True school Hip Hop fans: ‘tis the season to rejoice. When boom bap legend DJ Premier teamed up with serial spitter Royce da 5’9 as the duo PRhyme, we knew we had something to look forward to. Closing 2014 with their first release, in the form of a self-titled nine-track project set to drop December 9th, they’re making it a point to bring the Hip Hop we know and love back to the forefront amidst a sea of generally uniform lyricism and trap beats. Add in features like Ab-Soul, Mac Miller, Schoolboy Q and Killer Mike and even the newer school of Hip Hop fans have something to relate to.
As they prepare to finally unleash PRhyme upon the masses, HipHopDX sat down with Premo and Royce, along with Adrian Younge – an emerging producer probably most known in Hip Hop for producing Ghostface Killah’s Twelve Reasons To Die who also works as an entertainment lawyer and professor in Los Angeles. The three discussed a variety of topics including the relationship between law and emerging music technology, maintaining an authentic sound, the end of Premier’s recording studio HeadQCourterz in New York City, and more.
PRhyme Relates How They Were Introduced To Adrian Younge
DX: How did you link up with Adrian?
Royce Da 5’9: It’s his fault [points at Adrian]. It was this guy right here! He started making a bunch of noise, and his name made its way into my household. I had already been paying attention to him, then I was having a conversation with someone and his name comes up in some sort of way, and the conversation turned to, “Well, you should do this together.” A friend of mine said Slaughterhouse should use all Adrian Younge samples, and find somebody ill with the samples to do it. I figured, well, what about DJ Premier? How about the best at sampling? Mike [Herard] was like, “If you can pull that off, let’s try.” I reached out, and Preem kind of seemed like he was with it once Mike put us together on an email thread. I said I was a big fan, he said likewise, and he sent some music over. I recorded something to it immediately and sent it right back. The guys in the group didn’t jump on it fast enough. Everybody’s moving in different directions and had some separate stuff they were working on, so it fell apart as being the idea for the group to do. I went to Preem and asked about just he and I doing it. People have kind of been requesting that Premier and I do a full project together, and I felt like this was a good way to push ourselves because we’re doing it a little differently than people thought we would. It gives me the opportunity to work with Adrian, and to do what I’ve wanted to do with Preem for, shit, fifteen years. I’ve gone to Preem for every single project I’ve had, anything I ever did, whether I could get a beat or not, but I’ve always at least asked.
DX: Premier’s connection to Slaughterhouse is a strong one, what is it about the group? You seem to also be aligning closely with Shady. What came first, the SHADY XV work or PRhyme?
Premier: It’s crazy because they were working on the upcoming album, and going back and forth from Just Blaze’s studio, he was executive producing the album, and doing stuff here [at HeadQCourterz]. They pretty much finished the whole first album here, so I was used to seeing them around. I’m always in my room, and the other room we usually rent out for artists. So every other day I might walk in and be like oh shit, Royce, what’s up man? It’s like, it’s not a big deal. Just oh, Royce is here. Crooked is here. Joe Budden’s always here. He’s always on the Internet, live, writing a rhyme and letting his audience be in the session, literally. And I’ll go in there and joke and we’ll start arguing about sports. It was normal to see them on the regular. One day they happened to be here and everybody was coming to bring beats. J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League was set up in the back room to do their thing. Cardiak was here, Illmind. Nonstop everybody was bringing beats. I come in like I’m just going to do one right on the spot. Everyone was like “Yeah right, we ain’t gonna get the beat.” I went in and did it. Joe Budden was the only one around at the time when I wanted to let them hear it, so I played it and I was cutting up a drop they did for my radio show, and that’s what that is…the “Yo, it’s your man Royce da 5’9,” but it was dope the way I fit it in the scratch, and I was like, “This should just be what it is.” At the end, Joell Ortiz goes, “Y’all ready know, Slaughterhouse.” But the way it went in, I was like, “That’s what it should be called.” [“Y’all Ready Know”] That was really for the album. When they called me to say they wanted to put that as the first single to drop for SHADY XV I was like, “Cool.” We had already shot a video a while ago. They shot part while I was out of town, then when I got back they went out of town and I went back to the same roof they were on…That’s why in the video you see me by myself. But in the video it blends in perfectly. That’s how it happened. It wasn’t intended for SHADY XV but I’m glad that they wanted to make it happen, and it seemed like everyone liked the record. It seemed to coincide with PRhyme, which was not on purpose, it just happened to line up that way.
DJ Premier and Adrian Younge Talk The Soul Of Sampling
DX: Tell me more about recording PRhyme.
DJ Premier: With Adrian, we met first and just got to kick it. The first thing I ever heard from Adrian was Twelve Reasons to Die with Ghostface Killah, and was like, “Who is that?” I’m a Ghostface junkie – out of all the Wu, he’s my favorite. When I heard the music I thought it sounded almost like an old soul movie. [Like] Superfly/Three The Hard Way. And Ghost fits those textures of beats and Adrian’s music matched…It all sounded like what you expect from Ghost so I was playing a lot of songs off that album on my radio show. I still didn’t do my research until he did the Delfonics album, Something About April. That album grabbed me the most in regards to pulling things to make my own beats. After we got to kick it he blew my mind with how much he had dissected my production. I call people like him “people that get it.” Not everyone gets it. When he broke down my production style I’m like, “OK, he’s from my world.” He gave me all the instrumentals and vocal versions to the albums to use. To have the instrumentals was really all I needed. The only one where we used a vocal version was on “To Me, To You” which features Jay Electronica, which Royce suggested to use. I didn’t want to touch his Ghostface material because I felt like that project was for Ghost. I started digging to find the strangest part that was still funky, but I could totally go opposite of what Adrian laid down, so I can impress him. Vocal-wise, I already knew Royce was going in. We just have that chemistry. Royce and I always make bangers. Royce helped me also by picking out some samples. Once we did that, the final stage was to play it for Adrian. I didn’t want him to hear anything until we got to the stage of the beats and the vocals laid down, and the scratches. There were a couple songs that weren’t 100% done but I was confident enough to play them for him so he could see how we tore it into pieces. To see him have to remember where the samples came from on one or two tracks – that means that my mission has been accomplished… [I wanted] to impress him, because that’s his music. He did that live instrumentation. He didn’t program that on a drum machine, it’s all band. To now make it sound like what I always do? That’s what I wanted to get over on that side. Again, Royce is an automatic. I know he’s going to spaz. And he spazzed!
DX: Adrian, you put a huge emphasis in your work on live instrumentation, which isn’t necessarily at the forefront in Hip Hop today. What’s your fascination with that?
Adrian Younge: I do that for myself because Hip Hop music is based on the break, and the break came from live instrumentation. I choose to record live instrumentation as they did back then, not as a live musician would record right now. It’s actually through the eyes of Hip Hop. Hip Hop introduced me to the source material, whether it be a slow song by the Delfonics or a fast, funky break by James Brown. It’s funny, because I always say to producers that it’s always really good to understand instrumentation, just to understand composition and see what you can do with making music. But it all depends on what you’re doing. If I was a new producer making new music that’s supposed to be Hip Hop, and I get a bunch of new instruments and Pro Tools and everything, and I’m trying to record something grimy and dirty, to me it sounds awful. I would tell them not to even use live instruments, use something else. I make the argument that sound is more important than composition, whether it’s true or not. A lot of the old dope breaks? The composition isn’t really all that great. It just sounds so interesting that it’s intriguing to the listener. It’s the sound that does that. If you’re recording new material and it doesn’t sound great and doesn’t truly capture the energy? You have to find a way to properly do that.
DJ Premier: My sentiments exactly. That’s what Hip Hop did – we wanted to sound like ‘60’s and ‘70’s music, that soul and funk. It was kind of dusty on its own. Not because the record had dirt on it, and it pops and cracks, which we like as well. But sonically, how does the music sound? I remember Earth, Wind, & Fire, which is one of my favorite groups, when they started to kind of disco their music. I was like, “What are they doing!” No, no, no. James Brown, too, when he did the disco album. It didn’t work. No, no, no. We look to them to keep leading the way of how it’s supposed to be done, and they started following the trend because they felt they had to stay relevant to the newer styles. I love disco music, but let the artists that do that, have that, and let the artists that are pure stay pure. The audience is going to still follow them.
DJ Premier And Adrian Younge Explain “Authenticity” And Sampling
DX: The word that keeps coming to mind here is “authenticity,” which also seems to be the prominent theme in PRhyme.
DJ Premier: I think I can speak for all of us, because as soon as you said “authenticity” you heard us all go “uh huh.” That is what it is. Not only that, we were taught by great people from Isaac Hayes to James Brown, Big Daddy Kane…We were brought up by that Kool G Rap era. Those types of records made us go, “If I get a chance to do that, that’s how I want to do it, without biting their style.” And we stayed true to that, which is why a record like PRhyme, the elements are equally there. Even in this day and age, because Adrian sounds like those records I used to buy and sample. That’s what has been so great. He sounds like those records and he’s new. It’s like he’s new, but not new.
DX: It’s unique that someone would just take his or her work and hand it over to be sampled to someone’s hearts content. As an entertainment lawyer, Adrian, that’s an interesting approach. It makes me think of the “is sampling stealing?” dilemma.
Adrian Younge: First of all, I never, ever look at sampling as stealing. You’re making a derivative version of something that was already made. It’s something that had never been done in the past. Hip Hop is the first subculture that has embraced this new form of music. As far as talking about the legal ramifications of sampling, the law has changed over the years to get to where it is now. It’s funny because when I would teach in my classes about sampling, you could tell by how the judges think that they don’t get Hip Hop. When you’re sampling there are two sides to the sample – a composition side and the master use side, which is the fixed recording. There are two places you’re looking. The composition, the sheet music, there’s a license due on that. Then there’s a license based on a fixed recording, the actual master. Laws have changed on both sides but right now, if you use even 0.000009 seconds of the master side, you must use a license. The judges say in the court documents that the person can just re-record it, so if they’re going to use a master then they’re choosing on their own volition to take from the artist. Its law based on the fact that they don’t really understand what the music is, the perspectives. That being said, because I get both sides, I know it’s not stealing. A sampler is an instrument, a straight up instrument where you make derivative versions of something. Nobody illustrates that better than Premo. I’ve created my music to serve as quality music. But [in] addition to it being quality music, it’s the source material for top tier Hip Hop producers to make new versions of. I look for that because I’m Hip Hop. Somebody may make a hot song, and then when they’re trying to clear a license on the master owners will say, “we want 100%.” It puts the artist in a position like “damn, should we just release this because it’s hot, even though we won’t get any money from it?”And that’s something that I vehemently am against, so I always wanted to provide the material for these top tier Hip Hop producers to make derivative forms of my music in order for them to be able to have the chance to do that and not be worried about stuff. That’s wack to me.
DX: It holds up the creative process.
Adrian Younge: Exactly. And that’s why I’m happy that this has happened. Who else would I want to do this?
Adrian Younge and DJ Premier On Tech & Post “PRhyme” Projects
DX: Do you think in music, and beyond, that technology is growing faster than the justice system can keep up with it?
Adrian Younge: Absolutely, actually it’s one of the topics I would teach. But if you understand the ideology of how law applies to entertainment, that’s how it has always been. Right now it’s at a super rapid rate, with the digital world, but the master use rights, publishing rights, all that? These were created to protect the artist based on technology. When the Betamax and VHS came out there were lawsuits by Universal against Sony, for even making the Beta, saying it was an instrument of infringement: that the purpose of a recorder is to infringe. Then court cases based on that, because nobody knew if these would be able to be in people’s homes. But the courts understood that this is where technology is going. There is so much history on how law adjusts itself in order to protect intellectual property.
DX: So this project is wrapped up. This may be pre-emptive, but is there more PRhyme to come?
DJ Premier: We’re taking it one step at a time. We’re excited to release this, and definitely tour. A big tour. We’ll do two versions – the turntable version, which will happen at certain shows, and of course go live with Adrian with the full band, and me accompanying the band with the turntables. We’re going to do all kinds of crazy shit. I’mma turn that turntable into a guitar, we’re gonna have some fun! We’ll probably go almost a whole year of doing a lot of things to extend PRhyme. We’re working on a deluxe version, which will have about three more songs. Even the guests that appeared on PRhyme — especially when we come to their town and have them in the show with us, it’s going to be crazy. We’re working on doing something with Adrian in L.A. to help launch the project, but there are just scheduling issues because [HeadQCourterz] is closing at the end of the year. They sold the building to a landlord who wants to turn it into a residential building.
DX: Do you know where you’re moving your studio yet?
DJ Premier: To Kaufman Studios, it’s actually a movie and TV studio where they shoot Orange Is The New Black, Nurse Jackie, etc. The movie Goodfellas was done there. They welcomed me with open arms into a ten-year lease. They’re already talking about having me do music for TV shows or movies. I’ve always wanted to get into that world, so that’ll be dope, and the Hip Hop is going to continue. I just want to close out right at HeadQCourterz. We’re doing a documentary and everything is coming together.
Photo Credit: Photo Rob