DJ Premier once revealed the who made him want to produce
(Credit: Xi WEG)

Old School Archives

DJ Premier once revealed the who made him want to produce

During the 1980s and 1990s, East Coast hip-hop produced some of its best artists. From Nas to Mobb Deep and Lost Boyz, the list is long. However, behind every good artist is a great producer, and there have been a wealth of quality beatmakers, but some are legends. DJ Premier is one of those.

While producers such as Pharrell Williams and Kanye are front and centre, some legends happily operate in the background and, as quiet as they may seem, have significantly impacted the culture. DJ Premier is most definitely one of hip-hop’s secret weapons.

Despite his Texas roots, Premier (real name Christopher Martin) contributed significantly to the wholesome jazz-hop movement that emerged from New York in the late-’80s. Often referred to as ‘Preemo’, the musician is highly respected among the greats of the 1990s and has worked with everyone from Jay-Z to Eminem and even The Notorious B.I.G.

That said, in a 2020 interview, the esteemed audio engineer and beatmaker sat down to discuss his childhood, musical influences and career goals. When asked about the first artist he fell in love with, Martin opened up about his musical exposure to The Jackson 5, unveiling, “My mother is an art teacher. She taught art to me and everyone in our town in Texas. The first time she taught me how to hold a record from the sides, she was like, ‘Here’s a record you’ll probably like.’”

He continued, “We loved anything Motown, from Stevie Wonder to Diana Ross and the Supremes, and this album said Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5. Michael was six or seven years older than me, but he and Marlon still looked like children. They were always on television doing their moves, and seeing the way Michael could dance as a kid was mind-blowing!”

Martin highlighted how tracks such as ‘I Want You Back’ and ‘Nobody’ were his favourites, but he explained the effect ‘Who’s Loving You’ had on him, disclosing, “It was great live, not no fucking lip-synching. In Texas, we have the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo every year, and they even played that! They came out in a drop-top Cadillac and cowboy hats, and they were going, ‘Yee-haw!'”

As he continued to elaborate on the prominence of funk in his household, Martin explained to Pitchfork how acts such as Bootsy Collins and Parliament-Funkadelic ruled the airwaves of Black America in the late 1970s and 1980s. However, as he talked about his musical influences, he opened up about hip-hop and how he fell in love with the culture.

When asked who inspired him to begin producing hip-hop beats, Premier delved into the 1980s and explained that Run-D.M.C. played our homecoming at Prairie View A&M University. During the opening act and in between sets, they were playing Red Alert off the radio, and I heard them play ‘The Bridge’ by MC Shan. I thought it was called ‘The Breaks’ because it sounded like he was saying ‘The breaks, the breaks, the breaks’ instead of ‘The bridge.’”

He continued, “The original [sampled] song was called ‘Scratchin’, and I didn’t know Marley Marl took that record, made it go in reverse, and pitched it down. The beat was hard, and it had a lot of reverb. As simple as it was, it blew me away. I was already a Marley Marl fan, but he had been doing drum machine stuff, and now he was sampling. That’s when I was like, ‘I gotta go to New York. I gotta be a part of this.’”

As he concluded the interview, he admitted that he wouldn’t be a prominent figure in hip-hop if it weren’t for Marley Marl and the Juice Crew. Humbly, the producer revealed that it was the ‘Bridge Wars’ that drew him in. Martin disclosed how the excitement and intensity of the battle as well as the quality of the music, trumped that of Bootsy Collins and made him a child of New York hip-hop.