For someone like DJ Premier, releasing a project after 21 years in the game is a seemingly no-win proposition. Avid fans from the No More Mr. Nice Guy era can’t be blamed for having a difficult time appreciating anything that doesn’t remind them of vintage Premo. Younger fans may associate Premier’s name with Guru for their Gang Starr catalogue, and some may even recognize his more recent work with Common and Kanye West (“Chi City”) or Cee-Lo (“Evening News”). But the game has changed so much that they can’t necessarily be faulted for not gravitating toward a sound that may be older than them.
By most accounts, the goal of Get Used To Us was supposed to provide an outlet for Premo to take the “street deejay” mentality he perfected during decades with Gang Starr and at D&D Studios and bring it to the boardroom without having to cater to the Pop charts. It’s a difficult task, but Premier more than holds up his end of the bargain. His signature heavy basslines and custom drum kits are present along with the expected horns and even a few brooding organs for good measure. While tracks like “Policy” and “5%” purposely have a vintage, analog sound, nothing on the album seems dated. For audiophiles, it’s a welcome change of pace from synthesizer heavy, over-produced singles that aim to fuse Hip Hop with Pop. In fact, when you watch viral clips of Premier explaining how people such as 50 Cent and Jay-Z passed up his recent offerings, it makes you wonder what they found that was better than “Life Time Membership.”
Like any album that celebrates counterculture, you come in expecting a critique of all things mainstream. Yet it’s refreshing that veterans such as MC Eiht, KRS-One and Freddie Foxxx have better things to do than bitch about the current state of Hip Hop. Instead of a Stakes Is High approach to pointing out what segments of the current generation are doing wrong, you find the emcees celebrating what their generation did right. At its best, no one executes this strategy better than Foxxx on the nostalgic track “The Gang Starr Bus.” Even the eternally pissed Blaq Poet leans more toward self-reflection than chastising on “Bang Dis” rhyming, “I turn on my radio / I cover my ears I can’t have it / Where the fuck is Red Alert / Where the fuck is Mr. Magic / Shit I guess I gotta get with the times / My mindstate is ’88 / But my style is ’09…” It’s up to the listener to draw any conclusions about which approach is better.
One of Premier’s greatest strengths was always his uncanny ability to make pedestrian east coast emcees sound 10 times better than they did over other beats. While Khaleel and Young Maylay are respectively light years ahead of Big Shug and Lil Dap, it’s not an insult to say that Premo has given them a platform and a canvas better than any of the previous ones listeners have heard them on before. On an album that represents a brand of Hip Hop that has essentially become a niche market, they bring some intricate rhyme patterns and unique regional flows while still maintaining the overall theme.
Strangely, it’s not the emcees that are long in the tooth throwing things off balance by casting a critical glare at the new school. On “Sing Like Bilal,” Joell Ortiz rails against big label politics and the cooler than thou aesthetic of many current artists, yet he spends a majority of the song using the technique popularized by Drake of dropping similes which substitute an intentional pause for the word “like.” The irony, of course, is that Drake is the one often (and rightfully) criticized for his cooler than thou aura, and Ortiz is soon to also be entrenched in the “big label politics” of the Shady/Aftermath/Interscope conglomerate. None of this makes the music any less enjoyable. But it points out the difficulty in trying to recreate a bygone era in Hip Hop music, when listeners are seemingly bombarded by a new subgenre every six months.
If you’re a fan of the brand of tri-state area Rap made between 1990 and 1998, then one of the pleasant surprises of this album is that while Hip Hop music and culture has largely been about showmanship, the values of that time period seem strangely conservative by today’s standards. Premo sticks to a simple, but winning formula because he can, and having a label (and presumably a ton of leftover Christina Aguilera money) gives him the means to. It’s ironic that “Not A Game” finds Premier sampling Allen Iverson’s infamous practice rant. An inability to adapt his skill set to modern standards currently finds A.I. trying to execute his crossover on third-tier Turkish players. Meanwhile, Premier hasn’t blatantly crossed over, but he’s clearly been able to adapt his sound and remain relevant for the over two decades.