“I approach everything with a DJ mentality, whether it be Christina Aguilera, Branford Marsalis or Gang Starr… whatever… because DJing is my favourite love.” It’s not necessarily what you expect to hear from the man Rolling Stone dubbed the greatest hip-hop producer of all time, who is also generally considered to be among the most influential DJs/producers ever. But perhaps it isn’t so surprising. Since his first production credit on the Gang Starr record, No More Mr. Nice Guy in 1989, DJ Premier has worked with what feels like everyone in hip-hop and a whole bunch of people who aren’t – from Aguilera to saxophonist Marsalis. But it’s DJing, and getting to see a crowd move, that allows a producer to see the impact of his work first hand.
“Producing, building beats and remixing are extensions of DJing. We select the music we think you want to hear. We are tastemakers,” says Premier.
While DJing has pretty much always involved two turntables and a mixer, recently, with the widespread application of Serato software, (CD and MP3 mixers and the like), DJing has changed. Premier makes it clear he feels there should be a distinction when it comes to Serato DJs. “I am 100 per cent into music evolving with technology,” Premier explains, “but [it] makes it too easy for DJs who don’t have any knowledge of the music that came before. A lot of kids get Serato and they can download MP3s and call themselves DJs. But they can’t rock a party at all. They have no understanding of following one record with the next record, with the next record. They’re just putting on the hits … and DJing has to be beyond that.”
In many ways hip-hop DJing is about history, a history Premier is definitely a part of, although he’s too humble to admit it. When asked where a good place to begin with hip-hop would be, Premier answers, “Get an understanding: you need to get Run-DMC, Eric B. & Rakim, Whodini, the Fat Boys, Beastie Boys… you need to hear certain records; you know, like UTFO.”
Premier lists his top DJs without missing a beat: “Jazzy Jeff, DJ Aladdin, DJ Scratch, Mix Master ICE (UTFO) and Jam Master Jay. My all-time top MCs are LL Cool J, Chuck D, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, KRS-One, Kool G Rap.” He doesn’t even falter when asked to list his top-five breaks, proving just how tight his hip-hop knowledge is: “Impeach the President by The Honey Drippers, It’s Just Begun by The Jimmy Castor Bunch, The Champ by The Mohawks, Lowdown by Boz Scaggs is my favourite to just cut up and last, Take me to the Mardi Gras by Bob James.”
“Hip-hop in the future is going to get better. It’s going to go back to the style we were doing in the ‘80s and ‘90s because the other stuff won’t last that long … they’ve dumbed it down so much … how dumb can you keep it and expect it to last? We’re going to smarten it up and bring the skill of rhyming back in because there are a lot of people who still appreciate it.”
Premier, who has already been to Australia a few times with Gang Starr and for the 2005 Bugg’n tour (with Method Man, Redman and DJ Kool), says: “I love Australia but it’s hot as hell! Shit, I was born and raised in Texas but Australia is hot! But every time I’ve been to Australia it was great. We’ve been doing the Pete Rock versus Premier project for over two years and Pete and I are definitely going to bring the noise!”
Pete Rock x DJ Premier plays at 170 Russell on Friday May 2 (sold out) and The Corner Hotel on Wednesday May 7.