DJ Premier still a cut above

Elder hip-hop statesman and super producer Premier tells how DJing remains his number one love. As he turns 50, he looks forward to rocking Dubai and bringing real flavour to the city’s club scene

DJ and producer Premier, formerly of Gang Starr. Gonzales Photo / Kenneth Nguyen / The Hell Gate / Corbis
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In the hip-hop world, it was viewed as the meeting of kings.

When a photo surfaced early last year showing both DJ Premier and Dr Dre chilling in the studio, music websites were abuzz at the possible collaboration between the two titans.

The end result was nothing short of pleasing. The plaintive track Animals, detailing the struggle of young African-Americans in the face of police abuse, was the emotional highlight of Dr Dre's mega-selling third album Compton.

“That was a great hip-hop moment,” recalls Premier, who turns 50 tomorrow.

“The recording sessions were really cool. There were no egos involved. We totally got along with each other and had a good time. The whole vibe was very good.”

Premier’s inclusion in the album was more than a simple collaboration; with Dre claiming the album would be his final release, it was his way of paying tribute to a colleague whose career was similar in scope and influence.

Where the former shaped gangsta rap and played a major role in ushering hip-hop into the mainstream through his hit-making work with Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent; Premier (real name Christopher Martin) remains the influential elder statesman of the underground scene with his own seminal body of work as part of the hip-hop duo Gang Starr and collaborations with the likes of rappers Nas, Common and R&B singer D’Angelo.

Premier’s production techniques, in which he creates funk and soul-driven beats through the use of disparate samples, have also been credited for influencing today’s generation of stellar beat-makers such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams.

Before all the acclaim however, Premier made his name as an in-demand DJ. UAE hip-hop fans can now sample some of those skills on Thursday night when he performs as part of the weekly hip-hop night DWA at the Dubai nightspot The Act.

Premier explains he is in his element when behind the decks.

“It’s my number one love, more than making beats or being a solo artist,” he says.

“Where as an artist, I can create, expand and diversify my range, with DJing is just a lot of fun. You are controlling the environment based on what you play, how you play it, mix it, scratch it and motivating the crowd. Not everyone is built to do that.”

Premier’s comments are a pointed dig at the celebrity DJ culture prevalent today, which finds the likes of Paris Hilton (who performed at Legends in Abu Dhabi last year), Lindsay Lohan and Joe Jonas commanding large sums for DJ appearances.

The high profile and sold-out shows don’t equate to respect, Premier says.

“I mean, Lindsay Lohan DJing? Come on. My thing is that they have to be good and know how to spread the records and put them in the right mix properly. I am not giving them a free pass,” he says.

“I know that because they are celebrities, people will come into the club. But when it comes to them really rocking the club they are just sloppy.”

As well as a mix of classic and underground hip-hop tracks, Premier's set on Thursday should also feature work from his latest project PRhyme.

Featuring the gruff dexterous rapper Royce da 5’9”, the eponymous album was a hit with both critics and hip-hop purists alike for its authenticity to the art form.

It also found Premier challenging himself by producing the album’s nine tracks using samples solely from the somewhat limited catalogue of modern soul composer Adrian Younge.

The tightly focused approach forced Premier to be even more adventurous in his sampling.

“Younge told me that he created his music so producers can find that sweet spot to create loops from,” he says.

“Now, I don’t want that sweet spot. What I am looking for is taking the part of the song that is not normal and then make it sound normal.”

Those dizzying and heady sounds were not only produced for underground acts – pop star and The Voice (US version) coach Christina Aguilera also signed up Premier to produce a handful of tracks for her most critically-lauded 2006 album, Back to Basics.

Premier confirmed the two have began discussions to work again on her upcoming album.

"We spoke to each other and we do want to get together again. Because of her commitments with The Voice she only recorded a couple of songs and she is not in album mode right now. But when she is then I'm ready."

In the meantime, Premier has his eyes on bigger pop fish.

In news that may send his hardcore fans scurrying for cover, Premier wants to hit the studio with none other than Justin Bieber.

“I would absolutely work with him,” he says.

“He is not that same little kid that he was 10 years ago and he can actually sing. It’s not like something not good will come out of it.”

DJ Premier performs at DWA at The Act Dubai on Thursday. Doors open from 8.30pm. For reservations call 04 355 1116 or email