For several decades now, no single act has served as a mark of approval in hip-hop like doing a song with DJ Premier. Jay Z, Nas, Biggie, M.O.P., Fat Joe, Big L, Yasiin Bey, Common—hell, even Xtina went to him to get some heat.
So when Premier teamed up with the Hood Pope himself, ASAP Ferg, for the track "Our Streets" as part of the relaunch of the iconic label Payday Records, it was a big deal. The song now has an accompanying video, which you can see above.
I called up Premier and Ferg to see how the collaboration went down, what else they're up to, and who Premier wants to collaborate with next.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
How did this collaboration come about in the first place?
ASAP Ferg: I was reaching out to Primo just to look for some music. I wanted to do a different style of music than I usually do. I really wanted to write, and they had the perfect beats for it. Primo, he's a legend first of all. Second of all, he knows my family, my background, and he knows where I come from. We always link up in places like Japan and Europe. He's always flying and we'll bump into each other. We've always admired each other, but now we finally got a chance to make time for each other and get in the studio.
Premier, did you actually know his father? [Ferg's late father, Darold "D Ferg" Ferguson, owned a Harlem clothing boutique and had his own clothing line. He also designed the now-iconic Bad Boy Records logo.]
DJ Premier: I didn't meet his father personally. But his father's clothing line, D Ferg, I was actually put on by one of my artists, Panchi from the NYG'z. Long story short, I always used to see Panchi—he's a fashion freak, always has the latest kicks, the latest boots, the latest jacket. I was always like, "Where did you get that?"
I used to always see him wearing Ferg gear, and I thought it was Erg, like E-R-G. I didn't know it was with the F, because of the way the logo was shaped. And I was like, "Yo, whats all this Erg you be wearing?" He was like, "Oh man, it's D Ferg. You gotta get up on it." So he put me up on it, and I was like yo this is the flavor, man, it's poppin' in the street.
And then after his dad passed, I happened to hear him on an interview on Eminem's channel Shade 45. I never met Ferg, but had already heard two singles, and I was like, I wonder if he was related to D Ferg. And then when I heard the interview, he was like, "My dad this, my dad that." I was like, damn, it's his son! So that made me go, OK, I already know the connection. And then we just started always running into each other at different airports in Europe, in the States, and we'd always kick it and be like man, we need to get a song out there.
Payday records had to do a little reopening of the label. Patrick Moxey used to be my manager for Gang Starr from 1988 to 2003. When we finished the Ownerz album, Patrick said he was going to go ahead and shut down from managing rap music and rap artists, so he closed the label. So I was like, OK, then I went on and moved to different management. So from there, he started the dance label Ultra Music, and he became very successful with it.
I saw him in Paris, France when I was out with my new artist Torii Wolf and he was like, "I wanted to run something by you. Can I stop by your hotel?" So he came by and told me he was thinking about opening the label again, [and] that he wanted to set it off with me because me and Jeru made "Come Clean" and blew the label up.
He [also] really appreciated what we did with convincing people like Jay Z to come over here. I brought on Group Home, O.C, Big Shug, and on and on and on. Again, [Patrick] managed Gang Starr's entire career, so obviously we have a really long relationship. I said, "Well, what do you want me to do?" He said he wanted me to do four singles that could get it catapulted to where it used to be, but he said, "I want you to use my Sony roster because we're doing the distribution for it." And I was like, well give me a list of who's all run through that situation, and when I saw Ferg's name on there, as one of the artists through the ASAP Mob movement, I was like yo, Ferg, I'm messing with him—we've been talking about doing something anyway.
I'm very picky about people watching me make the beat, [but] I was very comfortable with him there because we had already had a good vibe with each other. He just wrote it right there and dropped the verses.
Ferg, this is slightly different musically than a lot of the stuff you rhyme on. Did you have to adjust how you rhyme at all in order to fit with Premier's beat?
Ferg: No, not necessarily. I've always been a battle rapper and just writing, since I was 16. You see the style of rapping that I did before I got signed, or before my music sonically changed over the past few years, you would see a more traditional rap, over a traditional boom bap beat. So I was just taking a step back, going back to my old style.
During the end of the song, you shout out Guru. Did he have any influence on you as a rapper?
Ferg: I grew up seeing Gang Starr all over the place, and hearing the music, and knowing Guru. He had a very unique voice. No other rapper sounds like him. They had this video, I forget the name of the song, but I remember and loved it at a kid. All white video [Editor's Note: Ferg is probably referring to the clip for "You Know My Steez"] , and it looked really modern, and I just loved it, because I'm a visual person before I am musically. I also remember seeing Guru in Who's the Man, the movie with Dr Dré and Ed Lover. I always really liked Guru's voice, and I fell in love with the sound.
What does it mean for you to have a DJ Premier song in your catalog?
Ferg: It's fucking huge man. It's like, now I can say I'm a rapper. [Laughs.] When you're coming up in the game, it's almost like you owe it to the hood and you need to go check the OG, and get that pass. Those OGs, [they're] the legends that you gotta get that pass from. And it's not like he's not open-minded to everybody's music. He loves the freedom of everybody's music. But yeah, you gotta stop and pay homage, and that's what I've done. Not because I'm looking for a pass, or some type of validation, but just because I'm a fan of his music.
How did the video shoot go?
Premier: It went really good. It was very last minute. Me and Ferg saw the treatment—they sent it to both of us. He hit me up and texted me and asked if I liked it. I said yeah, and so we rolled with it.
We didn’t have a schedule yet and they said they wanted to shoot it in Harlem. Literally a few hours before the end of the day, they said 6:30 in the morning is when we are going to start shooting.
Ferg was there before me. I got there an hour later and he was already there shooting and getting his hair trimmed— we had a holding area where there was a barbershop, and all the barbers were really cool. I already knew I was going to wear a durag because I used to have waves in my hair, but now that I’m losing my hair at age 51. I wear the wave cap to make it look like I still have them.
Did I hear you say that it was you that convinced Jay Z to drop the "In My Lifetime" single on Payday?
Premier: Not to release it, as far as him going to Payday to sign the deal. Patrick was interested in him, and Jay said, "Yo we're thinking of doing a 12-inch deal"—it was a 12-inch deal, it wasn't an album deal. So I was like, "Yeah, why not? I mean, it's a 12-inch. It's not like you're doing an album." Because they had already planned on going independent with their album anyway.
Actually, "In My Lifetime" the single, before that remix with Jaz-O, they had already brought the original white vinyl with the artwork on it, when I used to DJ on WBLS, Jay Z and DJ Clark Kent brought it up there. We were on a commercial break, and Jay brought it to me and he was like, "Maybe you can play it next week." I was like, nah I can listen to it right now and see if I like it. I listened to it, I liked it off rip, and as soon as we got back from commercial break I went right into playing it, and from there me and Jay got really cool.
We knew each other already before that because Jaz-O was our labelmate and we used to see Jaz-O all the time up at EMI, and Jay would always be with him. So we already knew each other and were cool, but getting to the point of me supporting the record, and then getting to the point of me producing and being a part of his first four albums when they came out, that’s how it all started.
I told him, hey it can’t be a bad look to do a 12-inch. You have to put something behind it. They had a little fallout because they felt like [Payday] could have pushed it more, and I think they didn’t give him the video and Jay and them did the video on their own with their own money, they got the boat and did it themselves. At the end of the day, the history is still there—there's a Jay Z record on Payday.
Do you have a favorite Payday record, both that you have done and that you didn’t do?
Premier: As far as what I didn’t do, I would definitely say O.C. Even though I produced some of the songs on the Jewelz album, I really liked the song "Jewelz." Lord Finesse did it. I just loved the emotion of that song to this very day so I would say that one—"Jewelz," produced by Lord Finesse. I mixed the record, but I didn’t produce it. Didn't do any beats or scratch on it, but I mixed it down.
One of my favorite songs that I produced is "The Frustrated Nigga," which me and Jeru the Damaja [originally] did for the Panther soundtrack. Biggie, everybody was doing songs for that soundtrack. "Frustrated Nigga" just sounded so much like a black power, stand up and be proud kind of record. It had that bounce to it. It was very basic and simple but Jeru just bodied the verse. It was very well done with his wordplay and the way he danced on the beat. So that’s definitely one of my favorite songs.
You mentioned there are going to be other collaborative singles to help relaunch Payday. Are there any you can tell us about?
Premier: Yeah. I have three more left to do. I reached out to André 3000 because he's part of that Sony roster with Outkast and as a soloist. I’d love to get him on one of them. Hopefully I can get that to happen. It hasn't come to light yet, but I would love to get him on a joint. It could be Outkast or a solo joint. I would love to get 3 Stacks. I know he is selective on what he does, but I would destroy that record.
What does the legacy of Payday mean to you? So much of the stuff that you are identified with outside of Gang Starr—things like Group Home and Jeru and the NYG'z and Big Shug are all on that label.
Premier: It means a lot because Patrick didn’t have to audition anything. He believed in what I was bringing to the table because of Gang Starr, so he already knew if I had anything to do with it, the quality was going to come out correct. That’s one thing you never have to worry about with me. I’m going to make sure the quality is at the highest bar of respect and it sounds like it's supposed to sound. The expectation that you have is what you are going to get.
The same thing with the Ferg record. When we went in, I was like this is going to work—just let me build it the way I build it and give me what you got. And everything he did is very simple but very effective and very on point with what you would expect if the two of us collaborate.