DJ Premier Looks At Rap’s Past, Present, And Future On ‘Hip-Hop 50: Vol. 1’

If DJ Premier had to sum up the past 50 years of progress in hip-hop in just a word, that word would be “longevity.” It’s apt; in the immortal words of the late, great Biggie Smalls, “you never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.” And yet, here we are, 49 years removed from that basement party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York. Hip-hop is now beyond being a global phenomenon; it’s the foundation of pop culture all over the world. It’s a fact of life like taxes, rent, and Google. It’s everywhere and it’s in everything, just beneath the surface. It’s in the way we talk, the way we dress, the music we listen to, the most popular sports and movies, and even in the seats of world government. “Far” is kind of an understatement.

To commemorate the longevity of this freewheeling, dynamic youth movement, one of the most recognizable brands in hip-hop, Mass Appeal Records, has launched the Hip-Hop 50 project. It’s an expansive multimedia effort encompassing live events, films, podcasts, and more discussing the history and culture of hip-hop. And, of course, you know there’s music. Over the next year, 10 EPs from some of rap’s most iconic and influential producers will bring together rappers from across regions, generations, genders, and genres for five songs apiece highlighting the dynamism of the world’s favorite music.

The first producer to drop is none other than DJ Premier, one-half of pioneering NY rap duo Gang Starr and one of rap’s most prolific and impactful beatmakers since 1991. His contribution to Hip Hop 50: The Soundtrack includes appearances from longtime collaborator Nas — their first song together in nearly 15 years –, the inimitable Slick Rick, brash convention-bashing duo Run The Jewels, Remy Ma, and contemporary favorites like Joey Badass and Rapsody. Premo was kind enough to offer his insights on both the EP and his 30+ years of experience in the rap business to Uproxx over a Zoom call in which he broke down the process behind the songs and projected his view of hip-hop’s next 50 years.

“Lettin’ Off Steam” Feat. Joey Badass

That was for his album. He hit me up; his album was already wrapped up. He was just getting in the mixing stage and he hit me up and was like, “Yo, let me see if we can squeeze one more in.” He came to my lab and we kicked it. Antman Wonder and I had extra samples I didn’t use for PRhyme 2. I was just thumbing through them just to thumb through him, and Joey was sitting on the couch just saying, “Yo, man. That one. That sound like something I could write to.” He wrote to it. We cut it right here. He brought the mic right in the room, did it. When he got down to the end of his album getting mixed to turn it in, he said, “Man, for some reason, yours just doesn’t totally fit the shape of my album.” And I was like, “Well, yo, man. I’m one song shy of turning in my EP. Let me put it on there.”

“Remy Rap” Feat. Remy Ma & Rapsody

I was still two songs short. I was like, “Yo man, I was working on my solo album and me and Remy Ma were working on one.” I was like, “I’d like to put that on there.” And they were like, “Cool. Then we could reach out to Rapsody.” I wanted to have two different worlds of female MCs. They’re totally opposite of each other, but they both were spitters. And the fact that I knew that they could pull it off with the two different types of approaches and just attitude, I was like, “It’s going to work.”… I was going to put three artists on it. I wanted Young M.A. on it too. And I still want to work with her ’cause I’m a big fan of Young M.A.

“Beat Breaks” Feat. Nas

When Nas says, “Hey, man, I want you to be a part of something,” obviously you don’t really want to say no. In my whole career, I’ve never done an EP. And then Nas said, “You get a record from me.” We recorded a few different things, but there’s some stuff that he wanted to, he said, “Let’s save that on the back burner for some future stuff.” He said, “I want to do like a classic break.” “Theme From The Planets” is one of my favorites out of all the ultimate breaks and beats and that’s the reason why I shout it out. When I told him, “Let me do a quick chop of it on my Serato” just so I could just figure out an idea of reworking that song, he fell in love with it right off rip. He said it reminded him of the park jams.

“Terrible 2’s” Feat. Run The Jewels

I’m very hands-on, just even from my Gang Starr era of working in Jeru-era Group Home, and Nas, and KRS-One, Rakim, you name it, Big, Jay. I’m always very hands-on with being a coach in the situation of recording and making sure we get the best take, the best delivery, all of that. Because EL-P produces a lot. I’ve known them since the Def Jux days and all that stuff. He comes from a long era of doing his own production.

“The Root Of All” Feat. Slick Rick & Lil Wayne

The Slick Rick, Lil Wayne was originally a Logic record Logic and I had worked on. It was another day he was in town. He just said, “I want to pull up and just work on something.” He did a song about one of his people that got killed over a money situation. A year passed, and he never got back to it. I reached out to him like, “Yo, man. I’m doing the solo album during the pandemic. How about you just let me keep it? I’ll find somebody to add to it.”

I reached out to Lil Wayne because I knew he could talk about money. Wayne sent it back the same night, like, “Yo, this shit is dope.” I sent it to back to Logic. Logic hears it goes, “Oh, man. I did that rhyme on another record. And I’m like, “Damn.” So he goes, “I’m going to write you a whole new rhyme.” I’m like, “All right, bet.” But the rhyme he wrote is some ill-spitting bars rhyme, but he didn’t stay on the money topic.

So I’m like, “Yo, it doesn’t fit the topic that Wayne did. So how about I just do a new beat for your rhyme, and I’ll put that back on my solo album?” Then that way, the solo album still has a Logic record, and we can find somebody else to still rhyme with him on that. Now, it’s like who replaces Logic on the Wayne part since Wayne went second, based off of what he heard Logic say? I was like, “Man, Slick Rick could talk about that money.” Reached out to Rick. He said, “Let me hear Wayne’s verse.” He instantly was like, “Yo, I’m ready. Let’s do it.” He said, “You want a verse or you want a hook?” I said, “Can I get both?” He said, “Yeah,” and he did the verse and the hook.

On the future of hip-hop:

Well, my goal in life is to live to at least 100, and that’s my goal. That’s what I visualize as my future. So if I make it up even to 100, man, I’m still going to be tapping on something. You don’t outgrow a culture. I’m going to keep on banging. I said the same thing: “I’m not going to be 40 doing this.” I’m 56, and I’m still ready to turn that thing right there [pointing to his MPC3000] on.

Hip-Hop 50: Vol. 1 is out Friday, July 15 via Mass Appeal. You can pre-save it here.