The roars begin from the outset as Christopher Martin, better known as DJ Premier, edges slowly towards the very instruments that fortified his legend status. The man looks mystifying in the eclipse of murky stage lights that illuminate his playground. As a music journalist I’ve come across this build up like clockwork, but few ever compare to this vintage vibe, one whose roots predate my own foray into hip-hop.
With one arm raised, fingers held towards the ceiling, Premo shouts his hype chant.
“Check it, one two y’all, one two y’all!” he hollers with a verbiage that embodies ‘old school’. “Check it out y’all, who-we-be-yo, P-R-H-Y-M-E, we are PRhyme, PRhyme, word up!”
With over 25 years of his hands maneuvering across turntables, this all seems like a routine preface for the DJ often regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time. To add to the legend, on this night he shares a stage with Royce Da 5’9 – his counterpart in PRhyme – who dawns a parallel “golden era” sound as referenced by the emcee himself.
“What’s better than hip-hop, hip-hop?” Royce shouts in the direction of raised hands. “I know my streets, I know my sound!” His rap verses dance with faultless rhythms that sync with Premier’s fitting beats.
This class of collaborative harmony has been a common place for Premier, whose roots began in 1989, when he was one half of the hip-hop group Gang Starr, alongside the late emcee Guru. His mixes infused a sound inherently New York hip-hop, mixed with rudiments of jazz and soul. Since then it has been a constant journey of experimentation and growth.
“Royce convinced me to do it, because I was against doing a project where I could only mess with one person,” says DJ Premier, when asked about PRhyme, just one of many collaborations he’s lent his creative juices to during his career. “When I thought about it, his perspective was ‘you’ve never done this in your whole career and you said you like challenges, why not take on a challenge you haven’t done before.’”
That’s been an undeniable theme for Premier who has often abandoned stationary images of style in favour of versatility in sound. He has persistently run away from the risks of irrelevancy through his willingness to challenge himself through a variation of artists from Nas, Snoop Dogg, Jay Z, Kanye West, The Notorious B.I.G, Big Daddy Kane and Immortal Technique, all the way to more unconventional artists separate from the hip-hop scene such as Christina Aguilera and Limp Bizkit.
Back in 2014, Premier reintroduced himself with serial spitter Royce Da 5’9 and formed a first-time collab with psych-soul producer Adrian Younge.
“I wanted to make sure I could handle the person. Sometimes I could not like the other person, but if I love their music, I’ll make an album,” Premier explains. “Adrian Younge gave me a very big understanding of how technical his dream is and then on top of that, he said that he still likes everything from 1968 to 1974, he feels like that’s the golden age of recording music period.”
This trek of the past and present professedly seems to be the motif of our conversation, one that as a writer of the culture can often spark feelings of reverence and intimidation amidst someone so adorned. Premier’s down to earth nature consistently combats that idea, however, seeping through any illusions of grandeur as he speaks simply about an era that has governed his state of mind.
“The stuff on the radio is fine … but throw in a fucking PRhyme record, throw in a Planet Asia record …”
“That whole conversation with Adrian Younge took me back to my mom when I was a little boy,” says Premier, explaining that being born in 1966, he grew up listening to records from the era Younge is so fond of. “She said, ‘don’t put your fingers on top of the record holder. You ever get your fingers on that, I’ll beat your ass!’ … You would think [Adrian] was my age, I’m .”
Numbers associated with Premier’s age suggest something contrary to his personality. He’s a fast talker, darting from one subject to the next, somehow allowing them all to intertwine into something meaningful. He’s young in thought and the digits associated with his age do little in concealing just how aware he is about today’s industry, even in relation to the commercial success, or lack thereof, when it came to projects like PRhyme.
“Like Royce says, for balance,” says Premier, when asked about why collabs like PRhyme need to exist. “The stuff on the radio is fine … but throw in a fucking PRhyme record, throw in a Planet Asia record, or other record that’s currently out … Why do we know these records? Because we have the same grizzly style of music, so we’re aware of it. Give us some play too, because back in the day we had that. We understand the reason that it doesn’t exist, but you still have to not be afraid to force a change. We force change.”
“I’m doing it because I love it, not because I have to.”
It’s those same changes in musical taste and style that have complemented his attraction towards the new. Beyond this truth, there’s no mistaking his OG natural instinct to challenge the standards of today – a trait that only a man raised in the golden era of sound would be compelled to do.
“We got technology now, no more recorded tape, we got Pro Tools,” says Premier. “… The Pro Tools and Logic [Pros] of the world, all that stuff has enhanced real producers. These wannabe beat makers are doing it and are just so amateur. A lot of them don’t even have any respect for the people who opened doors for them. It may be that way, but I’m not that way with them. As long as they don’t talk disrespectful to me in my face, they won’t get smacked.”
My short time with DJ Premier leaves me with an appetite for the hidden stories and insights that make up his world because clearly he’s never shy about his opinions. Through it all, I’ve come to the conclusion that once the interview is over, irregardless of his age, the prospect of hustling for the sake of simply working will remain furthest from his mind. It’s the music that has and will continue to drive Christopher Martin ensuring that there will be plenty more tales to come.
“You can’t be  years old and still rocking, touring and doing things. And I’m doing it because I love it, not because I have to. I [could just] stay home and throw out records all day and never go on the road or do interviews, [but I don’t].”
Photos By. Isa Ransome © Urbanology Magazine