One would be hard-pressed to discuss the legacy of hip-hop without mentioning DJ Premier, who has been referred to as “arguably hip-hop’s greatest producer” by Rolling Stone. Known to friends and fans as Preem (or Premo), he was included in a list of the 20 greatest producers in The Source’s 20th-anniversary issue and was honored with the Legendary Achievement Award at this year’s Global Spin Awards on November 18.
Preem recently teamed up with friend and fellow hip-hop enthusiast Royce da 5’9” (aka Nickel), a veteran Detroit emcee, to form a new powerhouse DJ/emcee duo. Brooklyn Radio got a chance to talk with the pair to learn the story behind PRhyme and how LA-based producer Adrian Younge became involved with their debut album of the same name.
Premo, congrats on receiving the Legend Award last night.
Premier: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. That was a beautiful thing.
Can you guys touch briefly on who or what introduced you to hip-hop?
Premier: For me, my first experience with anything hip-hop oriented was in 1977 during the blackout. I was staying in New York with my grandfather in Brooklyn. When the blackout happened, we went and saw the looters and all the crazy stuff going on. When the power came back a couple days later, there was a place where I would go and play pinball. Pinball machines were really big. Not like all the digital games that you have nowadays.
I remember bboys breakin’ for money, you know, doing all the pop lockin’ and spinnin’ on their backs and everything. And this dude had a real big radio, and he had one turntable hooked up to the input jack on the boombox. He was just scratchin’ sounds, not cuttin’ the words, but I was like, “Wait a minute. You doing that on a record player?” You know, ‘cause it was just one reel.
So, that was my first time just seeing something like that go down. And this was 1977, so you know, even though hip-hop was already going down and scratchin’ was already in existence, it was something new for me because I was always into vinyl because my mother had been collecting vinyl since I was a kid. I mean, any household, if you’re coming from the 70s era of growing up as a child, you gonna see records in your house. CDs wasn’t even a thought yet. So, that’s my first experience.
Royce: Yeah, definitely for me, I would have to credit Def Jam, I guess, because as far back as I can remember, it was Run DMC and LL Cool J. I remember me and my big brother memorizing “King of Rock” and performing it, and he would always be DMC, and I would be Run. And, sometimes, whenever he wanted to mess with me or terrorize me, he would be like, “I’m Run today.” And I’d be like, “I’m Run!” You know what I’m saying? And we would fight over that.
And then, I ended up learning all the choreography – because I swear LL came up with those moves beforehand – but I learned all of L’s movements in the “I’m Bad” video. And my dad used to have me perform it for his friends when they used to come over and drink and watch games and stuff. That’s my earliest memories like Krush Groove, the first time I seen L, all of that. All of those are my first memories of hip-hop.
When and how did you two meet?
Royce: ’99. ’99 we met. One of my dreams as an artist was to rap over a Premier beat. That’s every lyricists’ dream. I signed to Tommy Boy, and one of the guys that worked with Tommy Boy that was working with one of my projects got nicknamed Mr. Dave. He said that he had a real good relationship with Preem, so he linked us up, and Preem agreed to do a beat for me. So, you know, once that happened, and we actually got to work with each other, we just built a relationship from there. It started out just business and a mutual respect, and then from there, it kind of just grew into a friendship.
Did either of you ever mess around with the other pillars of hip-hop culture, like breakdancing or graffiti writing?
Premier: I used to be in a crew when I was in Texas with a guy who used to play for the Oakland Raiders. His name is Harvey Williams, a very well-known running back. He’s from the town over from us, but we used to do parties at this place called the Newman Center, and that’s where all the battles and all the live parties went down. We used to battle him and his brother ‘cause way before Michael Jackson, these two guys could moonwalk and literally look like they were floating on air. And they would wear the white shoes, and they would wear black pants and black tuxedo jackets and the white gloves. So, when they would both do the moonwalk together, and they both looked alike ‘cause they were brothers, they just looked amazing doing the moonwalk.
So, we used to have to outdo them, and we probably beat them in one contest. But all of the rest of them, they used to usually win, even though we were both that tight. So, as a whole, yeah, I do graffiti. I love dancing even though I’m a big guy. If I’m at a party, and a song comes on I like, I like to dance.
Royce, in Complex’s Raiders of the Lost Art documentary, you point out the similarities between hip-hop and boxing. Can you elaborate on that?
Royce: Yeah, it’s a gladiator sport. It’s full contact. Artists are gladiators whether we want to believe it or not, and it’s derived from “my style versus your style.” You know, it started out in the parks in, I believe, is it the Bronx, Preem?
Premier: Yeah, the Bronx.
Royce: It started out in the Bronx, and people were just kind of like battling each other. And that’s all the way to now. People still battle on wax or when they have certain issues or they have something that they want to air out. They do it in the form of music, in the form of their poetry. They get things off of their chest, whether it be them talking about something they went through with their mom growing up, their pops not being there, or whatever. Whatever they want to vent, you know, they use the mic as that channel. You know what I’m saying? That way of channeling that energy and towards other emcees. So, it’s a way of taking your rage and using it to your advantage.
And that’s basically what boxing is. These trainers, they see these kids on the street. Mike Tyson is a good example. You know, Cus D’Amato found this kid. He was like a bad kid, I guess you would say. And he was doing all of this stuff and then was like, “Yo, you’ve got to channel some of that rage into the boxing ring. Make it work to your advantage.” He ended up creating one of the greatest fighters of all time. So, I just feel like there’s a lot of similarities there. Whenever I train or I go workout or something, it’s similar to being in the studio, you know what I mean, to me.
Premo, how did you decide to only use samples from Adrian on the new record?
Premier: Well, the idea was pitched to us by one of Shady’s record employees named Mike Heron . He had brought it up to make a Slaughterhouse EP of only five songs to put out immediately, like within a week’s time. We’d do a song a day, turn it in and put out this EP. And, at the time, not even have it up for sale. Just throw it out, and it would kill a couple of birds. It would stall and have some new Slaughterhouse material out before the official album drops, and just to do something different that would have everybody go all over us for doing such a project where I only sampled one artist.
So, just the scheduling of everybody being from different cities and everybody pretty much working on their albums and the Slaughterhouse album, the scheduling just was not working out to do it in that timely of a manner. So, it became an idea that we pretty much walked away from. Royce still wanted to do it in that capacity and said, “Yo, what if me and you do it? You still down to do it?” And I was like, “Yeah.” So, we did it. And I don’t know if it’s just because of the fact that I’ve never done this, I’m used to doing it my way with sampling records of all types, but Royce convinced me to look at it in the perspective of, “Hey, you know, you’re an artist, and artists are supposed to venture out and challenge themselves and be different and still be who you are.”
So, you know, Adrian’s music is so amazing, and it sounds like the stuff I’d sample anyway if I went digging for records. Then, I met Adrian and we got to kick it before I even did the first beat. The very first day that I met him, I did the beat the same day, sent it to Royce, and he sent the first song back to me while I was in L.A. And when I heard the wordplay, it had to be “Prime.” That was the song. We hadn’t come up with that being a name for the group, but we were just saying, “What’s the name of the song?” He kept saying it in the hook. So, I was like, “Okay, mark that one down as ‘Prime’ then.” Sometimes, he’ll just send it as whatever the name was of the original sample. So, he sent it as that. So, when he sent it back, what was that, “Midnight Blue,” right?
Premier: So, when I heard “Midnight Blue” in that format, I was like, “Wow, man. You really destroyed this.” So, that prompted me to now be creative to make another track, which happened to be “U Looz,” and once we did that, now we’re in a zone. And then Royce said, “Yo, how you feel about naming ourselves PRhyme?” And he said, “But not spell it the regular way. We spell it with two capital letters. ‘P’ is for Premier, the ‘R’ is for Royce, and ‘h-y-m-e’ is rhyme. It’s rhyme, but those two letters will stand out as us together.” And I was like, “Yo, I love it. Let’s do it.” And after that, we decided, ‘Let’s just push that name that name that name that name that name.” And so far, so good.
Did you guys originally plan on coming up with a name?
Premier: No, we never had a plan on it. It just happened as we kept going along.
Do you guys feel New York and Detroit play a role in the record’s message?
Royce: I feel like Detroit always plays a role with anything that I lay vocals on. I think I can speak for Preem. It’s the same. Yeah, anything that I do is influenced by Detroit, for sure.
What can you guys tell readers about the concept for the album cover?
Premier: Amanda Demme, who’s actually the widow of Ted Demme who started Yo! MTV Raps. I’ve known her for a long time. Back in 1990, she used to throw one of the most illest hip-hop functions every Monday called ‘Carwash.’ She was at the very, very pulse of the underground scene of hip-hop. That was back when Poor Righteous Teachers had “Rock This Funky Joint” and Big Daddy Kane was really huge. Leaders of the New School was just coming out. Lord Finesse was just coming out.
So, we would all be in that same circle every Monday, and it would be packed. When we were out at those functions, Amanda was loved and known by everybody, and she was that face. You know, regular old white woman who didn’t even look like she knew nothing about hip-hop was totally down and that threw this function that we all decided to go to on Mondays.
I hadn’t seen her in years, especially after Ted Demme passed. And then, boom. My manager and Royce’s manager had brought up that she’s a photographer now and that she does this really extreme, kind of really freaky art. And I’m really meticulous about straying away from us being hip-hop artists because I like what we do to kind of have a certain hang on to the style of how we look and stuff be intact. When she described it to us, I looked into the other bugged out shit she’s already done with her art and her pictures. At first, I was like, “This is a little too outside of where I want to be.”
But when she started sending us mockups of what it was going to be, I kind of got it. And I was like, “Okay, if we don’t like it, we just fix it, and then we do it.” But we paid for all the art ourselves and everything, and out of our own pocket, flew out to L.A. to her studio. She diced it up and turned it into what it looks like, and I was really amazed at how she made it happen. It’s definitely fitting for the name of the title, the logo, everything.
Yeah it looks amazing. How did your first time performing as PRhyme at Chung King Studios go last night?
Premier: Oh, that was fun. We’re still learning the songs, but, you know, we hadn’t done the show yet. We still ain’t ready to tour yet. We got to master a really tight show, and we still got to put the album out. Really, our first run through was dope because it was well-received by everybody, and me and Royce were comfortable. I’m nervous when I’m not tight on memorizing a show. When I’m on my own, I can get busy and through with confidence because I know how to adlib and pull audibles and do all kinds of different things that I may not do at another gig.
But when you have a front man who’s gonna lead both of us, and I’m his band, the last thing I want to do is not be on point for him. I don’t want to mess up him ‘cause I want him to be able to know that I got his back the whole way. Even if he calls a signal, which he did. He called a signal. We decided, to do this one this way, I’m gonna hold up one finger. If not this way, I’m gonna hold up two fingers. He held up one finger, so whereas I had to now go into the one finger change of what we decided to try to do. And it worked. It works, you know.
I went a little off on that part, but not the way Adrian would. But still, I was prepared to go there if he did it, and he did. But everybody loved it. Like I saw a lot of Tweets this morning, and then other people called me going, “Yo, I talked to Adrian, and he was saying that it was amazing.” You know, they could tell their other friends, “Ah, they suck.” And, “Eh, it was alright.” But they’re telling other people, “Yo, man. They got this. Yeah.”
Kept it short and sweet and then played one of our classics. But we wanted to focus on Adrian, and he opened up for us by playing a half hour set of all the records that I sampled for my Gang Starr records and Jeru the Damaja records, and it blended right into us taking over and me getting on the wheels and let Royce get busy.
So you guys will have a tour for this album?
Premier: Oh, absolutely.
Premier: Like February.
What are you looking for in the “PRhyme Time” Remix Contest?
Premier: Just ill, man. Don’t take it for granted when you have an opportunity to link up with people like us that’s already in the game and already established where you want our cosign because we’re gonna be alright for the rest of our careers because we know how to do this with our eyes closed. And not everybody can do it with their eyes closed. Trust me. Once you can get to that stage of it, you’re seasoned. And me and Royce are seasoned. You know, we do what we do out of passion, love and respect for the culture, and that’s the reason why our records come out tight.
What other solo projects do you guys have going on?
Premier: Right now, I just have my independent label where I do stuff more with artists from my age group and era like the NYGz, and they’re part of the Gang Starr Foundation family for years and years. They put out an album in 2008, and this one was going to be my first all Premier-produced album besides PRhyme. So, PRhyme wasn’t even a thought at the time. I thought, “This is going to be my first all the way Premier-produced album in a while.” But it’s still different because it’s the usual way I do it. PRhyme has never been done before.
There’s two different worlds but still of the same type of audience that likes Royce and myself. The NYGz from that cloth, but the label’s not going to sign no 40-year-old rappers in this day and age, and that’s fine. I understand their music, and their music talks to the streets. And I don’t like when artists abandon the streets totally and not play records that touch them because the have-nots that are really out there struggling need something that can also be said, but you just got to say it in their language. And when you say it in their language, it makes them listen to you, and you can still put a message in there. You just got to do it where they’ll take it a certain way.
So, NYGz, I’m excited about that album. MC Eiht from Compton’s Most Wanted is very well-known in our industry and still respected highly. He has an album coming out called Which Way Iz West? through my label, and we’re sharing it with his Blue Stamp imprint and my Year Round imprint. And then we’re also doing the Lady of Rage who used to be on Death Row with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and she’s doing her project with me called Queen Kong.
Queen Kong? Nice.
Premier: Yeah, it’s very appropriate for her.
Royce: Yeah, for sure. She’s a monster.
Premier: Yes she is.
Royce: And yeah, I’m just basically juggling, still juggling, doing my usual juggle. We’re still finishing the Slaughterhouse album. I’ve been working on my solo album for forever. I’ve done so many songs and scrapped them and done so many songs and basically just been going in whatever direction my creativity takes me. And it’s driven me into the PRhyme direction, so I’m kind of just only focused on that right at the moment. But yeah, at some point, I want to see another Slaughterhouse album, another solo album and another Bad Meets Evil album, hopefully. You know what I mean? That’s what I would love to see. You know, but right now, I’m just focused on PRhyme.
Is there anything else you guys want to add or promote?
Premier: December 9th. It’s on and poppin’ – PRhyme in stores in vinyl and digital. We’re working on doing a deluxe version with three new songs. We can’t tell the artists yet, but we look forward to having some really big surprises.