DJ Premier talks pop, hip hop and the future of GangStarrMay 7, 2014
DJ Premier (AKA Christopher Martin) is one of hip hop’s most hallowed figures, being half of GangStarr alongside the late MC Keith “Guru” Elam, as well as an elite producer, with credits on seminal debut albums like Nas‘ Illmatic, The Notorious BIG‘s Ready To Die and Jay-Z‘s Reasonable Doubt.
Though fond of the “traditional” sound of New York hip hop with its samples, “Preemo” has never stagnated. Indeed, he’s ventured into jazz fusion (Branford Marsalis‘ Buckshot LeFonque), neo-soul (D’Angelo) and pop (Christina Aguilera‘s 2006 triumph Back To Basics, containing the hit Ain’t No Other Man).
Lately he remixed Disclosure‘s garage smash Latch. And, while his West Coast contemporary Dr Dre has all but retired from music-making, Martin is busier than ever. “Why stop when you love what you do?” he extols.
Martin, then a Computer Science student known as Waxmaster C, came to NY from Houston, Texas, joining Bostonian Elam in GangStarr. The pair would pioneer jazz hop, beginning with 1989’s No More Mr Nice Guy. They ostensibly fell out following The Ownerz, the solo Elam teaming with the controversial Solar until his death from cancer in 2010.
Martin has recently produced beats for the hotshot ’90s revivalist Joey Bada$$. But he’s loyal – continuing to work with members of the GangStarr Foundation such as NYGz – and the hardcore outfit MOP. Martin has reunited, too, with that slept-on West Coast femcee The Lady Of Rage.
The DJ, who runs Year Round Records and hosts a show on Sirius Satellite Radio, has just launched a website. He’s currently touring Australia with fellow iconic DJ/beatmaker Pete Rock under the Collusion banner. The pals are planning a “long-awaited” ‘versus’ album, Martin cutting its first single with Mr Rock MCing.
“We wanna gather up artists from the highest scale, like a Jay Z or Drake, but we also wanna get the underground like The LOX and GZA from Wu-Tang [Clan],” he says of the guest list.
RIU: You’re attached to so many projects it’s hard to keep up. But the one that the heads are buzzing about is the collaborative album with Nas. What’s the status of that?
DJ Premier: We haven’t even started it yet. Nas has one more album under his contract with Def Jam. He doesn’t wanna do any production with me on that album – he wants to finish that one to end his contract so that he’ll be a free agent and he can do it the way he wants and when he wants, how he wants. So [there’s] no rush – but we’re still making that one afterwards.
What else is cooking?
I just did a record with Ed Sheeran. We did some cool stuff – we were just experimenting in the studio, but it came out really good – so we got that going… I’m getting into the pop world again. I’ve started working with a group called Rizzle Kicks, who are very popular overseas – we did some cool stuff – and then I’m starting to work on Christina Aguilera’s [new] stuff.
I was actually going to ask if you’d like to do more pop, as you didn’t do much after Back To Basics.
I consider myself a producer, period. I’m not just a hip hop producer – I’m a producer. It doesn’t matter what you bring to me, I’m gonna apply my tastes and passion for music to it – but most of it comes from me being a DJ. The fact that I DJ, that’s really where I get the best focus on how to do things, because I’m very deep-rooted in being raised on music – before rap was even in existence. Because of that, I’ve always been up for any challenge – or what anybody ever brings me. So when Christina approached me about working on Back To Basics, I was immediately excited about doing it because I want to show that I’m beyond hip hop – even though I’ll apply a hip hop flavour to it because that’s what made me my name.
What was that experience like?
She let me just do me. She didn’t really give me a lot of instructions. She just pretty much told me what she was looking for. And then some of it was just experimentation. She would go, ‘Ooh, I like that, lay that down’ – and I’d play it. The Thank You record, I was playing around with a friend of mine’s daughter, showing her how to scratch on the turntable. She started cutting the beat on time and I said, ‘Yo, keep that going’ – and I got on a keyboard. Christina happened to walk in and go, ‘What is that?’ I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re just playing around’. She goes, ‘I like that, lay it down!’ – and we put it on tape [laughs].
There was talk of a final GangStarr album. Is that still coming?
Yeah – we’re waiting for a few things to get cleared. You know, [Elam’s] estate is finally straightened out and it belongs to his son, his 13-year-old son. His mother manages [the estate] ’cause he’s still too young – but she’s a great mother and she’s a really great person… We’ll wait until all the tapes and masters are gathered up – I have a lot of the masters already, but we have a lotta stuff. I gotta [go] through and listen to ’em, and listen to all those old DATs we found in [Elam’s] house, when we cleaned his house out, and all that stuff. So I’ve gotta go through all of those and see if there’s any vocals that we didn’t use before and just see what can be used towards doing a proper album – and then, of course, get Jeru (The Damaja) and Group Home and Big Shug and other [GangStarr] Foundation members to add on to it to make it all complete.”
DJ Premier & Pete Rock
Thu May 8