Man, I wanna get more work. I wanna start doing American music ’cause y'all got all the artists," and I was like, "Dude, be patient. When this album drops, I guarantee you people are gonna start reaching out to Eiht to wanna get you on other stuff. So just be patient and it's all gonna fall into place."
And things happen when they're supposed to happen, man. We're moving really good with the entire order of things. So it's gonna be really good.
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