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No more than three producers (Dr. Dre, RZA, and Prince Paul) can test DJ Premier's status as the most important trackmaster of the '90s, and no style is more distinctive. Aggressive and raw, a Premier track was an instantly recognizable soundclash of battling loops and heavy scratching -- all of them perfectly timed -- that evoked the sound of Brooklyn better than anyone. Besides helming tracks for his main concern, Gang Starr, since their 1989 debut, Premier's productions appeared on many of the East Coast's most important records: Nas' Illmatic, the Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt, Jeru the Damaja's The Sun Rises in the East, and Mos Def's Black on Both Sides.
Premier, born Chris Martin, spent time in Brooklyn and Houston while growing up, and studied computer science at Prairie View A&M outside Houston. Known as Waxmaster C, he'd already learned to play a variety of instruments and also managed a record store. After moving back to Brooklyn, around 1987-1988 he came into contact with Guru, a Boston native. Guru had already formed a group named Gang Starr two years earlier (and recorded with the 45 King), but his former partner, Mike Dee, had returned to Boston. DJ Premier and Guru signed to Wild Pitch and released a debut single ("Manifest") and album (No More Mr. Nice Guy). Gang Starr's interest in melding hip-hop with jazz informed the record, and they were invited to add to the soundtrack for Spike Lee's 1990 film Mo' Better Blues. Their subsequent work was much more mature and unified, with a pair of instant East Coast classics (1991's Step in the Arena and 1992's Daily Operation) arriving in short order.
DJ Premier had been working with other vocalists for years, and his productions for the 1990 landmark Funky Technician by Lord Finesse and DJ Mike Smooth cemented his status as one of the best producers around. He soon began recording exclusively at D&D Studios, a spot soon to become a shrine for hip-hop fans (thanks in large part to his own work). The year 1994 was a huge one for Premier, probably the best year for any rap producer ever; in addition to dropping another Gang Starr classic, Hard to Earn, his productions appeared on five-star, all-time classics by Nas (Illmatic), the Notorious B.I.G. (Ready to Die), and Jeru the Damaja (The Sun Rises in the East), as well as Big Daddy Kane and Branford Marsalis' Buckshot LeFonque project. Though his workload dropped off considerably during the late '90s, he still managed to place tracks on three of the first four Jay-Z albums, and returned in force with the new millennium, including shots with Common, D.I.T.C., D'Angelo, Jadakiss, and Snoop Dogg.
Christopher Edward Martin (born March 21, 1966), better known by his stage name DJ Premier (also known as Preem, Premo, or Primo), is an American record producer and DJ, and was half of the hip hop duo Gang Starr—alongside the emcee Guru—and forms half of the hip hop duo PRhyme, together with Royce Da 5'9''.
For its 20th-anniversary issue in 2008, The Source selected DJ Premier for its list of the 20 greatest producers in the magazine's 20-year history. He also made the finals in Vibe magazine's 2010 search for the greatest hip hop producer of all time—he finished second after Dr. Dre received 62 percent of the votes.
DJ Premier hosts a weekly two-hour show, Live From HeadQCourterz, on Sirius Satellite Radio's Hip-Hop Nation every Friday.John Bush. "DJ Premier Biography". Allmusic.com. Retrieved 19 May 2015. JLBarrow (19 August 2008). "Source Mag Picks Twenty Greatest Producers". NodFactor.com. Retrieved 5 November 2014. "Dr. Dre Is VIBE's Greatest Producer Of All Time, Speaks On Win". Vibe. 1 June 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2014.
DJ Premier was born in Houston, Texas, and was then raised in Prairie View, Texas, before living in Brooklyn, New York, during his teenage years. He attended Prairie View A&M University, where he honed his musical skills as the campus DJ, and he also occasionally performed with the Marching Storm band.Ambrose, Patrick (September 2009). "DJ Premier: Hope to the Underground". The Morning News. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
Premier is known for producing all of Gang Starr's songs as well as many of those composed by the Gang Starr Foundation. His work also includes production for rappers and soul artists, such as: AZ, Big L, Big Daddy Kane, Bun B, Canibus, Common, D'Angelo, D.I.T.C., Fat Joe, Game, Jay-Z, Joey Bada$$, Kanye West, KRS-One, Lord Finesse, Ludacris, M.O.P., Mos Def, Nas, Papoose, Rakim, Royce da 5'9", Snoop Dogg, The LOX, The Notorious B.I.G., Vinnie Paz, Ill Bill, Xzibit, nu metal band Limp Bizkit and Busta Rhymes.
Premier collaborated with MC Jeru the Damaja on the album The Sun Rises in the East, released in 1994, as well as the 1996 follow-up, Wrath of the Math. Premier produced and supervised Livin' Proof by Group Home, also from the Gang Starr Foundation; although overlooked at the time of its 1995 release, the album eventually received acclaim.
In 2006, pop/R&B singer Christina Aguilera recruited Premier to produce her album Back to Basics. Premier explained the reservations he heard from people regarding the collaboration:
When Christina [Aguilera] had me work with her, people were like, "Oh no. Please don’t." Then when they heard "Ain’t No Other Man," "Back In The Day," and all the other records were still constructed like Premier tracks they were like, "Yo, I really love this album. I was really impressed. I was worried, but you totally sound like what we love about you." Until you hear it, don’t say a word. I never want to be just attached to hip hop. I want to be attached to music – country, rap, soul, jazz, blues, it doesn’t matter, gospel music—I come from all of that.
Premier produced the majority of Blaq Poet's Tha Blaqprint, which was released in mid-2009. Premier contributed a song on Game's 2011 album, The R.E.D. Album. Also in 2011, Premier appeared on the song "Gangster", on Bushido's album Jenseits von Gut und Böse.
Premier was one of the artists followed in the 2012 documentary, Re:GENERATION. The film followed his production of the song "Regeneration," for which he used a live performance of his work by the Berklee Symphony Orchestra.
In September 2012, Immortal Technique said that a song called "Born in the Trap," on his upcoming album, titled The Middle Passage, would feature production by Premier.
In early 2014, Premier revealed that he is working with Aguilera again in an interview with New Zealand's Rip It Up magazine. Premier produced Y'all Ready Know by Slaughterhouse, from the Shady Records album, Shady XV, and the music video was published in November 2014.
A mid-January 2015 announcement from Premier stated that the producer's studio, D&D, also known as "The HeadQcouterz," will cease to be operational. As part of the announcement, Premier confirmed that he is working on the album, Last Session @320, after he relocates to a recording space in Astoria, New York City, U.S.Cite error: The named reference ALLMUSIC was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "DJ Premier Reuniting With Christina Aguilera On Her New Album". The Urban Daily. Interactive One. 5 May 2011. Retrieved 14 October 2014. Gabrielle Nicole Pharms (12 May 2014). "DJ Premier Talks Legacy, Production, and Nas Collabo Album". Life + Times. Life + Times. Retrieved 14 October 2014. Cite error: The named reference Morning_news was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Game* – The R.E.D. Album". Game on Discogs. Discogs. 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2015. "Bushido (2) – Jenseits Von Gut Und Böse". Bushido (2) on Discogs. Discogs. 2014. Retrieved 13 January 2015. Hunter Daniels (2011). "DJ Premier Talks RE:GENERATION MUSIC PROJECT". Collider. Complex Media. Retrieved 5 November 2014. "Immortal Technique Gives Middle Passage Update - Paid Dues 2013" (VIDEO UPLOAD). Fuse on YouTube. Google Inc. 2 April 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2015. gimantalon (8 May 2014). "DJ PREMIER WORKING WITH CHRISTINA AGUILERA AGAIN". DJ Premier Blog. DJ Premier Blog. Retrieved 14 October 2014. "Slaughterhouse - Y'all Ready Know" (VIDEO UPLOAD). slaughterhouseVEVO on YouTube. Google Inc. 3 November 2014. Retrieved 5 November 2014. Patrick Lyons (13 January 2015). "DJ Premier Shutters Studio, Announces New Album "Last Session @320"". Hot New Hip Hop. Hot New Hip Hop. Retrieved 13 January 2015.
The early line-up of the Gang Starr Foundation in the mid-1990s included Jeru The Damaja, Group Home, Big Shug, and Gang Starr. Premier was fully responsible for the production of Jeru the Damaja's first two albums, The Sun Rises in the East and Wrath of the Math. Jeru released three subsequent albums that did not include Premier's involvement. In terms of his Group Home collaboration, Premier commented in a 2003 interview: "They [Group Home] don't respect what fed them." He further explained that he only agreed to produce the track "The Legacy" because of Guru's involvement.
Other artists closely tied to the Gang Starr Foundation who Premier collaborated with include: Afu Ra, Bahamadia, Krumbsnatcha, Big Shug, Smiley the Ghetto Child, and NYGz.
Afu Ra explained Premier's influence in a September 2014 interview with the "Lyrically Fit" website:
Premier definitely coached me when I was in the booth. "harder..stronger..more this..more that"—I was an untamed artist and rapping next to recording your vocals are different. He gave me this knowledge through the work we did.
Besides the Gang Starr Foundation, Premier is closely affiliated with M.O.P., which he names as one of his all-time favorite groups. The relationship started with the remix of “Rugged, Neva Smoove” in 1994, a single from the group's first album, which also included the exclusive B-side “Downtown Swinga.” From then, Premier produced about one-third of the songs on each subsequent album and overseeing and mixing the projects. On M.O.P.'s 2009 Foundation album, Premier provided only one track, which was called "What I Wanna B."Cite error: The named reference ALLMUSIC was invoked but never defined (see the help page). TheFormula.com (posted by organik) (6 April 2003). "DJ Premier Interview" (MESSAGE BOARD). Tribe. Tribe Communications, Inc. Retrieved 4 February 2015. Steven J. Horowitz (2 June 2011). "Bahamadia Announces Fourth Album "HERE," Features Foreign Exchange". Hip Hop DX. Cheri Media Group. Retrieved 14 October 2014. "Hip-Hop, Rap Interviews : Krumbsnatcha". Riotsound.com. Riotsound. 2002–2009. Retrieved 14 October 2014. Slava Kuperstein (26 April 2010). "DJ Premier, Big Shug Speak On Guru". Hip Hop DX. Cheri Media Group. Retrieved 14 October 2014. Justin Ivey (24 February 2010). "Smiley The Ghetto Child: I’m Legend [prod by DJ Premier]". Kevin Nottingham. kevinnottingham.com. Retrieved 14 October 2014. "Hip-Hop, Rap Interviews : NYG'z". Riotsound.com. Riotsound. 2002–2009. Retrieved 14 October 2014. Dread Solo (29 September 2014). "Afu-Ra Recalls Early Days w/ Dj Premier, Martial Arts & His Classic ‘Body of The Life Force’ Album". Lyrically Fit. Lyrically Fit. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
Style and influences
DJ Premier's style of production epitomizes the New York sound of his earlier peers. He is known for sampling jazz, funk, and soul artists, as well as sampling an artist's past work when creating a new track for that same artist. For example, on Jay-Z's "So Ghetto", from the 1999 album Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, Premier samples an older Jay-Z song, 1997's "Who You Wit II". In addition, his encyclopedic memory of hip-hop lyrics allows him to distinctively speak with his hands by scratching in lyrics from several different songs to construct new phrases. Premier's beats are known for his oft-imitated combinations of short vocal samples, often from multiple artists, to create a chorus. Premier has also experimented with atonal samples that are not confined to soul, jazz, and funk. For example, he sampled and chopped up seminal electro-acoustic music from the 1960s on the track “Physical Stamina” by Jeru the Damaja.
In an interview with XXL Magazine, DJ Premier was asked how his sound evolved, to which he replied, "Marley Marl is my number-one inspiration. Jam Master Jay, Mix Master Ice, and UTFO. Grandmaster D, and Whodini. DJ Cheese, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa. Jazzy Jay—even Cut Creator. Seeing them do what they do. It’s black music, it’s black culture, it comes from the ghetto. How can you not relate to ghetto people when that’s the rawest form of blackness? Even though it’s not a good place in regards to the economy and how bad people have it in the neighborhood, the realism’s there, and that’s what we were born out of. So I very much pay respect by doing the same type of music in return." DJ Premier attended Prairie View A&M University and may have been influenced by the musical atmosphere at the university while serving as the campus DJ and occasional performer with the world-famous Marching Storm band.Jay Z's So Ghetto sample of Jay-Z's Who You Wit II Exclaim! Canada's Music Authority "FEATURES. DJ Premier: Remedy". XXL. 21 November 2006. Cite error: The named reference Morning_news was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
As a businessman, DJ Premier has his own record company named Year Round Records. Among its artists are New York group NYGz, New Jersey rapper Nick Javas, and Houston rapper Khaleel. Tha Blaqprint by Blaq Poet, which features 13 Premier productions, was released by Year Round Records through Fat Beats Records in June 2009.
On December 7, Premier's label Year Round Records released a digital compilation album titled Get Used to Us. Year Round plans to release a debut album fully produced by DJ Premier with the NYGz that is tenatively called "Hustla's Union: Local NYG," along with a Nick Javas' debut album, Destination Unknown. Khaleel, another label-mate of Year Round Records, is scheduled to release a debut album titled Already!.Cite error: The named reference Morning_news was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
DJ Premier has lived in Brooklyn for much of his professional career.