For most people, when you hear the name DJ Premier the first thing that comes to mind is his nearly untouchable production discography. It is impossible to have a discussion about the all-time best Producers in Hip Hop and not have his name in the running for the top slot. As a result, it can be easy to get lost in his production mastery and forgot about his other refined skill, the one that laid the foundation for those beats in the first place, rocking on the turntables.
On Gang Starr’s debut album, “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, Premier is still developing his innovative scratch patterns. For the most part the cuts on the album are solid, but not quite demanding of special attention. There are some exceptions though. On “Gotch U”, he cuts up a “ha” with such fury that it finds an engaging balance of precision and chaos. “Cause and Effect” makes effective use of up-tempo transformer scratches with a slightly spacey effect. However, the strength in his style is his cutting up and breaking down phrases with quick studder-styled cuts. He hints at the style on “Manifest” with a variety of creative patterns while freaking some Big Daddy Kane. He also flips a similar style on “Conscience Be Free”. Yet, the defining DJ moment on the album is his theme song, “DJ Premier Is In Deep Concentration”. He not only displays his various turntable techniques, but also his ability to construct concise scratch sentences, as he does quite effectively on the song’s hook, and his musically sound approach to scratching.
When Gang Starr returned for their sophomore album, “Step In The Arena” in ’91, DJ Premier had not only grown as a producer, but also as a DJ. Another thing I always appreciated about his scratches was that they revealed how much of a true Hip Hop fan he was. Some of the most exciting parts of that record were hearing him cut up Sir Ibu, Craig G, LL Cool J, Lord Finesse, Master Ace, Ultramagnetic MC’s, KRS One, Nice & Smooth, etc…
Although, he didn’t have another scratch anthem on the record, he devoted quite a lot of time to flexing his skills. On “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?” he freaks the high-pitch horn that is main sample thru out the track with much flavor. “Execution Of A Chump” is an excellent melding of his production and DJ skills, as he lightly cuts up the sampled break thru out the song for some distinct style. I don’t even know what the sound is that he’s cutting on “Beyond Comprehension”, but it’s done with the utmost finesse, courtesy a series of quick jabs and a beautifully jagged pattern. However, the cuts I spent the most time being mesmerized by are on “Precisely The Right Rhymes”, as he masterfully reinterprets and reconstructs a Craig G line from "Dropping Science". As if responding to the song’s title, he flips precisely the right cuts, with fierce precision into what would be come his trademark style.
While many producers and DJs drifted away from using scratches hooks, DJ Premier continued to maintain that traditional flavor and bring his tactics on wheels of steel to a wealth of key Hip Hop tracks, ranging from the underground to the mainstream; Lord Finesse, Showbiz & AG, Jay Z, M.O.P, Notorious B.I.G, etc…
-Other DJ Premier Scratch Highlights:
Around ’99, Gang Starr teamed up with DJ Skribble and DJ Slynke to remake the Hip Hop Classic “Play That Beat” to play honor to the DJ.
One of the key DJ crews who have fought to keep turntablism alive and progressive are The X-Ecutioners. On their “Built From Scratch” album in 2000 they tapped into the production and DJ skills of Premier on “Premier’s X-Ecution”.
The year is 2012 and DJ Premier still remains true to his DJ roots. Rhymesayers fans recently got a taste of his production and DJ skills on the Evidence’s “Cats And Dogs” album, where Premier contributed his skill sets to “You” and “The Epilogue”. On his latest project with Bumpy Knuckles (a.k.a Freddie Foxxx), “KoleXXXion”, he is still flipping the techniques. On “OwNiT” he makes a simple scratch rub a part of the production and after the Foxxx goes in for 2 minutes, Premier steps to the tables to rip it up nicely with some choice quotes including some Antoinette “Duck Alert”, which brought a smile to my face.
Speaking of smiles on faces, that is just what I had when I got the word that we would be hosting DJ Premier’s skills at Soundset this year. With over 20+ years already under his belt, Premier shows no signs of slowing down or abandoning his mission. He’s still every bit as passionate about Hip Hop and its traditions, but still adding on to push it forward. Expect a taste of that passion when touches down in Minnesota this month…