REVOLT TV presents ‘The Produce Section,’ a column where we put the spotlight on the men and women behind the beats we love so much and their contributions to the culture as a whole. From profiling and interviewing the hottest producers of today, to acknowledging the greatest producers of all-time and delving deep into their discographies, ‘The Produce Section’ is the hub where beats, rhymes and life connect.
Producers have long been the backbone of rap music, providing emcees and rappers alike with the sonic backdrops over which they bare their souls and share their stories. Rap artists may get much of the fanfare and are front and center. However, without the producer toiling away behind the scenes, crafting the instrumentals, the lyrics would be reduced to spoken word and hip hop would be nonexistent as we know it. With the passage of time, the producer has become more ubiquitous than ever with the most successful boardsmen rivaling many of the artists they work with in terms of visibility and popularity. However, in many cases, the producer fails to get their just due or recognition for the vital role they play in helping keeping hip hop alive.
REVOLT TV presents The Produce Section, where we put the spotlight on the men and women behind the beats we love so much and their contributions to the culture, as a whole. From profiling and interviewing the hottest producers of today, to acknowledging the greatest producers of all-time and delving deep into their discographies, The Produce Section is the hub where beats, rhymes and life connect.
There are a number of producers who have added to the fabric of hip hop. But, few can say they single handedly created and defined an entire sound and style of production like DJ Premier, who is undoubtedly on rap’s Mt. Rushmore of boardsmen. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, DJ Premier would migrate to New York City as an adult, where he formed the legendary rap duo Gang Starr with Boston rapper Guru, releasing their debut album, No More Mr. Nice Guy, in 1989. Serving as the DJ and production arm of the group, DJ Premier helped usher the east coast into the ’90s with his style of “boom-bap,” helping to make Gang Starr the golden standard of hip hop from a purist’s perspective. In addition to helming the boards for the group’s string of landmark albums, DJ Premier also lent his talents to releases from other rap artists, reaching his peak during the mid ’90s by working with the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, JAY-Z and other greats.
Solidifying himself as your favorite producer’s favorite producer by the turn of the century, DJ Premier hasn’t let his accolades allow him to rest. The elder statesman continues to put in work at a consistent clip. With nearly three decades worth of classic singles and deep cuts on his resume, DJ Premier is regarded as an icon within the world of hip hop and is universally praised as one of the greatest producers of not only his generation, but all-time.
In our latest installment of The Produce Section, where we highlight classic beats from our favorite producers, we celebrate DJ Premier’s illustrious career and highlight 13 of his most iconic beats that define his excellence behind the boards.
1. Gang Starr featuring Nice & Smooth: “DWYCK”
DJ Premier takes a bass sample from Clarence Wheeler and The Enforcers’ “Hey Jude” and pairs it with drums from Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution” for this beat, which is one of Gang Starr’s biggest hits and most popular songs. Originally released in 1992 as a B-side, this track, which features Nice & Smooth, is topped off with Premo’s signature vocal scratches on the hook and is a lively jam that showcases the producers ability to rock the party.
2. Jeru the Damaja: “Come Clean”
What a number of fans of this record initially mistook for dripping water is actually elements lifted from Shelly Manne’s 1973 release “Infinity” and is what drew rap junkies to this particular track from DJ Premier. Helping introduce Jeru the Damaja to the rap populous with this selection, Premo does work with drums from “Kool Is Back” by Funk, Inc., as well as a scratches of Onyx’s massive ’92 street banger “Throw Ya Gunz by Onyx” with the final product being a track that serves as an east coast rap anthem.
3. Nas: “N.Y. State of Mind”
Piano keys from Jazz-man Joe Chambers’ 1977 composition “Mind Rain” is the crux of this iconic production, which doubles as the genesis of DJ Premier’s musical relationship with Nas. Digging deep into his bag of tricks, the Texan-turned-New Yorker draws from Kool & the Gang’s catalog for the track’s drum-loop, stretching them out to rework the sample into slow-rolling kicks and snares. The introductory cut on Illmatic, this backdrop helped set the stage for one of the greatest lyrical performances in rap history. It’s still one of the first beats that come to mind when thinking of Premo’s extensive track record.
4. Gang Starr: “Mass Appeal”
Lyrics from Da Youngsta’s remix to their 1992 single “Pass Da Mic” get the Premo treatment and are utilized to set off what is a landmark soundscape in the maven of boom-bap’s catalog. Jacking a riff from Vic Juris’ “Horizon Drive” and hooking the sample up with a dusty drum loop, DJ Premier crafts a futuristic-sounding tune that helped cement him as the east coast’s preeminent producer and a mastermind behind the boards.
5. The Notorious B.I.G.: “Unbelievable”
As legend has it, The Notorious B.I.G. was so hell-bent on getting DJ Premier to create a track for his debut album, Ready to Die, that he told the Gang Starr member to loop up drums from The Honey Drippers’ 1973 cut “Impeach the President by The Honey Drippers,” which led to the making of this classic beat. What’s that airy mist you hear throughout the track? Oh, that’s a sound effect from Quincy Jones’ 1971 cut “Kitty With the Bent Frame.” When matched with that overt R. Kelly vocal sample, which fits snug as a glove, this joint becomes flawlessly precise.
6. KRS-One: “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know”
In 1995, DJ Premier linked with rap legend KRS-One, supplying the Bronx native with this brooding soundscape for this single from his eponymous album. Borrowing a riff from “Yesterdays” by Clifford Brown, DJ Premier litters the track with hard-hitting percussion, bells, scratches and other quirks, gifting the Blastmaster with one of the latter day hits of his tenure in the rap game.
7. The Notorious B.I.G.: “Ten Crack Commandments”
DJ Premier lift’s Chuck D’s count-up from Public Enemy’s 1991 track “Shut ‘Em Down” for this classic track, which would be the last time rap fans would hear The Notorious One over a Premo beat. Originally created as a promo for New York radio station Hot 97, Puff and Biggie would hound DJ Premier for the track, which is built around a sample of Les McCann’s 1977 composition “Vallarta,” after hearing it on the airwaves. Using the track to break down the rules of the crack game, the Brooklyn legend connects with Gang Starr’s production arm, who crafts a sound bed that’s as glossy as any beat he’s ever made.
8. JAY-Z: “Intro / A Million And One Questions / Rhyme No More”
DJ Premier threw a kitchen sink worth of wrinkles into this beat, which is one of the more memorable instances of the producer joining forces with JAY-Z. The backdrop for the opening selection from the Brooklyn don’s sophomore release, In My Lifetime Vol. 1, this ditty is pronged with the elements of Latimore’s “Let Me Go” and elements from Issac Hayes’ “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” Complimented by a vocal sample from R&B star Aaliyah’s 1996 hit “One in a Million,” this offering inspired a stellar performance on the part of JAY-Z. It goes from rollicking to subdued and is a testament to Premo’s range and production prowess.
9. JAY-Z: “So Ghetto”
JAY-Z carried on tradition when he got in the studio with DJ Premier for this blistering salvo from his Vol. 3…Life and Times of S. Carter album. Sampling piano keys and guitar licks from “Sporco Ma Distinto” by Ennio Morricone, Premo speeds those elements up. This reinforces the track with thumping drum kicks and snares, which Hov navigates over on one of his most surgical rhyme spills to date.
10. Nas: “Nas Is Like”
In 1999, DJ Premier and Nas reminded rap fans of the magic that can be made as a result of their lethal combination with this composition from Nas’ third studio album, I Am. Taking chirps from Don Robertson’s “Why?,” DJ Premier flips by Don Robertson, Premo matches it with a sped up sample of John V. Rydgren and Bob R. Way spoken word poem, “What Child Is This?” adding his unique bounce to it with sturdy drum kicks and vocal scratches from Nas records of yesteryear.
11. Big L featuring Big Daddy Kane: “Platinum Plus”
Other MCs didn’t stand a chance before Big L hopped on this Premo production. But, after hearing the Harlem native rip the track to shreds, all efforts from the comp appeared even more futile. Bolstered by a sample of The Stylistics’ classic 1976 cut “My Funny Valentine by The Stylistics,” this heater finds DJ Premier getting busy with drums lifted from “A Few More Kisses to Go” by Isaac Hayes, which he chops up for this posthumous tour de force from the Lenox menace.
12. Mos Def: “Mathematics”
A guitar lick pilfered from The Fatback Band’s 1972 release “Baby I’m-a Want You” is matched with kicks and snares, which comprises the backing track for Mos Def’s dissertation on the numbers game. Rife with vocal scratches, Premo draws one-liners from the likes of Erykah Badu, Cutty Ranks, Ghostface Killah, and others for this creation that brought two of Brooklyn’s finest together.
13. Common featuring Bilal: “The 6th Sense”
While a majority of DJ Premier’s most memorable production credits came as a result of his work with the elite rap talent on the east coast, the beat maestro ventured outside of the five boroughs on a number of occasions to create classics for artists out of other regions. Common was among them. For the Chicagoan’s breakout album, Like Water for Chocolate, Premo blessed him with this gem, which draws from The Intruders 1973 ballad “Memories Are Here to Stay.” Dropping timely scratches from Mobb Deep’s Murda Muzik cut, “Allustrious,” the producer adds an infectious wrinkle to what is already among the most riveting beats in his arsenal.
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