DJ Premier Talks Working on Dr. Dre’s ‘Compton' and the Nas Album That May Still Come Out

The legendary producer also sheds light on the rumored Eminem collaboration and how he almost worked with MF Doom.

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Image via Complex Original
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Today is a day many hip-hop fans thoughts we’d never see. At long last, the third Dr. Dre album, Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre, is finally available. The prospect of a new full-length release from the good Doctor would be enough cause for celebration, but when the list of collaborators was released, one such dream collaboration was to be made a reality when it was announced that Dr. Dre and DJ Premier would co-produce a track. Yes, the two men whose contributions to hip-hop are unrivaled are finally on the same song. We spoke to DJ Premier about this historic moment, as well as the rumored collaboration with Nas that has echoed for over a decade.

Chaz Kangas is a writer living in New York. Follow him @Chazraps.

Do you recall the first time you ever met Dr. Dre?
Yeah, the first time we met was [in] 1989 at a Gang Starr release party for No More Mr. Nice Guy in Manhattan. It was him, Eazy-E, and MC Ren. That was a big deal because they were new to coming to New York, and then to come to our party when we were just starting to bubble with “Words I Manifest.” We weren’t at the level of what they were doing already. So, that was a big deal.

How were you approached to be a part of Compton?
I had already sent Dre tracks for something else last year that’s totally irrelevant to the Compton soundtrack. At that time, he didn’t have a plan to do anything. He was just focused on filming the movie, wasn’t working on the soundtrack or nothing. When we were on the phone, he was like, “Can you send me some tracks? I want to start working on some new stuff. I don’t have any plans yet, but I definitely want some Premier tracks.” So, I sent him like five demos, just a few to eventually work on. I wasn’t in a rush to stress him.

All of a sudden, I’m working on a project in Russia with Boiler Room TV, with a producer named BMB Spacekid from Moscow, who’s like the top hip-hop producer in Russia. Boiler Room wanted to see if I could collab with another producer, which I don’t do, but I thought it would be unique for a Russian producer and I to get together, so I said I was interested in doing it. After saying, “Let’s do it,” [they] said [they] were going to get MF Doom to be the voice for the project once we could put our beats together, using Russian samples and stuff like that. 

The first beat that we worked on was the one that Dre took. It wasn’t intended for Dre at the time. When I was about to head out there, MF Doom was sick and couldn’t make it. He couldn’t fly due to a minor surgery he had. So when I asked, “Who are you going to get?” [Boiler Room TV] got a guy named Anderson Paak. I’d never heard of him. They sent me a video called “Suede” and I saw they had Stones Throw artist Knxwledge doing the beat. I’m a Stones Throw fan, a Peanut Butter Wolf fan, so the connection let me know he was official. I loved the video, loved the vibe in the basement, and he looked so confident in the video. I hit them back and said, even though I’d never heard of him, I’m totally down to put my name with his. He just so happened to be doing a meeting with Dre for some of his music, which was totally irrelevant to mine, so he already had his connection with Dre. 

We worked on two beats in Moscow. We did one song called “Til It’s Done,” which is more of a bounce/trap sort of the beat. The other one was a more boom-bap style that I do. BMB said I could do whatever I want when something comes around to it. When the Freddie Gray murder and the riots happened in Baltimore, Anderson called me and said, “Yo man, that other beat that we didn’t use, I just wrote some shit down about the bullshit that’s going on in Baltimore. It’s called ‘F.S.U.,’ which stands for ‘Fuck Shit Up.’” He sent it, I thought, “Wow, this is ill.”

Right around that time, he had a session with Dre and when Dre heard it, he said, “This is totally up my alley for the Compton soundtrack.” The ’92 riots happened with Rodney King and stuff, it coincided with what we wanted to do with the Compton album. He reached out and said, “I want to put a rap on it, a Dre verse,” and I said, “Hell yeah!” How am I gonna say no to that? “You should come out, and let’s work on it together because it’s your beat, and we can add on to it and mix it down together, sprinkle it with some stuff to make it a full song. Do you mind if I change the title to ‘Animals’ instead of ‘Fuck Shit Up’?” and I said, “Yeah, that’s cool.’”

Being you got to work so closely with Dre, do you find your approaches to producing have more similarities or differences?
Honestly, the similarities were almost identical on every level. I’ve been in sessions with him back when they were working on Doggystyle. They had a concert they were going to do at Prince’s club Glam Slam and they had a new version of “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” They were going have Lady of Rage do a rebuttal called “Niggaz Ain’t Shit” on stage. I was there when they were working on that, watching the D.O.C. freestyle with his vocal chords gone but still saying dope punchlines. Daz was in there, Kurupt’s in there.

When I walked in the room, Dre was working on a song called “All in a Day's Work.”  It was dope to see that process. There’s a lot to do and for him to be comfortable with me being in the room to watch him do it was super dope.

At any point between 2002 and 2012, when Detox was still actively promoted as Dr. Dre’s next project, were you asked to contribute to it?
No. Everything that you’re hearing for this project now is all brand new music. I asked how many songs he was putting on [Compton] and he said 16. I said “16! People don’t even do that any more!” They’re all really strong songs. When he had me record vocals for the end of the song that I did, he don’t have a vocal booth. He has you do the song in front of him. And even when I went to do my shout-out, he said, “Do it more like this. Give me a little more energy.” There was a certain energy he was looking for and I’m no rapper so I didn't mind taking the direction. For the cuts and scratching, I did my thing, and he was super cool about any adjustments I wanted to make. He wasn’t overbearing about my opinions. It was a really comfortable environment.

There were once reports that you had been recording an entire album with Nas called NASdaq: Dow Jones.
Wow, that’s a new one. When the Nas beef with Jay had just happened, Nas was talking, “I want to do an album with you.” He said that after we were doing the cover of Scratch magazine that said “It’s On.” That wasn’t even the case at that time. We had discussed it. Then when he had the Def Jam deal he said, “I want to still do this,” but we never spoke titles or anything. One time he said, “Yo, whenever we do it, let’s call it Finally,” which is a dope title because a lot of people want it, as well as me. When people ask when is it happening, I say it’s always up to the artist. If Nas says we’ll start 10 years from now, I’m down. I’m not in no rush because I’m always busy doing something. But, we never had a title. That one, NASdaq: Dow Jones, I’ve never heard that one. You’re getting more information than I’m getting.

You just cleared up a decade of speculation and urban legends right now.
Nice. [Laughs.] When I recently asked Nas, “Any update?” he said, “I’m still on Def Jam for another album, and I really would rather do it independently if we’re gonna do it so I can do it how I want to and put it out how I want.” I know he has another Def Jam album he’s obligated for under his contract, so I’m sure when that drops, it’ll be a reality finally.

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