The great thing about being a hip-hop fan today is how much easier it is to stay up-to-date on its narratives. Want to know about what's happening in Berkeley or Huntsville? Go online. Hell, we live in an age when a European web site can be called "Southern Hospitality." Once upon a time, geography and immediate social circles were the main conduits for information (I think academics call it "oral traditions"). Thankfully, we've moved past limited-circulation indie 'zines and cassette tapes as forms of "mass media."
In the glut of current information floating around, there are a bunch of stories from the not-so-distant past of the '80s and '90s that are quickly being left behind. Thankfully folks like Jeff Chang, Dan Charnas, D-Nice, et. al. have been capturing many of these stories in both painstaking detail and accessible ways. But it's always good to have some redundancy as back-up, right?
Which is a long way of introducing an even longer interview with two seminal hip-hop producers Pete Rock and DJ Premier. The two have a joint album scheduled for a 2011 release, but here they are in storyteller mode. Many of these stories (the pre-Primo incarnation of Gang Starr; Pete's hoodwinked work on "Juicy") are familiar to hip-hop nerds, but they are told here in the first-person with relatively few edits. And they make some clarifications here and there.
The discography/liner note experts may already know all this stuff, but I am loose with those kind of details (did Pete Rock do "Shut Em Down" at Chung King or Greene Street?) so this kind of interview is great for the "intermediate" level heads. It's also fun to watch the two gradually warm up as they get deeper into the conversation. Dig in, there's an hour of material. Here is a rough index of the major talking points:
6:54-7:59: How Premier got involved in soundtrack work. Spike Lee thought Guru looked like Malcolm X!
9:46-13:23: Pete's remix of Public Enemy's "Shut Em Down." Primo's response alone is worth watching.
13:57-18:07: Jeru's "Come Clean," or "the water drop beat." Primo explains how Jeru and Group Home got put on.
18:08-21:33: Pete Rock & CL Smooth's "T.R.O.Y."
22:40-23:36: Jay-Z's "A Million and One Questions." Jay shared the rhymes over the phone before Primo made the beat.
25:10-27:00: House of Pain's "Jump Around" (Remix). Pete was working on Das EFX's "Jussumen" and Run-DMC's "Down with the King" at the same time. Which explains why the bass tones on all three sound similar. BTW, Double Fantasy producer Jack Douglas recently told me the Hit Factory was somewhere else, not 42nd Street (nor the current location at 54th Street). I'm blanking right now though.
27:00-35:43: Nas' Illmatic. Too much stuff here to summarize. Everything from how Pete entered the fold and how he was convinced to do the chorus of "World Is Yours," Nas' technique for better hearing his voice while recording and their thoughts on an Illmatic follow-up.
35:50-37:46: Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy." Pete's reaction is pretty hilarious. So is his reaction to history being rewritten in Notorious. And he recalls hanging out with Big and making a beat in front of him.
37:46-42:59: Notorious B.I.G.'s "Unbelievable" Primo also talks about how he and Big worked together on making the b-side to "Juicy" and who actually suggested the R. Kelly sample. By the way, Primo quoting Biggie saying "I don't care if you use 'Impeach the President'" is very funny considering the publishing history behind that record. Here's a clue.
43:00-47:07: Crooklyn Dodgers '95 "Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers." The story about the video shoot summarizes why I love Brooklyn.
47:30-49:28: ATCQ's "Jazz." Pete Rock: "This is basically something that I made... [Q-Tip] has another story."
49:28-55:03: Gang Starr's "Full Clip." Primo talks Big L's death and getting another Gold record.
55:04-58:20: Pete Rock & CL Smooth's The Main Ingredient. Pete's set-up was remarkably simple. He says both this and Mecca & The Soul Brother also went Gold, but he doesn't have the plaques.
According to the DJ Premier Blog, this is "off the DJ Premier vs Pete Rock DVD released in Japan," which explains the Japanese subtitles. The last few minutes were apparently clipped, but the meat of the material is here.