In more ways than one, they are the foundation of a soundscape that is still alive and prevalent in current times. After the golden age of rap circa the late 80s to early 90s, Premo and Pete originated a new, distinct sound that is held as the holy canon for the 90s and the first decade of the 21st century. This isn’t a tale about old heads who had their time and threw the towel in while they were on top. This is very much a most fortunate encounter with two storied beatsmiths who indisputably shaped the ear of all devout hardcore hip hoppers
Just a few months ago, the good folks at Red Bull Music granted us the fortune to sit down with these two icons the day after mesmerizing an awestruck Vancouver crowd for nearly two hours as the headliners of Red Bull Thre3style. I would like to say that we spent a whole afternoon rubbing shoulders with Premo and Pete, exchanging memories about how monumental Gangstarr was to our adolescence or how many mixes full of Pete’s remixes and instrumentals we possess – or that first life-changing experience when “New York State of Mind” and “The World Is Yours” permeated our eardrums. However, it played out more like a frantic 15-minute spot that had us scrambling to ask the duo at least some, if not all the questions that we had been storing in our memory banks since we began studying their discographies in grade school. Some of our questions made the cut and sadly most had to be scrapped due to time constraints. To speak from the heart, all we could really hope for in our conversation was that we expressed, and they recognized our appreciation for each of them and their extensive catalogs of hits, remixes and rarities. For just a few moments in the Red Bull Media Lounge that afternoon, we were able to pick their brains about several topics including their experience with the Academy, working with The Throne, current projects, Illmatic 2 and a few anecdotes about some legendary sessions.
Red Bull Music has become a big deal in the past couple years. It’s amazing what RBMA’s been able to do for music, especially for hip-hop heads. What’s it like headlining events like these?
Pete Rock: An absolute great feeling, absolutely flattered. This is fun for us. This is playtime, doing spot dates here and there in San Francisco, LA, Japan, Toronto, with Nas at Rock The Bells.
Premo, you have been involved with the Academy for a while now. You participated in an RBMA lecture in 2007 with a handpicked group of talented students and worked with them in workshops, how did things turn out in that closed off environment?
DJ Premier: Everything we’re involved in is going to come off in proper ways because we represent the culture to the fullest. When you represent like that everything else just flows and that’s how it was. Even last night’s show everybody was saying, “Yo the way you did this, this & this…”. We didn’t even rehearse. We always just meet up in either my room or his room and say, “Yo what’re we going to do tonight” (laughs). We wing a rough idea.
Pete: We wing it all the time.
You guys spun for quite a
while, maybe an hour and
a half set.
Pete: We needed more time
because we’d be up there all damn
Premo: We did original samples,
rock, new wave.
Speaking of original samples, how did you pick out that 5 second sample from Ahmad Jamal’s “I Love Music”? Was it one of those joints that you always listened to or did you instantly pick it out on first listen. To this day, “World Is Yours” is my favourite Pete Rock beat and when listening to “I Love Music” I flip out every time I hear that sample at that 5:15 mark.
Pete: I don’t know. I think, well what it was I was running some drums on the drum machine and I was fucking with the record. That part came and I was like wait a minute…(rewinds record).
Is that a record that you’ve always listened to or you just picked it up out of the blue one day?
Pete: Yea, it was something that I was picking from when I first discovered the album. I thought it was kind of ill and then I noticed that he used it for Jeru’s record, “Papes”.
Petestrumentals was a widely appreciated album even as a simple collection of your unused or throwaway beats. What’s it going to take for a Petestrumentals 2?
Pete: I’m doing that right now. It’s just beats. Putting out unreleased
Read more below..
You’ve been doing a lot of work with Jay and Kanye, can you give us some insight into what those studio sessions are like? Being holed up in a studio with the whole camp rather than just making a beat and sending it out by email.
Pete: Sometimes it’s like that. Really trustworthy artists who we have great relationships with, we have no problem emailing a beat. With new artists, it’s a little different. I’d rather play the beats in front of them, they pick something and we work it out.
Premo: Someone like Termanology, he loves to be there in the session. He wants to cut vocals with you. With Jay I’ve always been with him. With Ye I’ve never been in there with him, even when he did “Mama’s Boyfriend”. The wrong version leaked out but the version that I did scratches on, he called me at 5 in the morning saying, “I know it’s last minute but I need you to do these scratches right now”. He had done the scratches himself but didn’t like it so he sent me the parts and I sent the scratches right back.
He’s an artist who knows what he wants for his albums. I submitted tracks for Watch The Throne that did not make it and it’s not a big deal. It’s not like we’re not going to work together again. Ye’s formula usually is where he’ll do an album and if there’s something he likes but doesn’t fit he’ll go, “I’m starting the next album with this”. If a certain beat doesn’t fit the vision for that particular album then he might save it for the next one but by that time I might’ve used it for something else.
But I’d rather make a newer one anyway because I like to make it as I go. Make ‘em fresh. That’s always actually been my method to make a track on the spot, but everybody’s different. He might bang out 10 beats in one day and that’s his method. Mine, I’ve always just
Pete: Beat block.
For these next couple questions please describe these persons or places in a few words. Greene St. Recording studios
Pete: Bomb Squad. Ice Cube’s albums. Seeing Hank (Shocklee), Keith (Shocklee) and Steve all together working on Public Enemy. It was an amazing spectating session. That’s partly where I got my inspiration from, adding all these samples together and making something crazy. Even samples that don’t match tone-wise but just making it sound like a f***ing noise.
One word to describe Large Pro?
Elecric Lady Studios.
Premo: D’Angelo and I did Devil’s Pie there. Being in a session with D and with J Dilla. I brought Alchemist to introduce me to D’Angelo. We smoked weed all day long. Dilla and us would just play beats, D’Angelo videotaped me for an hour telling me, “Take all my records and start scratching” and he just had beats running and I’m cutting. I’m just freestyling cuts while D’Angelo’s bugging out. To hip hop heads like us it’s normal to see us just bug out and cut on the wheels, but he’s not used to seeing that on the regular cutting his records, taking his voice and breaking it down over beats. Meanwhile, you got Dilla just sitting there and rolling up another one. We just had the best time together and the last time I saw Dilla was at that session.
I have my favourite Primo joints “NY State of Mind”, “2nd Childhood”, “You Know My Steez”, Common’s “Sixth Sense”, Devin’s “Doobie Ashtray”, “Mathematics” and all of Jeru’s stuff. But there’s another song I’d like to ask, that was sort of a departure from your hardcore boom bap. D’Angelo’s, “Devil’s Pie” is something people may not know you produced (also contains 6 samples). My question is, what’s the difference between producing a hip-hop joint versus a soul/r&b joint?
Premo: No difference. Devil’s Pie was originally made for Canibus; for “Nigganometry”. ‘Bus didn’t like it and I got a call from D’Angelo maybe an hour later like, “Yo, what’re you upto?”. I told him I was just wrapping up this Canibus session where I worked on a beat that he didn’t want to use. D’Angelo wanted to hear it and asked me to meet him at Electric Lady. I went over there, played it for him, he jumped up and said he was going to write it right then and there. I remember Lyor Cohen of Def Jam was there and he immediately wanted to put it in Belly with Nas and DMX. Needless to say, it got in the movie, you remember the part where they were cooking the heron and shit.
As producers, it is expected that you explore a plethora of musical genres, but other than rap, jazz or soul acts who do you two listen to?
Premo & Pete: Rush, ACDC, Chicago, Iron Maiden, Anthrax, Genesis, Van Halen, D Bo. The Monkees, The Beatles, The Smiths, early U2.
Switching gears a bit, I assume you guys saw the Tribe documentary. You both have come from that group dynamic. Is it really a necessary thing to have these colliding personas in order to make the records that they made?
I want to get into Illmatic 2 or another Nas project that involves you guys. I know you’ve been on the record saying that if Nas is going to do that album that you want that same core. Who would you add to the roster other than the original core?
Pete: NOBODY. That’s something very sacred.
Premo: LES was the only dude who we considered the honorary producer because Nas brought him in to do “Life’s A Bitch”. That’s how we met AZ. I was at that session and I also met Nas’ father that night. That was actually the last song that was recorded, everything else was done. I went to Pete’s session at Battery Studios when he laid the scratches for “It’s Yours” live. All the cuts that’s laid, he did it in one take and I had never seen nobody do that in one take except for Doc The Butcher on “Talk Like Sex”. Polo’s wrist was hurt so he couldn’t cut, so Doc did the “rated, XXX”. I watched him lay it that day in one take.
Pete: Kool G Rap, yup I remember that.
Premo: But to get back to the “World Is Yours”, I remember it was me, [Pete], Nas, Large Pro and LES in that little room at Battery Studios. I had never seen nobody [but Pete] put the delay on while he was scratching. I was like, “Damn OK, that’s how you do it, well I’m stealing his idea”. and I’ve been stealing from him from that day on.
Pete: [Laughs] we steal from each other.
What’s your favourite Pete Rock joint/Primo joint?
Pete: Wow, one?…Hmmm, Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers. [laughs] That’s the illest shit.
Premo: As much as I want to say “They Reminisce (Over You)” which is one of my all time favourites, I was really a big fan of “Mecca & the Soul Brotha”.
Pete: Yea, you always say that. [Laughs]
Premo: Yea, because I was like, “Yo where is he getting these sounds?” [Pete hums "Mecca & The Soul Brotha" tune]. He made stuff that I wish I made.
Pete: And vice versa. I wish I would’ve made some of that Biggie shit.
Premo: When “Shut Em Down Remix” came out, it was like everybody was calling saying, “Yo did you hear this Pete Rock shit?”. It was just that huge, especially in New York and it sounded like a PE record.
Pete: Yea, it was good feedback.
Stills by Chris Vallejo