Beat Drop: DJ Premier.

[We’re bumping this post up because we’ve received some input from a person you’d probably trust more than us when it comes to dope production — and that person is Toronto-born and Brooklyn-based producer Marco Polo, whose debut album Port Authority is in stores now, on Soulspazm/Rawkus. For more on Marco, check out his MySpace, and Lethal’s interview with him from March.]

On Common’s “The People”, one of his teaser singles off of Finding Forever, the Chi-town MC mentions that he has found “the new Primo” — no doubt referencing the track’s producer, one Kanye West. Noz of XXL/Cocaine Blunts fame, attacked this statement a while back, and though I agree that Kanye is not “the new Primo”, I’ll avoid jumping into that debate. What grabs my attention is the fact that, apparently, someone feels it necessary to label someone else as “the new Primo.”

Of course, this lyric certainly wasn’t intended as a diss to DJ Premier, what with Preem having worked with Common in the past, not to mention providing the cuts to Finding Forever‘s other teaser single, “The Game”. But, granted, “Works of Mart” just aren’t dropping like they were back in 199_ (fill in the blank). Gang Starr appears to be on permanent vacation, Jeru The Damaja and Group Home have long since severed their ties with Preem (and, not coincidentally, disappeared off the face of the planet), and the “usual suspects” for an occasional DJ Premier collabo (i.e. Jay-Z, Nas, M.O.P.) have all seemingly moved on to “greener pastures” and, sadly, appear to not need him anymore. [Or, perhaps Preem is just living comfortably off that Christina Aguilera paper.]

Whatever the case, if hip hop and/or Common feels the need to anoint a “new” Primo, then we might as well pay homage to the (so-called) “old” Primo, whose productions still sound as fresh today as they did when they first came out. When you elevate yourself as a producer to become the personification of the sound of an entire region of hip hop music (New York), during arguably it’s greatest years (mid ’90s), and you’re not even from that region (Preem’s originally from Houston), you are officially the shit. Take a bow.

The tat on DJ Premier’s arm reads “Reputation is the cornerstone of power” — here are the tracks that myself, Lethal, Marco Polo and friend-of-ML Kold Shadow hold as defining that reputation…

Marco Polo’s Picks

Let it be known that this was really hard to narrow down for me, but here’s my picks:

The way he chops some Yo Yo Ma shit is crazy. The concept of the song is crazy too, and, of course, Deck murders it.

This has to be one of the best Primo beats ever and the chop/loop could NEVER get old. New producers tend to over produce because their drums and samples are wack. Primo’s shit hardly changes up and that’s the beauty of it.

The fucking drums on this song smash your face up and them horns are incredible. Nobody was fucking with Primo’s drums during that time. Boom bap champion for life.

Those horns are sick, classic Primo drums. One of the best songs on Reasonable Doubt. A classic!

Preem on his drum break shit. Classic NY anthem, in my opinion. If you don’t own Illmatic, try not to let anyone know that and go buy that shit right fuckin’ now.

Lethal’s Picks

It’s hard for me to pick a top 5 — I have only one top cut and then bunches that I really like. So other than my favorite, the rest are DJ Premier rarities that I enjoy. Anyways, my favorite Primo track of all time is:

No description needed. If you don’t like this track, quit hip hop. Does anyone know what the extended remix appeared on first? [According to OHHLA, it was the b-side to the “City Is Mine” 12″. And also, according to Wikipedia, on the album version, the beat in the 2nd half of the song is the same as the beat in the 1st half, but played backwards. — Buhizzle]

Primo does a West Coast track, adding some sci-fi shit to a minimal beat. I miss Xzibit rapping pre-Pimp My Ride.

Primo can remix (and make) a pop record as well as anyone. He adds a much better bass line and loop than the original. Ignore that this is a pop song, and enjoy vintage Mos Def.

Big L & Jay-Z vocal samples in between various drums and horn-like sounds give you one of Primo’s more complex beats. (Edit: Apparently this is a Paul Nice remix, but sure sounds like Primo!!)

Simple, yet sick. Just some bells over a little mysterious bass line. Primo was cutting up vocal samples before it was the hip thing to do.

Bonus: Limp Bizkit – “N 2 Gether Now” featuring Method Man

Not a rare-but-I-bet-you-didn’t-know-it-was-Primo pick. Ignore the Fred Durst verses. Ignore the fact that he screwed Primo over (see below). Still a good beat.

[From a Freddie Foxxx interview with Tha Formula

Freddie Foxxx – Like when I talk about Fred Durst. I think he’s a cocky bastard who thinks he’s bigger then everybody. He indicated that in the way he treated Premier when Premier reached out for him to try to put down a Gangstarr Foundation label with him. He was with it at first, but then he backed out and didn’t return his calls and it was real foul how he treated him. – So Fred Dursts’ bitch ass dissed Premier huh?

Freddie Foxxx – Yeah, big time. – But why would you wanna hook up with a chump like that anyway?

Freddie Foxxx – But see the thing is it was business. Premier was sayin’ “listen I got this label with all these hot rappers on it. You fund it and let’s make money. You don’t have to be involved. Nobody needs Fred Durst input. I told Premier, “yo dog I’m only gonna fuck with the situation if you do you. I’m not fucking with him directly cause he ain’t really Hip-Hop. He’s using Hip-Hop to get a platform to do other shit like Kid Rock did. So fuck them! I’m really about my culture and about what this music is about. Fuck all them clowns man.]

Shadow’s Picks

Superb gem off of Moment Of Truth featuring the Geto Boy, where Scarface and Guru trade stories of backstabbing.

The unofficial single from the 4th volume of the Beantown beast’s Hood Politics bootlegs.

The first track leaked from his upcoming LP Street Hop, where Royce makes wonderful analogies comparing rapping and boxing.

My favorite track from Esco’s seminal debut LP, where Nasty’s incredibly intriguing rhymes are matched by a Primo gem.

Another gem from Moment Of Truth, where Primo and Guru show much respect for the dead.

Buhizzle’s Picks

There’s something self-righteous about being able to identify a sampled song without the need of liner notes, and more so, it really shows a producer’s talent when they can take something you’ve heard before and make it sound brand new. That’s what Primo did here, slightly speeding up Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ well-known “I Put A Spell On You” to create one of Biggie’s most heralded classics.

Probably Gang Starr’s most well-known song ever, no doubt in large part due to the addictive Primo melody (which you may have also heard on Lil’ Wayne and Robin Thicke’s “Shooter”). I think this song is what Guru had in mind on the equally-addictive “You Know My Steez” when he rapped, “Stealin’ at least 3 minutes of every rap radio hour.”

Out of all of the hooks Primo has composed out of scratching together other people’s rhymes, I’d say this was his most well-constructed. The lines from Snoop Dogg’s “Murder Was The Case” and from Prodigy’s verse on LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya (Remix)” fit in perfectly with the theme of the track — I don’t think anyone, even Jay, could’ve written a better hook. It’s even crazier when you consider that this came out around the same time as Tha Dogg Pound’s “New York, New York” (which featured Snoop on its chorus) and Capone-N-Noreaga’s “L.A., L.A.” (which featured Prodigy on its chorus).

One of Primo’s trademarks was to put multiple beats into a single song — the most well-known of these are likely Gang Starr’s “I’m The Man” and “Speak Ya Clout”, both featuring verses from Jeru The Damaja and Lil’ Dap alongside Guru, with a different beat for each verse. But this track off of M.O.P.’s Warriorz album is my personal favorite — it starts off with a slow-moving, rumbling track for Billy Fame to spit solemnly over, then switches to an up-beat head-nodder just in time for Lil’ Fame to flip it with some good ol’ shit-talk.

Though the original “Crooklyn” was a classic in its own right, and sequels typically aren’t better than originals, this track right here is damn-near perfect. Chubb and Jeru have two of the most unique styles in hip hop, and O.C. ain’t too shabby himself, but the way Primo’s legendary bells (ding… ding… ding…) resonate through every other bar of the chorus is what ties everything together.

Bonus: Gang Starr – “JFK 2 LAX”

Shadow showed enough love to Moment Of Truth, but with it being my favorite Gang Starr album, I can’t not mention “JFK 2 LAX” , which was the album’s highlight for me. I can think of no better example of how to loop a short sample of vocals to create a melody — although, “Ice Water” off Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is definitely a close second.

On the next go-round — eh, we’ll surprise you. If you have any suggestions for a producer to talk about, let us know.

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There are 21 comments

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  1. Jaz

    Dope post and I agree with some of these selections, I would never refer to Kanye as the new Primo..they are so far apart it’s not funny, besides Kanye has not done enough to even be compared to the God.

    The Conflict remix wasn’t a DJ Premier remix and a lot of people have been misled by this.

    I have been told by knowledgeable sources that it was a remix Paul Nice did and wasn’t commercially released.


  2. BLieve

    Kanye and Primo got entirely different styles. Only producer fucking with Primo in hip hop is HiTek. Keep your posts up enjoy reading them.

  3. KoldShadow

    I love contributing to this site . . . my summer has been pretty bland (well, weak like a Lil’ Flip verse is more like it) so far but as long as I have my tunes, I have my sanity . . . *SALUTE*

  4. Aaron

    Excellent shit, my dudes. I oughta check this site more often.
    Lots of shit I’ve been looking for a for a while and great writeups.

  5. Swag Diesel

    Some that no one mentioned: Supa Star – Group Home
    Look 4 tha Name – Sonja Blade
    Some Shit – Lady of Rage
    I committed murder remix -Macy Gray & Mos
    Handle Ur Bizness (98″ Premier Remix ?) – M.O.P. It’s all pretty impossible to choose 5

  6. illest

    Marco Polo says no one was fuckin with Primos drums at that time. Pete Rocks drums were iller.
    What about Brownsville- MOP or
    Set up on Moment of Truth
    D and D all Stars

  7. Jeff

    Next up
    1.Kanye West(put some of yaez 90s shit to show growth)
    2.Scott Storch
    5.Just Blaze
    6.Jermaine Dupri
    7.Jazzy Pha
    8.Mannie Fresh
    9.Daz Dillinger(snoop and pacs stuff)
    10.Swizz Beat’s

    lol think that’ll keep ya busy

  8. Scott

    Primo used a different sample for the second half of “A Million and One Questions.” It was a track off of the soundtrack for the movie “Airport 1975.” Still a sick track though.

  9. Gez

    Three of my personal favourites that didn’t make the cut:

    Afu-Ra – “Defeat”
    Notorious B.I.G. ft Method Man and Redman – “Rap Phenomenon”
    Jeru – “Me or the Papes”


  10. V-Man

    I know this is an old post but I thought I should get my two cents in too :) awesome post. DJ Premier is one of my favourite but not having learnt about hip hop in that era, I find the best way to learn about these old cats is to make mixtapes & mixes to educate myself. I think you left out a few gems. Tell me what you think:
    1. Common – Used to lover H.E.R. or The 6th Sense
    2. Masta Ace – Acknowledge
    3. Jay-Z – Dead Presidents
    4. Big L – Flamboyant
    5. Royce – Hip-Hop
    6. Gangstarr – Right Where You Stand
    7. Biggie – 10 Crack COmmandments

    Well I know that went over your top 5 but it just goes to show what an amazing producer this guy is. There’s more but those were a few I have in constant rotation. Cheers from Oz.

  11. nascO

    this some ol’ stuff, but i jus’ read it so y not comment 4 ma best producer…
    kanye west aint neva gon’ b the new primo. wat ws common thinkin? jus’ coz kanyes beats r tight n cheap, don’ 4get who ‘s #1 on the top 100 hiphop producers. i aint even know were kanye is standin. man, premo’s da bomb! kanye aint used to producin some REAL HIP HOP. yo kanye, u readin this, u can only b tightr than premo if u mek HITS 4

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