First, my thoughts.Â DJ Premier is becoming the elder spokesman of hip-hop.Â If there is a voice that has credibility behind it, Premier is it.Â You can also include Jay-Z in that list as well.Â It’s a short list.Â Reading this article, Premier really highlights the problem with the mainstream game (I highlighted key points).Â They try to skip the streets and that will not work.Â Jeezy got on from the streets.Â T.I. got on from the streets.Â 50 Cent got on from the streets.Â It all begins and ends with the streets and once you lose that street love, then your career is done (see Nelly).Â Not that Nelly really had street cred but he was accepted for a minute.Â Now, he can’t make it back now even though the music he makes is in but with a different “sound” to it.Â In the words of 50 Cent, it’s non confrontational.Â That’s what J. Cole, Drake, Kid Cudi, and Wiz Khalifa bring to the game right now and to the major labels.Â Â Back to Premier.
WHERE RAP WENT WRONG AND HOW TO FIX IT
If New York hip-hop has a spiritual gatekeeper, itâ€™s DJ Premier. Along with being part of definitive â€™90s rap duo Gang Starr, Premier has balanced crafting songs for certified rap royalty Jay-Z, Biggie, and Nas with supporting the cityâ€™s more varied and underground scenes. His upcoming label compilation, Year Round Records: Get Used To Us, sticks to that credo, showcasing life-time Big Apple rhymers Freddie Foxxx, Blaq Poet, and KRS-One alongside more recent home town talent like Papoose, Saigon, and Joell Ortizâ€“three artists looking to re-ignite their careers after floundering on major labels. Hereâ€™s Premierâ€™s take on where New York rap went wrong, why it needs to be destroyed in order to recover, and how heâ€™s warming to his role as elder rap statesman, to the point where heâ€™s creating old school mixtapes to educate upcoming rap cats.
On your new label compilation you feature songs with Papoose and Saigon. A few years back both of them were tipped as future superstars capable of re-asserting New Yorkâ€™s rap credentials, but their careers quickly faded. Why do you think that was?
Papoose had a million dollar deal at Jive but I knew Jive wasnâ€™t going to let him drop all the street shit he was doing. Theyâ€™re not the same Jive that had Whodini and A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-One and the Fu-Schnickens and all that. Even though they had R. Kelly and Britney Spears and N-Sync, the Jive of old was very eclectic and rooted in what we love about music. Theyâ€™re not that any more. So when you have a Papoose, he can do some commercial records, but thatâ€™s not what he is and thatâ€™s not what he does to make you wanna hear more stuff from him. You canâ€™t all of a sudden convert him into a commercial artist. Theyâ€™re going to force him to make those commercial songs and when they donâ€™t work theyâ€™re gonna drop him.
Same thing â€” theyâ€™re not going to let the grimey, â€˜hood, chase-you-with-a-knife music out. Theyâ€™re not releasing that shit. Sai has more of a commercial appeal, but a street artist has to be broken in the streets first and then developed in the mainstream. You canâ€™t force every artist down someoneâ€™s throat. Be realistic with it. I already know what the outcomeâ€™s going be when certain artists get a major deal. I mean, they did it with us [Gang Starr]! But we didnâ€™t have to take that commercial commercial route cause we proved to them that we can move units and build up. We went from 280,000 sales of the first album to 320,000 sales to gold to gold again. Consistency was there with everything we released. Even when I produced for other artists, like Jay-Z or Nas or Limp Bizkit, the songs were popular on the street. The street is where you want to get broken at first if you want to be a hip-hop or rap artist.
Do you think thatâ€™s something the major labels will ever understand?
They did in the beginning, just cause they were allowing people to take chances. Then when it came down to the money piling in, and it was so cheap to make, the love and passion went away. Then they see the slips in the sales and they panic, like, â€œDonâ€™t do that street shit, we need more commercial stuff!â€ No, you donâ€™t. Public Enemy were never commercial but they were commercial as far as their sales cause people wanted it raw. N.W.A. was raw, Ice Cube was raw. Most kids in those white suburbs were out buying raw black music!
Will we ever see rap music that raw being popular on such a wide scale again
Absolutely. Weâ€™re just readjusting to the building that collapsed. Not every brick fell â€” it wasnâ€™t a Twin Towers situation, cause thereâ€™s still a lot of life in hip-hop. Itâ€™s just going through the destroying phase. I donâ€™t mind that, cause it got saturated with the nonsense. I love gangsta rap, and I have an album project with MC Eiht, from Comptonâ€™s Most Wanted, coming up, but thereâ€™s still a limit to doing anything. Who regulates it? The people in the structure of the culture. So Iâ€™m glad Iâ€™m in a position to help fix the problem.
So is there a healthy underground New York rap scene at the moment?
Absolutely, and Iâ€™m part of it. Man, it goes deep. I can play a new record on my radio show from Hell Razah, whoâ€™s down with the Wu-Tang Clan, and you probably wouldnâ€™t even know he had an album out if it wasnâ€™t for me! Thereâ€™s a new record from Dysfunkshunal Familee, who are down with the Beatminerz, and most people are like, â€œDysfunkshunal Familee? Who the fuck is that?!â€ J-Live has a new EP out with some hot stuff; Buckwild, who produced â€œWoahâ€ for Black Rob, heâ€™s got a new album with Celph Titled thatâ€™s hot. Thereâ€™s a guy called Math Hoffa, whoâ€™s an upcoming artist, and Illmind and Skyzooâ€¦ Itâ€™s so much stuff that just doesnâ€™t get regular radio play. Thank god you have me and DJ Eclipse, who does a similar show to me on Sundays. We donâ€™t have a playlist â€” we make our own choices. If everyone was like that, hip-hop would still be a billion dollar business. Now, itâ€™s just a million dollar business.
What has changed most about the record industry since you first came out?
Iâ€™m 44-years-old so I remember when the majors had passion and cared about music. Thatâ€™s gone now, which is why they crumbled so tremendously. They want to blame the internet but thatâ€™s not the main culpritâ€“itâ€™s the lack of passion for what youâ€™re signing. And thereâ€™s things like putting an age limit on rappers, like you canâ€™t be 44-years-old and sign to a major label. Come on! When youâ€™ve got an upcoming 18-year-old, the difference is they havenâ€™t experienced the lifestyle of hip-hop when it was fresh and new. The kids today that are born into hip-hop donâ€™t appreciate the history: â€œThose artists are old so I donâ€™t listen to them!â€ But if youâ€™re not gonna care about the history of something thatâ€™s a culture, then youâ€™re gonna lose down the line. I see that every day. I see when theyâ€™ve gotta tour just to pay billsâ€“Iâ€™ve been through it. Iâ€™ve had money and lost money. My experience is 23 years in the business and thereâ€™s nothing I can really be schooled on unless itâ€™s something higher than Iâ€™ve experienced.
Why are young hip-hop artists so reluctant to learn about the musicâ€™s history?
Well thank goodness for Google you can find out on your own now if youâ€™re curious! I feel if an artist really cares about what theyâ€™re doing, they should want to know who the people they like are influenced by, even if itâ€™s 2Pac. Thereâ€™s plenty of viral footage. Thereâ€™s so much research you can find now. When I was coming up you had to hunt and look worldwide to find things. They can ask me! Like with Royce Da 5â€² 9â€³, whoâ€™s signed with Eminem, cause his rhymingâ€™s so ill I was like, â€œI know youâ€™re into the Cold Crush [Brothers] and Just-Ice.â€ And heâ€™s like, â€œWhoâ€™s that?â€ Iâ€™m like, â€œYou donâ€™t know who Just-Ice is? What about Mantronix?â€ Heâ€™s like, â€œWhoâ€™s Mantronix?â€ He said he was brought up on Redman and Ras Kass, and even though those are great MCs, I was like, â€œI thought you went back further.â€ So I told Royce I was gonna make him a CD of some stuff. I did the same with my artist Nick Javas, a white kid from Union, New Jersey, who can rap his ass off but didnâ€™t have any knowledge of the past.
I mean, I stay up, I still study. I know who Waka Flocka Flame is, I know who Gucci Maine is, I know who Nicki Minaj is, and Fred Da God, an upcoming New York rapper. You have to do your research if youâ€™re into your job. Even though Iâ€™m into more than just hip-hopâ€“Iâ€™ll listen to rock, new wave, The Smiths, all kinds of crazy left-field stuffâ€“I still stay up on rap.
What sort of songs do you put on these CDs you make for rappers?
On that one CD I put T La Rockâ€™s â€œItâ€™s Yours,â€ Davy DMXâ€™s â€œOne For The Treble,â€ Just-Iceâ€™s â€œGoing Way Back.â€ I put him up on T Ski Valleyâ€™s â€œCatch The Beat,â€ all the Sugarhill stuff, Spoonie Gee, Sparky D, Roxanne Shante, the Juice Crew, even the Wild Style soundtrack. These are the building blocks of what I do.