The 50th anniversary of the birth of hip-hop is next August 11, 2023. A force as impactful and rewarding as hip-hop deserves more than just one day to celebrate, though, so Mass Appeal is commemorating the anniversary a year early with a series of EPs called Hip-Hop 50: The Soundtrack. First up is DJ Premier’s 5-track EP, featuring Nas, Lil Wayne, Slick Rick, Joey Badass, Run The Jewels, and Remy Ma and Rapsody, which is out now. The “Remy Rap” bar fest between Remy and Rapsody will have an accompanying video releasing shortly.
The honor is well-deserved for a legendary producer like Preem, who’s been a go-to producer for artists across several decades of rap. He joined Gang Starr in 1989, scoring his partner Guru’s legendary baritone on albums like Step in the Arena, Daily Operation, Hard to Earn, and Moment of Truth. Outside of Gang Starr, Primo has laced beats from many of rap’s greatest MCs, from Nas (“N.Y. State Of Mind,” “Nas Is Like,”) to Jay-Z (“D’Evils,” “So Ghetto”) to The Notorious BIG (“Unbelievable,” “Kick In The Door”) to newer acts like Drake (“Sandra’s Rose”) and Kanye West (“Everything I Am”).
As I sit on a couch in his studio on a mid-July afternoon and face the console, it doesn’t feel like I’m in a recording space, as much as it does the cockpit of an airliner touring the rarified air of rap history. His Astoria, Queens studio is lined with plaques of canonical centerpieces from Nas, Notorious BIG, Lauryn Hill, and other icons. And as he tells me, he’s still out for more.
DJ Premier: Hip-Hop 50 Volume 1 is just one of several projects that we should expect from him in the near future. “Everything’s coming out,” he says, leaning back into a plush chair at the studio’s console. “From this point to the end of the year, to the top of next year, I’m just constantly dropping music.” I look over to the buttons on his MPC and can see they’re well worn from an incalculable amount of hours in the lab. Now, we’re about to be blessed with the results of those sessions..
Today, I’m here to talk about the EP. Before explaining how it came together, he plays me the music. Each sample evokes a different vibe, but every artist sounds like they knew a DJ Premier beat had an inherent assignment to rap like their life depended on it (especially Lil Wayne on “The Root Of All”). Premier is facing his computer screen playing the records while I’m on the couch, so I’m taking in the music in my own space. As a music journalist, there are times where you’re politely nodding to stuff you’re not actually feeling, but that could never be the case with a Premier project.
He’s excited about being the first producer to curate an EP in the series, and he’ll be followed by Swizz Beatz, Mustard, The-Dream, Mike Will Made It, No I.D., Hit-Boy, Take A Daytrip and Tainy. The tenth producer will be chosen by fan vote, according to Premier.
Over the course of a nearly hour-long interview, our conversation veers to a debate about how the rap world’s changed, why he’s still dedicated to making bangers and preserving the culture, and a discussion about an upcoming Gangstarr documentary that features footage as far back as 1989. And yes, I also make sure to ask if that long-awaited Nas collaboration project will actually happen. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.