October 1, 2008

Producers Guild: Six Shots from DJ Premier

Chris Martin is often referred to as the lead singer from Coldplay.

Usually, the person that offers up this musical fact is either (a) a fan of Coldplay, (b) a music critic, or (c) completely unaware that the name "Chris Martin" is terribly generic, and there are probably millions of guys in the world that share this moniker. Luckily for hip hop heads, one of those guys just so happens to be one of the best producers in the history of our chosen genre.

DJ Premier used to have a day job that consisted of being one half of the duo Gang Starr, alongside rapper-slash-producer Guru, but even when that group was around Primo went on the offensive, producing both singles and album tracks (read: "street" songs) for a wide variety of artists, from folks in his own crew, the Gang Starr Foundation, to outsiders, to folks on the West Coast, to the likes of Christina Aguilera. Primo's boom-bap-heavy production technique, mixed with choice samples (both musical and vocal), scratching, and a heavy-handed jazz influence, have brought to the world numerous examples of some of the finest that hip hop has to offer. With (almost) every effort, Premier's production is more of a co-star on the track, as opposed to background music: in fact, ninety percent of folks that frequent blogs and rap forums will oftentimes check out a song by an unknown artist specifically because DJ Premier is behind the boards. (Okay, I made that statistic up, but it's probably not that far off from the truth.)

What I hope to do with this new category is introduce some key selections from the catalog of hip hop producers, and although a lot of you will already be familiar with these tracks, some of you two might not be, and hopefully you'll be convinced to dive even further into the works of the producer in question. In no way am I saying that these next seven songs are Primo's best: they're simply some of my favorite songs, and there is always room for sequels if this post works out.

(Please note: I'm not actively trying to post the videos of each track, as some of them don't have official videos anyway. These selections are simply for your listening pleasure only, not for your eyes, so if you feel like actually watching the videos, Max assumes no responsibility if it sucks.)

Jeru the Damaja - "Me, Not The Paper (Remix)" (b-side from the "Me Or The Papes" single, 1997)

Jeru's "Me Or The Papes" (from Wrath Of The Math) found The Damaja riffing on golddigging women over some sparse piano keys, but its remix, "Me, Not The Paper", masterfully deconstructed the original song, mutating it from a brighter song (relatively speaking) into a dark and murky walk through the back alleys of New York, while Jeru flips the original subject matter into a monologue about how rhyming for the money is for chumps, while rhyming for the sake of rhyming, without saying anything of any substance, isn't much better. I especially love how Primo took the same basic concept (piano keys over a drum loop) and makes a completely different song, not just in the sound, but in the spirit: the Jeru presented here does not appear to be the same guy that was just spitting about the difference between a woman and a bitch.

Group Home featuring Amel Larrieux - "Suspended In Time (Groovy Remix)" (from the "Suspended In Time"/"The Realness" single, 1996)

I've trash talked Lil' Dap and Melachi The Nutcracker from Group Home on numerous occasions on the blog, but the simple fact is: neither one of these guys are great rappers (especially The Nutcracker). Their debut disc, Livin' Proof, was, um, living proof that a rap album could be either made or broken by the production provided, regardless of the level of talent behind the mic, and although DJ Premier did not, in fact, produce every song (a fact that a lot of websites and blogs seem to get wrong), his work on the disc was nothing short of extraordinary. The original version of "Suspended In Time", which appeared on the album, brought us two rappers stuck in their ways, trapped in a lifestyle that isn't easy to get out of. Primo's remix uses the exact same beat that he utilized on the original, but with one key difference: he reached out to Amel Larrieux, from the defunct R&B duo Groove Theory, to sing the hook, and her contribution takes the song to a different level. We all know how Max feels about bullshit R&B hooks on rap songs, but this is one of the handful of times where it actually works.

Royce da 5'9" - "Boom (Street Version)" (from the "Boom"/"Soldier's Story" single, 2000)

I actually didn't know that Royce had shot a video for this song until today. However, the video is for the album version (read: "major label version"), which includes an awkwardly-placed hook instead of simply relying on Primo's scratches, and I hate that version, so I'm not bothering with it. (Instead, you get a video of a guy doing a lot of broad jumping. Remember, this post isn't about the visuals.) The original version of "Boom" was released on Game Recordings, the label that (a) Royce was signed with before his boy Eminem blew the fuck up, provoking Columbia Records to come a-calling, and (b) is known for putting pics of models on their album and single covers instead of the artists themselves, and are now best known for the Hip Hop Honeys DVD series. Anyway. DJ Premier's fruitful relationship with Ryan Montgomery was cemented with this track, an ode to how much better a rapper Royce is than whomever he's comparing himself to at any given moment, and the musical accompaniment couldn't have been more perfect. Royce probably uses this shit as his entrance music whenever he walks into the bathroom.

Big Shug - "Crush" (from the "Crush"/"Official" 12-inch single, 1996)

I also never knew there was a video for this track. Big Shug is one of the lesser known members of the Gang Starr Foundation, and one of the perks of membership is access to DJ Premier beats whenever the hell you feel like rhyming. Nobody ever brings up this track when folks discuss and debate over Primo's best contributions to the game, and while it's not his best beat, it's great in its own way. The sounds sweep over you while Shug's slow and simple flow commands you to, if not listen, at least respect the fact that he's speaking. Also, the Inspectah Deck vocal sample is a nice touch. All of the green in the video clip is weirding me out, though.

Crooklyn Dodgers '95 - "Return Of The Crooklyn Dodgers" (from the Clockers soundtrack, 1995)

In 1994, Spike Lee released Crooklyn, and its soundtrack featured a trio of emcees not really known for working together often (Masta Ace, Buckshot, and Special Ed), recording under the name Crooklyn Dodgers for "Crooklyn", a track produced by A Tribe Called Quest (probably more Q-Tip than Ali Shaheed Muhammad). In 1995, Spike Lee released Clockers, and DJ Premier was brought in to create a sequel to the original "Crooklyn". What he ended up doing was completely destroying the memory of the original song. Primo brings in O.C., Chubb Rock, and his apprentice-at-the-time Jeru the Damaja (who has a history of getting on some of the best Primo-laced songs), and together the three men essentially rip shit up. The Chubb Rock spot surprised me at the time, especially since his social commentary (and general hatred towards Barbara Walters) wasn't what I was familiar with when it came to him, but it works. and O.C. and Jeru bring their worth to the table as well. For his part, Primo provides a beat that will probably rank among his all time best. Give it a listen and judge for yourself.

Ill Bill - "Society Is Brainwashed" (from The Hour of Reprisal, 2008)

This track is actually brand spanking new, and it shows that DJ Premier is still fully capable of bringing the "real hip hop" (a phrase which I'm not a fan of, but is a true statement) to the fans that still remain after the onslaught of garbage on the radio. Ill Bill, late of the group Non-Phixion, waxes poetically like a conspiracy theorist over a genuinely creepy-as-fuck Primo instrumental, one which is all about the dark and the dank. This is some good shit right here, but only for those of you two readers that actually like songs where the rapper is trying to actively open your eyes.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave them below. Hopefully this category will receive a good enough response to keep it alive. And, once again, these are not intended to be Max's favorite six Primo beats. DJ Premier has so many great songs that I will probably never be able to get to them all on this blog, but that doesn't mean I can't write about him again...



  1. DJ Premier= absolute greatness!!

    i dunno what else can be said... possibly the best producer in hip-hop! with Dr. Dre being 2nd. but hey, that's just my opinion!

  2. man you chose some pretty weak tracks. The darker sides no doubt. I actually prefer the original Me or the Papes much more. Have you heard the Snoop/Primo colaboration? That kills almost anything here. Boom is really the shit though. I love that track. But... man I dont understand the point of showing weak tracks when there are so many strong ones.

  3. Great post about the best producer ever. While I've been a fan ever since I picked up Moment of truth it's cool to see there's still a lot of stuff from him I haven't heard before

  4. cenzi - as far as I know, there are at least two Primo/Snoop collaborations, and neither one of them can hold a candle to any of the six songs I posted here. One of them is actually pretty good ("The One and Only") but the other, "Batman & Robin", is so hilariously awful that it actually sucks the street cred out of "The One and Only".

    Just thought I'd throw in my two cents before other readers become appalled that you said that a Snoop/Primo collaboration trumps "Crooklyn Dodgers '95".

    Thanks for reading!

  5. i wouldve loved to see the big picture intro on here. as far as a more upbeat primo instrumental, this ranks with the best.

  6. I said "almost"... Ill Bill's song? meh. You put on Jeru's papes track, a mere B Side, and not "Come Clean"? ok, you said it, you can't put all the best ever tracks here... but you chose mad weak shit. "Crush" is dull copmared to Suge's "The Way It Iz". Why even put any Group Home BS here, that could have been easily replaced by M.O.P, and NO, I don't mean "Rugged Never Smoove" shitty ass remix. Shit even Afu Ra. But noooo, Max had to waste one of the five spots on a couple of nobodys.
    No KRS tracks? "Rapperz R N Danjah" KILLS and SMOTHERS your prized Crooklyn Dodgers. No Nas tracks? As much as I like BOOM, "Nas Is Like" is like the original concept of the same beat.
    Now if you wanna be a dick about it too, your write up is weak too. IF you want to write about a producer, why not talk about the different styles he manages. Premier went from straight sampling until he bit Shock G's style(thats right, name me one producer who spliced samples before him). and that whole starting point with Chris Martin? damn man.. you're not even funny sometimes...

  7. Oooh, did I leave a bruise on your ego or something? Then I WILL actually be a dick about it. As I mentioned seventy-six times, I only picked six songs that I like, with the intention of continuing and writing about more. The KRS song is NOT better than "Crooklyn Dodgers '95", but it IS a good song, so much so that I originally wanted to include it before I narrowed it down to these six. The Ill Bill song was included because (a) I like the song, and (b) because it's a NEW song, since people complain that I don't write about enough new stuff on here. I realize that it was inevitable that people would wonder why certain songs weren't chosen, but I don't care: if these six songs lead folks into other Primo productions that they wouldn't have found otherwise, then I'll be happy. If it takes another six songs to get people interested, then that's what it takes.

    In regard to Jeru, "Come Clean" would have been a bit too obvious. I was originally aiming for more obscure tracks, but then gave up and wrote about Royce. But I am glad that you somehow decided to take this post personally.

    Thanks for reading!

  8. Wow, no one gave cenzi love as a kid.

    But aside from that, keep up the great work Max, it's always entertaining to read your blog and find out about some stuff I've never heard of before.


  9. I like this idea, and I look forward to further Producer's Guild posts on Pete Rock, Dr Dre, J Dilla etc., although not too many producers are as prolific and cover the variety of artists that Primo does.
    I didn't fully understand the track selection at first, because of the intermingling of better known tracks with the overlooked ones. My suggestion for future posts in this category is to choose the songs that best exemplify and capture the style of each respective producer.

    I'm looking forward to the next one.


  10. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessOctober 02, 2008

    Whoa. Good thing you commanded everyone to buy Daily Operation or Cenzi would be totally pissed.

  11. how about "THE RUNNERS"?

    their production is stunning, especially "Husltin"

  12. hahaha.. okay y'all.. I wasn't aware that you would do another Primo post. I jus happen to be a big fan, and yes Crooklyn Dodgers is at the bottom of this fans list. But yeah, I guess I can respect your Modus Operandi. I'll admit to huffing and puffing over nothing, but Max you gotta admit to wasting EVERYONE's time showing some obscure shit from Group Home. There is NO way that you can sit there without laughing and telling me that Snoop's track is not better than Group Home's.

  13. good post - some favorite Primo beats for me include "playtawin" and "work"

    if i was an emcee looking for a dark beat though, i'd go to JMT's Stoupe first every single time. that dude is NASTY

  14. Just wanted to say that I dig this new entry, Max. It's stuff like this that proves Hip Hop still lives.

  15. cheers max, premier is the best.

    KRS-One - MC's act like they don't know
    Nas - Nas is like
    Rakim - When I B on the mic
    Non Phixion - Rock Stars
    Big Daddy Kane - Any Type of way
    Common - 6th Sense
    Lox - Recognize
    Termanology - So Amazing

    all good songs that would definitely get people into premo. good article though.

  16. "completely destroying the memory of the original song"....yeh,right

  17. here are some suggestions for when you analyze more Premo songs in the future:

    Torae feat. Skyzoo- Click
    Termanology- Watch How It Go Down
    Fat Joe- The Shit Is Real (DJ Premier Remix)
    Das EFX- Real Hip Hop
    The LOX- Recognize
    AZ- The Format
    KRS One- MCs Act Like They Don't Know

    okay, that is all! lol peace

  18. "What he ended up doing was completely destroying the memory of the original song"

    Come on Max that line is an absolute joke. Both Crooklyn tracks rock. If it came down to it I'd probably say I prefer the original.

    I can't go past Biggie - Unbelievable though, simply awesome track.

  19. great concept. i will be interested to see how future posts turn out. as stated before probly not the most obvious choices from preem's catalog but then again its pretty hard to choose six joint's out of one of the greatest producer's entire range.

  20. Hey Max, first of all I just stumbled across your board and I'm loving it. I like your reviews and you seem to have good taste in terms of what the top tracks in an album are. It saves me the time of having to listen to bullshit.

    Lmao at Cenzi getting sensitive. And also lmao at the "Batman & Robin" hate. I LOVE that track. Is it ridiculous? Absolutely. Is it not gangsta? You're damn right. But that doesn't mean it isn't dope in a cartoonish, hilarious way. Only Premo could have pulled it off.

    Didn't know "Crush" had a video. good looking. And that New Ill Bill isn't bad at all - saw the video when Premo was talking about working with Ill months ago but never knew the track actually dropped.



  21. my favorite lesser known premier beat is doobie ashtray with devin the dude, its just such a smooth mellow beat it sounds nothin like premier, and its nice seeing premier get back to his houston roots, also that single he did for that group all city was pretty nice, i forget the song name though

  22. collabos beetwen krs-one and premo are amazing (i think the best is "mc's act like they don't know") and snoop's "the one and only" is sick as hell, but "return of the crooklyn dodgers" is better.. i don't say that is the best premo beat but it could be (that track is too much). "me, not the paper" rock's and it's much better than the original version "me or the papes" (and it's a better choice than a classic like "come clean")
    but i don't agree with you (max) with the "suspended in time (remix)", i mean that i prefer the original version the R&B chorus it's not necessary in it

    and thanks for the big shug's track i've never heard it before and it's awesome

    check da king & i "fliip to da script (remix)" i think it's a rare premo remix maybe you don't know it and it's fucking amazing

  23. How come you haven't done another one of these? I doubt cenzi still comes here, you're in the clear Max.

    Anyways, I still don't understand why people don't understand the concept of someone's own blog. Do you really think Max gives a shit about how much you hate his selection? Do you think Max is laughing at you for wasting your time bitching about something you can't change because it is, in fact, this man's blog and not your own? I don't see why you all huff and puff when you're on this blog for a reason: to read this man's opinion. His opinion made the write up and the selection of this piece and if you like, congrats, if you don't, who gives a fuck. You're wasting everybody's time by bitching, unless you're cenzi; then you're just being straight funny.

    Anyways! I listened to those tracks, really enjoyed them, and to all you stans who critique what he said about Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers, shut up. Primo's Crooklyn > the original Crooklyn, and that's just a straight up fact from all angles.

    Other then that, great write up. I come on here to read your opinion and to laugh cause you always come with the comedy (and the knowledge!). I'm gonna go with Nicolo with having selections that more showcase what the "sound" of the producer is, but your opinion is always what drives me to this blog so do whatever the fuck you want, I just want more of these write ups.

    PS: Get on that One Be Low - S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M. review.

  24. Are these the type of posts you think people don't respond to why you don't do them anymore? Do you not think this comment section was not entertaining? Do you not think that your readers don't want you to shine light on songs that never make albums? Don't you love controversy and criticism from readers? When people go out their way to insult you? When people are quick to respond when you discuss the best producer in hip hop?

    I'm continuously asking you questions to make a point. And the number of comments isn't the only factor in judging the quality of the comment section; what the comments actually SAY, do. Like I said, read this comment section. You mean to tell me talking about the control verse won't get you comments? This is what I'm saying Max, your letting your blog restrict talking about only songs on albums.

    In closing, on behalf of all the readers, please consider bringing shit like these back. I can imagine you must hate spending ages on a review and only getting a few hit pages and comments. Keep feeding us with discussion about hip hop in general so that we have something to keep us going for reviews of albums that we actually care about.


    1. Two reasons:

      (1) I'm lazy.

      (2) Not many people have requested that I bring back this feature. I still play around with random articles, but at the moment I'm focused on the ongoing project. I realize the value of talking about individual tracks, and I hope to eventually bring this feature back, but at the moment I have no plans.

      Good to know that someone else enjoyed this, though. And as other comments sections have let on, I could give a shit about the insults.