DJ Premier is to hip hop as the Converse Chuck Taylor is to a proper shoe game. He supersedes boundaries, and stands as one of the rarities that mainstream fans and counter-culturists can agree on –– from his work behind the tables as one-half of Gang Starr (along with the late legend Guru) to the many classic beats he's crafted for legends like Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Nas, Scarface and many others.
These days, Preemo has a new website, some new gear, and a new Web series, Bars in the Booth; and in this exclusive interview with BET.com, he talks about these ventures, preserving Guru's legacy and meeting Kanye West back in the day on Common's Electric Circus Tour.
What inspired your site premierwuzhere.com, after all these years?
I've always wanted to have a website, obviously to keep up with the times –– the whole viral world and the Internet –– 'cause I was so far from being Internet savvy being that I'm from the analog world and I'm from the vinyl world. I was around before CDs, so just the change in our whole industry affected me too, and you either get down with it or you don't.
Plus, I'm a big merch guy. Gang Starr always did well with selling shirts on the road for years and it always made us a lot of money, and on top of that you're serving the fans ... Since I was a little kid I used to go with my mom to go see shows and she'd always buy me a T-shirt, whether it was Jackson 5, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Commodores, Prince or whatever, and I'd always wear the shirt to school the next day.
A major part of your site is Bars in the Booth. How did that come about?
People were telling me, "You should put something up there where people freestyle and rap over the beat," and after resisting at first, I figured, I got Papoose coming in to work on a record anyway so I'll run that by him ... And when I saw the grittiness of the footage and everything, I loved it. So from there I decided to make something. People started seeing it and wanting to be on it. It got to the point where I started getting all these texts and emails from everybody wanting to be on Bars in the Booth.
Does Gang Starr have a separate website in the works?
Guru's son and I are starting the Gang Starr site ... it's almost ready to launch. His older sister is also involved, she's another member of the Elam family, who I trust, and we're gonna all make sure that his legacy lives on.… I'm creating 20 dope designs based on our classic works like, "The Gang Starr has got to be the sure shot," "Royalty"...
Speaking of royalty, you've been the maestro behind the BET Hip Hop Awards Cyphers. If you could pick any five artists to have in the ultimate cypher, who would they be?
I wanna put together a cypher this year with classic artists. Ideally, I'd love to do one with Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, KRS-One, Kool G Rap and Chuck D and have to have a sixth one, LL Cool J.
As for the incoming generation, you've been working with Joey Bada$$ and the Pro Era Crew, what advice have you given them?
I told him that he really, really has to make sure that his pen gets hotter as he grows to make sure his rhymes get better. He's so young and he's formatting his style to get more and more intense but I told him, "You have to make your rhymes better in order to still keep the buzz you got." … I just met Nyck [Caution] the other day, we were working on a song, we were all talking about girl problems that even I've had and I'm 48 years old…Joey and I were working a record he wanted to be like a stadium anthem.
You've also worked with Kanye a few times. Is he as wild in the studio as the person the public sees in the tabloids?
The way he acts, he been acting like that even when he was broke. I knew him when he had no money, before he was even rapping.… We were off stage one night [on Common's Electric Circus Tour], just hangin' and Kanye was like, "Hey Premiere I just signed to Roc-A-Fella, I'm about to drop a whole album and it's gonna go double platinum!" I was looking at him like, "Alright that's a little cocky to say that, but I'm not gonna sleep on it because I never doubt anybody. So I told him I hope it does sell that. And God damn it that thing sold two million copies! He definitely made me a believer.
The best part about him is that he wears passion on his sleeve. Everybody always thinks he's weird or whatever, and he is weird, but I'm weird. We're part of a weirdo click. You gotta be a weirdo to do what we do. You gotta be a DJ nerd and all that stuff to have the capacity in your mind to make something that's different than your average.
(Photo: Courtesy of Year Round Records)