“You Grabbed Shit I Didn’t Think You’d Grab!”: Inside DJ Premier and Adrian Younge’s Sample Synergy on PRhyme
Ever since a bevy of million dollar lawsuits wreaked havoc on the record business in the early 90s, legal issues surrounding the use of samples have been a thorn in the side for rap producers. DJ Premier knows a thing or two about that. The beatmaker — originally one half of the rap duo Gang Starr and later, an illustrious record producer who has worked with everyone from the Notorious B.I.G. to Nas to Jay-Z — has been sued multiple times. In the late nineties, when samples clearances became cost-prohibitive, he even went so far as to create an entirely new production style: chopping loops into tiny unidentifiable fragments then piecing them back together, to skirt having to pay for them.
But if PRhyme — his new collaborative LP with Detroit-bred MC Royce da 5’9″ and Los Angeles-based composer Adrian Younge — is any indication, those concerns may be finally over. The entirety of the album’s beats were created with samples from Younge’s catalogue of psychedelic soul records. These modern day cuts are the type of dusty grooves Premier has spent his entire career digging in the crates for.
“Adrian made shit purposely for producers to take what he calls ‘the sweet spot’. But I didn’t take the sweet spot.”
“It’s not what I’m used to doing; I wanted to do the album my regular way,” Premier explains, while acknowledging that the painstaking and costly process of clearing samples would never keep him from his preferred method of beatmaking. “A horn from one record, a ‘yeah’ from another record, a loop from another; my traditional style. It took a little pushing. But Royce was really into Adrian’s music, and what sold me on the idea was a conversation. Adrian and I clicked on our understanding of music. He explained to me why he does the sound that he does. He said he’s only into the years 1968-73, because it seemed like those are the years hip-hop grabs on to to really make the funky beats that we make. From there he gave me his catalog, and I just started picking around.”
With the source material from Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn: Something About April, the soundtrack to Black Dynamite and Adrian Younge Presents The Delfonics at his ready — folders of MP3 files, which Adrian emailed to him — Premier went to work on his Akai MPC Renaissance and S950 sampler. As an added bonus, he also aspired to impress Younge, who had confessed to the producer that he’d been previously dissatisfied with what other rap beatmakers had done with samples of his music.
“So I had to have those beats that fucked his head up,” says Premier. “He kinda had an inkling of where I was going to take things from on certain songs, because he made shit purposely for producers to take what he calls ‘the sweet spot’. But I didn’t take the sweet spot. He said, ‘You went to the edge. You grabbed shit I didn’t think you’d grab.’ That’s how I do with all samples.”
“…What sold me on the idea was a conversation.”
While the result of their musical pairing is hard to find fault with, the genesis of their collaboration was not something that came quick or easy. Mining the catalogue of Adrian Younge was originally the idea of Shady Records A&R Michael Herard, who according to Premier, envisioned the project as a five-song Slaughterhouse EP, meant to tide fans over between albums.
The group was recording in the B room at Premier’s HeadQCourterz in New York, and initially a handful of other producers, like AraabMuzik were considered for the undertaking. But Premier had recently produced Slaughterhouse’s “Ya’ll Ready Know” for the Shady XV compilation, and with their working relationship solidified, Herard figured he was the one to do it.
Still, scheduling issues amongst the group members proved problematic, and Premier, for his part, was hesitant to commit. That is until Royce, whom Premier has worked with extensively in the past, presented it as a solo project. Even still, the producer remained apprehensive. “Initially, Premier wasn’t all for it because he’s never limited himself to one artist,” says Younge. “But then he started getting into the material and really digging what was happening. I started telling him about some of the things he sampled and how he approached the music, not like a beatmaker, but like a composer. I was breaking down some of his music, talking to him about it and we just really clicked.”
“Two producers and a sensational MC like Royce, this is what hip-hop should be.”
PRhyme features some of Premier’s best production in years. The album’s full-bodied sonic palette, built from pieces of Younge’s funky blaxploitation-inspired grooves, provides the perfect head nod-inducing backdrop for Royce to lyrically let loose. It is, in many ways, a throwback to the rapper’s early days, when he rhymed atop more sample-heavy beats. It’s also largely an exemplary showcase for how rap’s classic boom bap aesthetics can be cultivated via more contemporary means.
“I’m a scholar of the craft of the time where the source material for hip-hop’s sonic palette comes from,” Younge says. “In my studio I have old tape machines, old boards, old gear. So when Premier uses my catalogue, he’s using the catalogue of a person who’s in the late 60s/early 70s.”
For his part, Younge — who also recently collaborated with RZA on the Wu-Tang Clan’s new LP A Better Tomorrow — thinks his ability to produce sample-ready songs makes him an extremely valuable asset. He also finds extraordinary value in what beatmakers do to his records. It’s a give and take relationship. “I make my music for people to enjoy,” says Younge. “But I also make music for people to sample. If someone samples my music, it makes my music better because the derivative version essentially seeks to voice what the sweet spot is in the original composition.
I start hearing my music differently. Premier created music that had me rethinking what I did originally. When I’m recording music, I think of a sample in my head and I play the sample. With Preemo, he thinks of a sample in his head, and he finds the record. So with me, I have all these records in my head. It’s like yo, I got these records in my head, here’s some of these records. If it’s any kind of new record, tell me, and I can make it for you.”
Peep more info on PRhyme’s forthcoming Boiler Room special HERE. It’s a session we’re calling “one of the rare moments when the stars align and everything falls perfectly into place. One of the most technically-advanced MCs in the game, paired with a producer who needs no introduction at this point, doing what they do best on a backbone of samples entirely produced by the closest thing to a living spring of loops and breaks hip hop may ever get…the result is one of the most intimate and high caliber rap sessions we’ve had to date.”
Broadcast begins at 1300 EST, Wednesday 10th December. Do not miss out.
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