DJ Premier Tells All: The Stories Behind His Classic Records

Nas “N.Y. State of Mind” (1994)

DJ Premier: “That was just amazing because it happened in this room. Actually, anything from ‘92 and on, we did it here. It was just amazing watching him work because I was already a fan of him when he did ‘Back to the Grill,’ ‘Halftime,’ ‘It Ain't Hard to Tell,’ and ‘Live at the Barbeque.’ So when I heard him on those records I was like, ‘Yo, I got to do something that’s on the same level.’ So I came in here, and flipped the ill, gutter, Joe Chambers sample (‘Mind Rain’). I can tell you because it’s cleared. [Laughs.] Nas watched me build the beat from scratch. And he wrote the verse in the studio. If you listen to ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ you’ll hear him going, ‘I don’t know how to start this shit,’ because he literally just wrote it. Before he started the verse, I was signaling him going, ‘One, two, three,’ and he just goes in like, ‘Rappers I monkey flip’em, in the funky rhythm." He did that in one take. After he did that first verse, he goes, ‘How was that? Did that sound all right?’ And we were just like, ‘Oh, my God! The streets are going to go crazy when they hear this!’

“It was one take, but he would format it before. He’ll sit at the front, cover his mouth when the beat’s playing, and would mumble it. So we can’t hear what he’s saying. He was real quiet, but he would bring his whole army. Rest in peace to Drawz, by the way. He just died not too long ago. I remember [Nas] bringing Slate, Wallet Head, basically, all the people he was shouting out. They would be like, ‘Can we go in [the booth] too?’ They just wanted to feel it, you know? It was just funny to watch them all in the booth doing ‘Represent,’ and yelling in the background.”

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