Interview: DJ Premier, Legendary Music Producer

DJ Premier owns gold and platinum records, won three Grammy awards, is the founding member of one of hip-hop's most influential duos, has worked with everyone from Jay-Z to Notorious B.I.G. to Christina Aguilera, has a massive fanbase of loyal followers and is considered by many to be one of the greatest producers of all-time. Even with all the accolades and success, the legendary producer continues to bang out hot beats and remain relevant after more than 25 years in the game.

The Houston native who has lived in Brooklyn for most of his career says, "While I’ve accomplished a lot, I feign for more. I’m constantly thinking, 'What can I do to make sure that I’m coming out with something that’s hot?'"

In the words of Guru, the late great emcee who worked alongside the producer in the renowned duo collectively known as Gang Starr, "Premier's got more beats than a barn's got hay."

Last week, Primo was in town for the Los Angeles qualifier of the Red Bull Big Tune, the nation's premier music producer battle. LA native Dibia$e took first place at the event which was held at the El Rey. Premier, who performed a DJ set following the competition, took some time out from his busy schedule to talk with us about young producers, country music, upcoming albums he's working on, hanging out at Christina's house and the long awaited return of an artist he's worked with in the past.

Additionally, Premier also informed me that he's "working with Guru’s family to do an official tribute." The producer who was never mentioned by name in a controversial statement released following his long-time collaborator's death says, "It’s going to be a really big event." He added, "Once we get it organized properly, you’ll hear more about it."

You’re working with Red Bull tonight as they give an opportunity to some upcoming producers. What do you think of the growing interest in production and beat making?
I think it’s a good thing. Once I’m gone and have given my energy back to the world, to the spirits who control this earth, they’ll be more people banging out beats and doing new things. Another good thing is that a lot of these producers are fans of what I do, and they’re fans of people like Dre, Notts, Alchemist, Marco Polo and on and on. What it comes down to is these guys want to bring it to the business and they’re way younger and they didn’t come up in the “Golden Era of Hip-Hop.” It just lets you know that we got a long way to go with keeping music alive and that’s really what it’s supposed to be about. I totally applaud it.

How important is it for a producer to listen to what’s being played on the radio?
I still check the radio stations, eventhough I don’t think they’re playing anything that’s hot, I still check it because I want to know what’s in their top ten. Then I’ll compare it to what I’m doing I still make sure that I am aware of what’s popping out there.

I hate when I hear artists say, “I never listen to the radio, I never listen to anyone else when I’m making my album.” I think that’s bullshit because you should always know what the competition is doing. If they’re in your genre of music, you’re going to competing with them. You should stay in the know. Never turn your back on what makes this industry click. That’s how deep rooted I am, not just as a fan but as a person who respects music. I know sometimes I need to walk away from hip-hop and listen to other things. I listen to rock. I listen to country music. I’m from Texas, I love country music.

What’s your favorite country song?
George Strait, “All my Ex’s Live in Texas”

You’ve worked with so many great artists. Is there one artist you haven’t worked with yet that you’d love to produce a track for?
Ghostface. Actually the whole Wu-Tang.

Do you think we’ll see more one producer/one artist albums in the near future? Do you think that’s the best formula for great album?
I’m actually leaning towards doing that right now. Me and KRS-ONE are talking about doing another album together. Actually, we already started recording. I still want to do the Nas album. I’d love to do a whole album with Jay-Z. Smif N Wessun is about to come out with an album that’s all Pete Rock. There’s going to be quite a few people doing that again. I know Pete Rock’s definitely doing it. I’m sure there will be more. Hi-Tek and Talib Kweli just dropped that Reflection Eternal album, that was entirely produced by Hi-Tek.

At the end of the day, all I want to know is, is it dope or not? I don’t care if you got 30 producers on your album, I just want to know is the shit dope? That’s all I care about.

You did some incredible tracks with D’Angelo. There was the remix to "Lady" and "Devil's Pie." Any word on what he's been up to? Have you guys talked at all lately?
I just spoke to him a few days ago. We’re going back in the studio together. He’s actually going to do a hook for one of my artists, a group called NYGz - they’re on my label, Year Round Records. He’s going to do the hook but me and him are definitely going to work on some stuff. We just found each other and we were so happy to finally reconnect because it’s been a while and I haven’t been able to track him down. Now, we’re back together.

What do you like to do when you’re here in LA?
I literally just got here. I was supposed to be here yesterday but I was mixing a Fat Joe record and working on some more Kanye stuff. I’ve been all over. I was on a month-long tour and just got back about three days ago. I wanted to come out here and have a good time but I had a change of plans. I was going to give Christina Aguilera a call to tell her I was here and stop by her place for a minute but I really don’t have time. I’ve got leave at 5am tomorrow morning for my flight back to New York.