DJ Premier Details Unreleased Gang Starr Tracks & New Site PremierWuzHere.com
Exclusive: DJ Premier chops it up with DX about fatherhood, "a couple secret albums" currently in the works and headlining Radio City Music Hall with Dave Chappelle.
DJ Premier is in great spirits, and for good reason. He’s a fairly new dad, and his success has afforded him the time to be both the DJ Premier that we all know, and the dad his son needs. He’s also taking a leap on the business front. In an independent venture, Premo has put his own shingle into the online world with both his new website PremierWuzHere.com and web series “Bars in the Booth,” which through four episodes has featured emcees like Papoose and Dres from Black Sheep. He also just wrapped up a supporting performance alongside Dave Chappelle at Radio City Music Hall in June. So in Premo’s case, life is good.
Business and family aside, his name is attached to a slew of new projects, most notably with MC Eiht and Joey Bada$$. But as is usually the case with Premo, the list is much longer and more extensive and he’s also got a few aces up his sleeve.
“I’m actually doing a couple secret albums,” Premier revealed to DX. “It’s not Nas, but it’s one of many great ones that’s gonna be dropping.”
The most important takeaway from chatting with Premier is how excited he is right now. The website and merchandising are an entrepreneurial manifestation of his lifelong affinity for apparel. Not only is he selling classic DJ Premier threads, he’s getting more involved in the design, and having fun with his successes outside of music.
“I should’ve had the site up back in 2005, but that was me not happy with everything in my circle, and now the team I have, it’s just beautiful. And we all work hard to be Number One. That’s our motto: ‘Work like you’re Number One, and you will be Number One.’” A true savant, DJ Premier has maintained the utmost integrity for more than 20 years. And with age comes wisdom. Whether it’s his own son, his nephew, or even Joey Bada$$, DJ Premier has embraced his status a mentor and leader for the next generation.
DJ Premier Speaks on Fatherhood & PremierWuzHere.com
HipHopDX: You’ve got a lot of new stuff going on right now with PremierWuzHere.com and YearRound Records, and you’ve talked about how becoming a father has balanced you out and put a battery in your back. In what ways have you noticed this change?
DJ Premier: Well for one, I’ve got a three-year-old son. I’m 48-years-old; I was 45 when I had him. But to go as long as I have with no kids… I have nieces and nephews from my older sister. I hang out with them, and they come hang out with me in New York and stay with me. The oldest nephew is 19, and he’s coming up here next week to stay with me and intern, and I’m gonna bust his ass and make sure he works, ‘cause he’s at that age where he’s smoking weed, doing drugs and getting in trouble with the law, and his father’s a cop! He looks up to me and he plays sports. He’s a great athlete and he wants to be making beats, but I’m like, “Dude, it’s not what you think it is. You think it’s easy because of who I am, but me getting on his case is like parenting even though his mother and father’s no joke. And I love him as a brother-in-law. He make sure [his son] is on point.
All of a sudden, my child came. I already knew the good thing about my son is not only will he carry on my name, but also have street knowledge and intellectual knowledge where I’ll be able to show him, “Look, when you leave the house at night, you move. Don’t ever put this car in this driveway facing in. Always face it going out. Anything can happen. You wanna be in go-mode all the time. That’s how I think... little things like that. Watching how other people walk too close to you and stuff like that. That’s already a panic of mine at this early stage where, as a three-year-old, I’m already worried about making sure he knows that even though he doesn’t need to know it [right] now. He’s doesn’t understand, but that’s how much preparation I’m putting into it, ‘cause he’s a black male. So as a black male, I understand what we go through as black males—with the police.
I’ve been through it with the police for years and years—even when I was all by myself and couldn’t get my license legit ‘cause it’s a whole thing. I only talk back to police when they’re out of order, and I don’t talk back like, “Fuck you,” or nothing like that. But when they talk back disrespectful, I check ‘em. I always have. As long as you have your facts straight, an officer will usually back off. A lot of the people they arrest, take to jail and check their cars and check their pockets, those people don’t know the law. So they let the cops do whatever they want, ‘cause they’re really bluffing. They test ‘em based on how much you allow them to do. Because I understand the law on every level, I understand that once you know that, you know what they can and can’t do. I didn’t know that you don’t have to get out of your car—well, I know now. But I didn’t know you can stay in your car, and they can’t get you out without probable cause. They don’t smell weed or any liquor on my breath, so they can’t make me get out. At all. Things like that. You know how many people don’t know that? They just get out, and then you’re playing yourself.
So all of those things get me already saying, “Man…” Yeah, I swear it was just yesterday he seemed like a little ol’ baby. I was just holding him, rocking in the rocking chair, feeding him milk and wiping diapers. Now he’s singing, and I’m like, “What number is that?” He’s like, “One hundred and two!” I’m like, “Damnit, he’s gonna be 20 by next week!” So, I’m preparing now, because now he a responsibility of mine. And I’ve always been a party guy. All of us from the Gang Starr family have been. We enjoyed our Rock ‘N Roll lifestyle of being a deejay and producing albums. With me being older and still being in the industry, I have no trouble saying, “Hey, responsibility time. Can’t do this like you used to, can’t do that like you used to...” I have to start thinking that way now, and there’s no other options. I don’t need nobody to tell me that; that’s something I know I have no business not doing. So that got me in a different focus, and it makes you even want to earn more money and set up even more of a cushion and my own pension. Like Lil Fame said, “There ain’t no retirement funds in Rap.”
DJ Premier Preps Merch & Celebrates Guru Through His Artistry
DX: The website shop has a lot of merch for sale, including original illustrations. Can you tell me a little about the DJ Premier original art for sale?
DJ Premier: Yeah. I’ve always been into merch. Since the Gang Starr tours and on my DJ Premier tours, I’ve always sold shirts everywhere I go. And I’m a big concert goer, so I’ve been buying t-shirts. When I was in high school, it was always about going to see the Rolling Stones and coming to school the next day with the shirt on. Everybody going, “Damn, he went to the concert. Lucky bastard!” Like, “I gotta see Men At Work, Genesis, Van Halen. I gotta see the Isley Brothers with your Go For Your Guns shirt on.” Every body like, “Damn! You always have the dope shirts!”
So when I got into Hip Hop, me and Guru immediately said, “We gotta sell Gang Starr shirts,” ‘cause they always did well for us. So I’m like, “Even though he passed, why not continue the honor?” And I make sure I split that with his family. I share the funds 50% and cover the profits, overhead and cost, and I give them the rest ‘cause it’s the right thing to do. I wouldn’t feel right doing it any other way. And again, I love Guru. I miss him, and his family deserves his name’s property, but the right people have to be overseeing it. Somebody like me or Big Shug is gonna make sure that it’s done right. And even my managing team, my media guys and everybody, we all care about his son’s future. He’s only 13. We want to make sure that even though he don’t have his father in his life, I’m a father-figure. I’m a make sure he’s not misguided and that he comes up [right]. And then from there I have my own Premier stuff. Shout out to DJ Concept from Long Island for helping me come up with the artwork.
DX: You mentioned Guru before and trying to honor him. Can you tell me about the shirts you’ve got for him?
DJ Premier: Yeah his birthday is July 17, so I wanted to commemorate him. His original name was Keithy E The Guru. Actually it was Keithy E at the time I joined the group. And even when I used to go to his parents’ house, his father called him Keithy when we were eating breakfast together. I remember one time he got into an argument with his sister at the breakfast table. I remember his father going, “Keithy! Stop yelling, Keithy!” So that’s what I learned to see in the early part of my career. Then later on, he said. “I’m Keithy E The Guru.” Then later on that turned into Guru and then “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.”
I wanna do more than that. I’m going through all my old tapes and all my old sessions that we didn’t release songs so that I can put together an album of some sort. So while we’re working to get all that together, it’s not gonna be ready by the time the birthday comes around. But right now, let’s do something that honors him for his birthday. [DJ Concept] brought me some Gang Starr stuff to look at for the upcoming site that we’re gonna launch. And when I was looking at all the things he had, he had one that just said “Keith.” I said, “Man, that’s dope. I didn’t even think of that. Can you go back home, add a “y” and then put an “E,” period, on it, so it say “Keithy E.?” He said, “Aight, cool.” He sent it to me, I was like, “Yo you should make shirts for the 4th of July before his birthday so the people can rock with me in honor of his name.”
And then his nephew [Justin Nicholas-Elam Ruff] had been moving The X Label company that he has, with Guru’s first original demo tape with his own handwriting—which I remember Guru gave to me a long time ago. We used to be roommates. I had a copy of that picture, and Justin got a shot of it too, and Justin said, “Hey, let’s also make that something to move for the people that didn’t know that had an original demo…especially the fact that all of the handwriting is his.” So I said, “Let’s send those versions. Let’s send my version and let’s move your version, and we’ll link the site to you as well, so that people know they can shop at your store.” ‘Cause I told him, “You’re his nephew, and I don’t want to sell any Gang Starr stuff. That’s something we do together as a family. With Guru’s stuff, do whatever you want…just Guru, no Gang Starr logo, do your thing. If it’s a Gang Starr logo or me in the photo, I have to approve.” And I don’t send in the stuff that we didn’t put up, ‘cause if I don’t approve, I’ll be able to tell you what Guru would like and what Guru wouldn’t like.
Me and Guru were always able to speak for ourselves whenever we did interviews. Like, people used to come up to me asking, “Yo man, when he said this, this and this, what did he mean by that line?” I would never be like, “Oh man, you gotta ask him. I didn’t write the rhymes.” I would be like, “Nah, he meant this, or he meant that,” ‘cause me and him speak for each other. I can still speak for him to this day ‘cause again, I know what he would like and wouldn’t like. So it’s a good thing. And the money goes 50-50 to his pops. I always make sure that he takes both and has a stream of money. He deserves to eat off that small plate.
Why DJ Premier Highlights Waited To Establish A Web Presence
DX: As part of your “Bars in the Booth” web series, you’ve collaborated with Jakk Frost, Papoose, Dres from Black Sheep and A.G. just to name a few. Was this series your idea, and how many sessions are you planning on doing? Is it a seasonal format, or do videos go up on a rolling basis?
DJ Premier: Man, I actually did not even want to do it. At the time I was taking it small. I didn’t want to have the site be… I was like, “I just wanna sell my shirts. I wanna sell my shirts. I wanna sell my shirts!” My management and my media/television guy came over and was like, “Yo man, I think it would be cool if you had other content—like any new videos you’re on or songs you’ve produced. Everything that has your latest content, put that up on the site.” I’m like, “Okay, that’s cool.” He’s like, “You should do something maybe where you get rappers to spit and you put ‘em up freestyling.” I was like, “Nah, I ain’t doing that.” And I was getting ready to work with Papoose in the studio when we did “Current Events.” Actually, my new manager is handling Papoose, and that’s how we met. So when Pap was coming to work on a song with me, [my manager] was like, “Yo, let’s film Pap first and see how it come out.”
But I was still not really all for it. But when we shot it and got it edited by my boy Matt Fisher, he sent it in I said, “Make it look gritty. I don’t want it clean.” And when he sent it back it had a grittiness to it and all that, and it made my booth look underground. I was like, “Wow, I like the way he colored it. You know what? We need to come up with a name for it Let’s call it ‘Bars in the Booth.’” He was like, “Well debate on that—” “Nah, nah. ‘Bars in the Booth.’ Simple and that’s it.” That stuck, and we said we’ll put a little intro to it, a nice little Bars in the Booth intro. I said, “I love it. Let’s roll.”
DX: Your initiation into the Dot Com world seems a little belated. Why are we seeing PremierWuzHere.com now in 2014?
DJ Premier: Just the team I had in place at the time. Things weren’t really going where they should have. I should have had the site up years ago, you’re totally right. I’ve been keeping up with the vinyl world, the WorldStar’s, the HipHopDX’s, 2DopeBoyz. I go to all those now, right? AllHipHop.com. I always check every one of those just to make sure that I’m in the know. And again, certain people in my circle weren’t moving things to the effective level it is now. And the guys I have now [are] just way better, and they younger. They’re all under 30. My new manager is only 27, but he’s managing a 48-year-old man, and I’ve done it since I was 19. I’m teaching him the ropes of understanding my culture, ‘cause he just too young to really know everything, but he a good businessman. He has good ideas and he knows how to handle his business. But on the creative side, I’m great at that too. Like, “No, this doesn’t work with me. This does work.” We push, pull and differ a lot with each other, but the good thing is it’s healthy for us. He’s learning what works for me, because that’s the one point I always know. But I take any idea, and if it makes sense I’m like, “Alright, I’m down to do it, let’s do it.” And again, “Bars in the Booth”: I said, “Let’s do it, and if I don’t like how it looks after we do it, I’m not doing it anymore.” But he proved me wrong and now I put my time in, which is why I said, “Now let me make a beat every time, so when people hear it they like, ‘That ain’t no beat Premier had. He’s not freestyling over “Mass Appeal” he’s not freestyling over “Come Clean,”’ or over the Das EFX instrumentals I used to do. These are new beats tailored to that rapper or emcee.
DJ Premier Describes His Relationship With Dave Chappelle
DX: No doubt. Switching gears a little, in June you did a show at Radio City alongside Dave Chappelle. How did that come together?
DJ Premier: I knew Dave way back before he did Chappelle’s Show. When I met him, he was like, “Yo, DJ Premier…” and then he was like, “Oh shit, Showbiz!” And that even had us like, “Wow, he knows who Showbiz is, instead of ‘What’s the dude’s name with you?’” He even knew on the spot, so that let you know he was a diehard Hip Hop fan on another level.
So when I got the call from Corey Smyth that Dave wanted me to do one of the sold out shows, I was like, “Man, I’m with it.” And he’s still the same Dave. He cock-diesel now from working out at the gym. But he still the same Dave, same attitude and everything. Good dude.
DX: And you mentioned that when you met him he knew who Showbiz was, which was a surprise. Not a lot of famous people like him would be able to point out Showbiz. Between him getting guys like you and Nas to co-headline a bill, and of course Block Party, in your opinion just how important has Dave been to Hip Hop music and culture?
DJ Premier: Oh man, he’s been important. When Chappelle’s Show came on he had Kanye rhyming with Common doing “The Food,” and having De La [Soul] do “Much Much More.” [He had] DJ Chaps and Black Star rhyme just raw over the Biz Markie version of “Fly Like An Eagle,” and cut it up just raw on the turntables. He always had the eclectic, underground artists on his performance part of Chappelle’s Show, so it lets you know like, he’s not even reaching for anyone big. He’s reaching for the grit. And that shows you that his level of respect is on the same level that we are, so that’s why we support him. And his humor is just amazing. Even at Radio City, he’s just funny as always.
How DJ Premier & Joey Bada$$ Formed A Bond Through Music
DX: From Biggie to Jay Z and your chemistry with Guru and Jeru, all the way up to Joey Bada$$, how would you describe the connection with Brooklyn emcees?
DJ Premier: Well when they say, “That Brooklyn bullshit, they on it,” that’s the truth. Because it’s something about Brooklyn where they have the same attitude. I even been working with Skyzoo & Torae. The Brooklyn guys, they got something about them. But I mean overall, any emcee really is dope if I’m gonna work with them, or if it makes it out of the studio with me giving a thumbs up to it.
But same thing with Joey [Bada$$]. I feel like I’m a mentor to Joey because I’ve been giving him mad advice on every aspect of the industry, ‘cause he’s so genuine that you don’t want him to fail. He got his Pro Era crew, and I know a lot of them. I know it’s a lot of fun. He on the road, hanging out with groupies and doing all that type of stuff. They’re getting their smoke on all the time. And even when I came to see him the other day, his whole crew, Kirk [Kinght] and everybody came in on bicycles. And they like, “Yeah, we ride ‘em all through the city,” and I was like, “People don’t stop you?” He’s like, “Man, everywhere we go, people going, ‘Joey! What are you doing on a bicycle?’” He’s just having fun, man. They all got their fucking hats on forward, and looking very summerly just enjoying life. I’m going to see him again at the end of the month. I gave him a two-week deadline. Me and Nyck Caution started a funny record about groupies [and stories] that we all have been through [laughs]. And it’s hilarious ‘cause we were all having the complaining part of living that aspect of the entertainment industry, including myself. So we started it, but [Joey] had to go on the road, so he said, “Focus on the song I really need,” which is a song… He wanted a big entrance when he go on stage, so I’m working on that now before he wraps the album up.
DX: So you’ve got that with Joey, and you’ve got tons of stuff on the table for 2014 and for next year. What should fans be on the lookout for sooner than later, in the second half of 2014?
DJ Premier: Well I have my YearRound Record label, which has always been just strictly for the streets and the underground. So through that I’m just putting out vintage artists who already got a classic following, and already have their brand set in stone. I have Lady of Rage dropping her album called Queen Kong. It’ll come out next year, but we’re already recording it. But this year I wanna drop the MC Eiht album, Which Way Iz West? And then also The NYGz...and [I wanna] drop their album called Hustler’s Union: Local NYG. I produced the entire album. This will be my first all-produced Premier album in a while, so I’m excited about that. And Eiht’s album, man. He’s got B-Real, Bumpy Knuckles, Lady of Rage, and he got Kurupt. He’s got the whole Compton’s Most Wanted on there. His album’s really dope.
So we got that going, and then I just got to work with Ed Sheeran on his album—he has five albums that he’s doing. He has another dropping at the top of 2015 that he wants me on, so I did that. I worked with Miguel for his new album. I just worked on M.O.P.’s new album. They’re dropping an EP that I’m producing. But right now the album’s being produced, so they’re gonna drop an EP called Street Certified. I’m a work with Joey Bada$$. Who else do I got? I have a secret project that’s dropping in about two months, we’re gonna make the announcement now that I got the okay from one of the guys involved who’d never heard it because I sampled one artist and only their music [for the album]. So I had to get the okay that they were cool with it, and I played the whole album for him yesterday and everybody said “Thumbs up.” He was blown away by it. I can’t say the artist’s name ‘cause we’re gonna announce it soon. And then of course you can expect us linking up again.
I’m finally gonna work on a single with Pete Rock as well for the Pete Rock vs. Premier album. Obviously, we have the merchandise up on my site. We’re gonna be throwing up the shirts as well, and keep the name and the movement going. But the first song is gonna be me producing Pete Rock, and Pete’s gonna rap. I think it’s gonna be all PVP (Premier v. Pete) and that’s gonna be the jump-off. So that and then, yeah, I think I covered the majority of everything. But it’s gonna be a busy year man…busy several years.
DJ Premier Reflects On Work With Dilated Peoples, Pete Rock & More
DX: I like the sound of all of that. I can’t wait to hear all of it.
DJ Premier: Absolutely, and as you know, Dilated Peoples is already out with their new single “Good As Gone” which I produced for their new upcoming album Directors of Photography. That single’s running right now. And I just did a record with Ea$y Money and Termanology’s artist from their crew SP; they’re gonna be on Statik Selektah’s label. The video’s up right now called, “Nothing to Like.” It was on my radio show, which I do every Friday night on Sirius XM satellite radio, which is “Hip Hop Nation” Channel 44. We’ll be on live tonight, and they’ll be my guests. Keep the underground alive!
DX: You mentioned Pete and then all that other stuff that you’ve been working on, and over the past 20 years you’ve frequented freelance work as opposed to putting out collections. Would you say you are more interested in making beats on the freelance tip, or making compilations?
DJ Premier: I’m more like freelance, but I’ve had so many beats turned down. They’re at a level now where I don’t really want my artists to take ‘em, and if they take ‘em they’re free too. I’m actually doing a Beats That Collected Dust Vol. 3 that I’m about to drop. They’re not the best tracks that I’ve ever done, but why not put them out there? It’s kinda fun and stuff like that. I am gonna do a Get Used To Us 2, except this one will go really, really, extra big. We’ll just to do another compilation album and take this one to the next level. And I keep forgetting to mention Khaleel—an artist from Missouri City, Texas in Houston. We dropping his EP called EP 2014. Termanology produced the first song, and it’s called “Never Boring.” I did the scratches. It’s him and Term rhyming back-to-back, and it’s like a Country twang vocal with an East Coast, Massachusetts vocal. It’s a dope song, and we’re about to shoot the video to that. So you’ll be starting to see him make some noise for Khaleel.
DX: Earlier this year, Hard to Earn turned 20 years old. In honor of that anniversary, what is your favorite beat from that album?
DJ Premier: From that album? “Tonz ‘O Gunz.” Or “Brainstorm” ‘cause I love the scratches on it. I love the way Guru rhymed to it. We were on the Rage Against the Machine tour back in ‘99, and we used to do “Brainstorm” ‘cause it was so hard and aggressive, and the crowd and mosh pits went crazy. So that’s one of my favorites. Honestly, those are the obvious records that we did for radio. I like the album cuts.