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DJ Premier

Christopher Edward Martin (born March 21, 1966), better known as DJ Premier (Premo/Primo/Preem as his fans, fellow musicians and critics call him sometimes), is a prominent American hip hop producer and DJ, and the instrumental half of the duo Gang Starr, together with MC Guru on the lyrical side. Contrary to popular belief, DJ Premier is not a founding member of Gang Starr. Following an invitation by Guru, he joined the 1987-founded group in 1989. Originally from Houston, he has lived in Brooklyn, New York virtually his entire professional career.


He was introduced to DJing while attending school at Prairie View A&M in Prairie View, Texas. DJ Premier's original stage name was Waxmaster C, the "C" taken from his first name, Chris, although he had already changed it to DJ Premier at the time he joined Gang Starr. He chose the name "Premier" because he wanted to be the first to do what he did.


Besides co-producing most of the Gang Starr catalog with Guru, DJ Premier has created countless tracks for many groups and solo artists since the early 90's. These include notable tracks for artists such as Jay-Z ("D'Evils", "So Ghetto", "Bring It On"), Common ("The 6th Sense"), Big L ("The Enemy", "Platinum Plus"), The Notorious B.I.G. ("Unbelievable", "Kick in the Door", "Ten Crack Commandments", "Rap Phenomenon"), Nas ("N.Y. State of Mind", "N.Y. State of Mind Part II", "Nas Is Like", "Represent", "Come Get Me", "2nd Childhood", "Memory Lane"), Pitch Black ("It's All Real"), M.O.P. ("Downtown Swinga", "Anticipation", "Breakin Tha Rules", "New Jack City"), Jeru the Damaja("The Sun rises in the east (entire album)","Wrath of the math(entire album)"), KRS-One ("MC's Act Like They Don't Know", "Outta Here"), Mos Def ("Mathematics"), Non Phixion ("Rock Stars") and Royce Da 5'9" ("Boom", "Hip-Hop").

However, some of Premier's most lauded non-Gang Starr productions have been his collaborations with lesser known artists. With MC Jeru the Damaja, Premier crafted one of the East Coast's landmark albums in The Sun Rises in the East, released in 1994, and Wrath of the Math, Jeru's 1996 second album. Another record packed with Premier productions, Group Home's Livin' Proof, although overlooked at the time of its 1995 release, has since come to find similar acclaim. Both Jeru and Group Home were tutored in MCing by Premier's Gang Starr partner, Guru.

Though almost exclusively a hip-hop producer, DJ Premier collaborated extensively with jazz musician Branford Marsalis's experimental group, Buckshot Lefonque, for their debut album. He also recently found himself in the pop world, producing five tracks for Christina Aguilera's album Back to Basics, which included the first single off the album; Ain't No Other Man in 2006. Other non hip-hop artists that appear in Premier's production credits include big names such as Limp Bizkit, D'Angelo and Craig David.

Premier has remixed numerous songs for artists around the world, both inside and outside of the hip-hop realm. He has worked with artists from Russia, Japan, England, Canada, and has even produced a track for former porn star Heather Hunter.

Production style

Premier's signature style is, essentially, a two-bar break to make up the rhythms of his tracks, and a scratched chorus. His early Gang Starr work relies heavily on melodic samples, but starting with Jeru's The Sun Rises in the East in 1994, he began to use ominous atonal samples as well. (These may have been inspired by the atonal piano samples that figured heavily in Wu-Tang Clan's groundbreaking debut, 1993's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers); Premier uses a sample from 36 Chambers track "Tearz," Wu producer RZA's ominous laughter, to comprise the chorus from Jeru's "Ain't the Devil Happy.")

One notable exception to Premier's style is his more varied beat from Nas' classic track, "Represent"; the chorus is much more musically distinct from the verses than is typical for him. Also, though most of Premier's tracks contain the crackles and pops from the records he samples, he has employed more polished beats in his more mainstream productions.


DJ Premier's style of production epitomizes the New York sound of his earlier peers. He is known for sampling jazz, funk, and soul artists, as well as sampling an artist's past work when creating a new track for that same artist. In addition, his encyclopedic memory of rap lyrics allows him to distinctively "speak with his hands" by scratching in lyrics from several different songs to construct new phrases. Premier's non-Gang Starr collaborations are well-known for his oft-imitated combinations of short vocal samples, often from multiple artists, to create a chorus. For example, in the chorus of Mos Def's "Mathematics", Premier cuts in quick succession:

"The Mighty Mos Def..." (from Mos Def's "Body Rock"), "It's simple mathematics" (from Fat Joe's "John Blaze"), "Check it out" (Lady of Rage from Snoop Dogg's "For All My Niggaz & Bitches"), "I revolve around science..." (from Ghostface Killah's verse on Raekwon's "Criminology"), "What are we talking about here..." (from the movie "Ghostbusters"), "Do your math.." (from Erykah Badu's "On & On"), and "One, two, three, four" (from James Brown's "Funky Drummer")

On certain artists' work the vocal samples will all be vocal samples of the artist from the artist's past work; "Nas Is Like" and Nas' "2nd Childhood" are two well-known examples of this.

Premier also sampled and chopped up recordings of seminal electro-acoustic music from the 1960's on Jeru the Damaja's "Physical Stamina." By no means does Premier rely solely on hip-hop and soul samples.

According to Premier himself, in 1989 Large Professor (formerly of Main Source) taught him how to filter samples to create his own basslines.


Premier usually creates a one or two-bar melody that repeats itself throughout the song, usually using a combination of orchestral and ambient samples. This template of simple repetition leaves plenty of room for the MC to spread out.

He has also shown innovation by playing unusual elements into rap songs (such as the bicycle bells in Group Home's "Supa Star" or the ambient nature sounds on Nas' "Nas Is Like"), and his wide range of instruments (the piano loop on Jay-Z's "D'Evils" and the strings on Rakim's "New York (Ya Out There?") and production techniques (he plays the melody backwards during the second half of Jay-Z's "A Million And One Questions (Rhyme No More)".

When DJ Premier sampled an obscure funk electronic song from the 70's to construct Gang Starr's 1991 hit "Just To Get A Rep" (Jean-Jaques Perrey's "E.V.A."), he achieved a water-like effect. This beat alone made him an object of fascination to many would-be producers and DJs. The 1993 single "Come Clean" has become legendary for a melody resembling that of children banging on water pipes.


DJ Premier's drums have been known to complement his melodies. For example, during Nas' "N.Y. State of Mind", two bars have a simple round of kicks and snares; in the following two, a complementing second set of drums plays out. This is repeated throughout. Ultimately, the simplistic patterning used to structure his drum beats helps to define the inimitable sound characterizing the typical DJ Premier track. Rarely, if ever, do patterns veer from their programmed two to four bar loops. Drum rolls, cymbal crashes, and hand claps are usually absent.

DJ Premier's drums are amongst the most distinctive in the genre, known for being especially punchy, crisp, and well-defined. This is a characteristic that has manifested itself more prominently in the latter half of his career, although this is only a generalization.

Evolution of sound

Over the years Premier's work has become considerably less jazzy and his more recent productions are notably less grimy, perhaps to meet more mainstream expectations. His work with Gang Starr, however, continues to exhibit hints of jazziness and maintains a dirtier sound although no new material has been released since The Ownerz. In his earlier tracks, Premier would sometimes switch up the melody in the chorus and would add more layers, though his work has become increasingly more basic and you will often hear the same two bars repeated throughout an entire song. In the early 90's, DJ Premier would cut in a single vocal sample for a chorus, whereas more recently he has developed a technique in which he strings a number of snippets together.

Multiple beats

Although not entirely unique to Premier, he is well known for producing songs that consist of more than one beat. When this is the case there is usually a short introduction instrumental to bring in the track. He has also used outro beats but these are less common. O.C.'s ("My World"), M.O.P.'s ("Face Off") and Jeru the Damaja's ("Scientifical Madness") are good examples of this. Several tracks on Group Home's debut album also make use of this.

Possibly the first and one of the most noteworthy instances of DJ Premier making use of this technique is on Gang Starr's third album, Daily Operation, with the song "I'm the Man". Guru, Group Home's Lil' Dap, and Jeru the Damaja take turns on the mic whilst DJ Premier provides three separate instrumentals, appropriating the styles of each individual emcee. This same formula was then recreated two years later on Hard to Earn with "Speak Ya Clout".

Clean versions

Another trademark of DJ Premier is evident in the clean versions of his productions. Premier is known to edit the obscenities out himself, replacing them with sound effects. This makes the clean versions of the songs much more listenable and fills the void of the absent words.


In an interview with XXL Magazine, DJ Premier was asked how his sound evolved, to which he replied, "Marley Marl is my number one inspiration. Jam Master Jay, Mixmaster Ice and UTFO. Grandmaster B and Whodini. DJ Cheese, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa. Jazzy Jay, even Cut Creator. Seeing them do what they do. It’s black music, it’s black culture, it comes from the ghetto. How can you not relate to ghetto people when that’s the rawest form of blackness? Even though it’s not a good place in regards to the economy and how bad people have it in the neighborhood, the realism’s there, and that’s what we were born out of. So I very much pay respect by doing the same type of music in return."

Relationships with artists

The details concerning DJ Premier’s ‘falling out’ with certain artists are hazy and vague, having seen little publicity. Jeru the Damaja, KRS-One, and Group Home are artists who have worked with Premier extensively early in their careers, but have since parted ways. This has also been the case with other rappers such as Nas and Jay-Z; however, in the latter cases, it is likely that major label interference was the main reason that DJ Premier’s involvement was ruled out from more recent projects.

DJ Premier was fully responsible for the production of Jeru the Damaja’s debut and second album. Jeru has released two albums since then, with Premier having nothing to do with either of them. The supposed reason that the two are no longer affiliates is that there was apparently a financial dispute between them and Jeru felt that Premier was cheating him out of his fair share.

KRS-One is yet another artist who has since split ways with the mega-producer and according to Preem, the estrangement also has monetary strings attached. As his career progressed and his reputation grew, Premier’s beats increased in price, making it less economical for rappers to have him on their album. When KRS-One was recording his first solo works, DJ Premier would charge $5,000 a track. As time went on, this then became $30,000 and this inflation is the supposed reason why the two have not collaborated since KRS’ second album. But recently, the two have worked together for the track Classic featuring performances by KRS, Rakim, Nas and Kanye West.

As far as Group Home is concerned, Premier commented, "They don't respect what fed them" in a 2003 interview, going on to say that the only reason he produced a track on their second album was because Guru said he would rhyme on it.

Label ownership and future projects

DJ Premier currently owns two record labels. "Year Round Records" was founded in 2002 and has so far released several DJ Premier mixtapes as well as 12" vinyl singles for NYG'z and Blaq Poet. "Works Of Mart", which is also the name of his publishing company since the early 90's, was founded in mid 2006 and released 12" vinyl singles for Tef (aka Teflon) and FABID (H. Stax and Mike Rone) and a mixtape. In 2004, he took ownership the now-defunct legendary D&D Studios. After much-needed renovations, it has since reopened as HeadQcourterz Studios, named for his fallen friend.

Since the early 00s, DJ Premier has mentioned several times his plan to release a solo album entitled A Man Of Few Words, which has yet to be released. Other long confirmed, delayed, but still unreleased upcoming projects are a collaboration album with Saigon, Nas, Blaq Poet's album "The Best That Never Did It", Teflon's album "Contraband" and the NYG'z album "Pros and Cons" also working on the lead single for Kool G Rap's upcoming album Half A Klip set to be released September 11th,2007.


The following list contains songs produced, co-produced or remixed by DJ Premier.

Compilations & Official Mixtapes

  • 1997 New York Reality Check 101
  • 1997 Crooklyn Cuts
  • 2004 Signature Sounds Vol.
  • 2004 Step Ya Game Up
  • 2005 Checc Ya Mail
  • 2005 Holiday Hell
  • 2005 The Kings of Hip Hop
  • 2006 No Talent Required
  • 2006 God Vs. Tha Devil
  • 2007 Re-Program

Production Discography


  • Gang Starr - No More Mr. Nice Guy


  • Lord Finesse - Funky Technician (6 tracks)
  • Branford Marsalis Quartet - Music from Mo' Better Blues "Jazz Thing"


  • Cookie Crew - Fade to Black "A Word from the Conscious"
  • J Rock - Fade Streetwize (4 tracks)
  • Gang Starr - Step in the Arena


  • Heavy D & the Boyz - Blue Funk (2 tracks)
  • Gang Starr - Daily Operation


  • Mobb Deep - Juvenile Hell -- "Peer Pressure"
  • KRS-One - Return of the Boom Bap (6 tracks)


  • Nas - Illmatic -- (3 tracks) "N.Y. State of Mind", "Memory Lane (Sittin' in da Park)", "Represent"
  • The Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die -- "Unbelievable"
  • Buckshot LeFonque - Buckshot LeFonque -- (5 tracks)
  • Big Daddy Kane - Daddy's Home -- "Show & Prove (with Scoob Lover, Shyheim, Jay-Z, Sauce Money & Ol Dirty Bastard)"
  • Jeru the Damaja - The Sun Rises in the East
  • Gang Starr - Hard to Earn
  • Dream Warriors - Subliminal Simulation -- "It's a Project Thing"
  • Arrested Development - "Ease My Mind (Remix)"


  • Crooklyn Dodgers - Clockers Soundtrack -- "Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers"
  • Group Home - Livin' Proof -- (11 out of 13 tracks)
  • Guru - Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality -- "Watch What You Say (with Chaka Khan & Branford Marsaslis)"
  • Show & A.G. - Goodfellas -- "Next Level (Nyte Time Mix)"
  • KRS-One - KRS-One -- (3 tracks) "Rappaz R. N. Dainja", "MC's Act Like They Don't Know", "Wannabemceez"
  • Fat Joe - Jealous One's Envy -- (2 tracks) "The Shit Is Real (DJ Premier Remix)", "Success (DJ Premier Remix)"
  • Das EFX - Hold It Down -- (2 tracks) "No Diggedy", "Real Hip-Hop"
  • D&D Studios - D&D Project -- "1,2 Pass It" (Fat Joe, Mad Lion, Doug E. Fresg, Jeru The Damaja, etc.)


  • Jeru The Damaja - Wrath of the Math
  • Bahamadia - Kollage -- (5 tracks)
  • Nas - It Was Written -- "I Gave You Power"
  • M.O.P. - Firing Squad -- (7 tracks)
  • Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt -- (3 tracks) "D'evils", "Friend or Foe", "Bring It On"


  • Jay-Z - In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 -- (2 tracks)
  • The Notorious B.I.G. - Life After Death -- (2 tracks)
  • O.C. - Jewelz-- (4 tracks)
  • Sauce Money - Soul in the Hole Soundtrack -- "Against the Grain"
  • Rakim - The 18th Letter -- (2 tracks)
  • The Lady of Rage - Necessary Roughness -- (2 tracks)
  • J-Live - The Best Part -- "The Best Part"


  • Jay-Z - Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life -- "Intro - Hand It Down"
  • M.O.P. - First Family 4 Life -- (5 tracks)
  • All City - Metropolis Gold -- "The Actual"
  • Fat Joe - Don Cartagena -- (1 track)
  • D'Angelo - Voodoo-- "Devil's Pie"
  • Brand Nubian - Foundation -- "The Return"
  • Gang Starr - Moment of Truth


  • Jay-Z - Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter-- "So Ghetto"
  • Nas - I Am... -- (2 tracks) "N.Y. State of Mind, Pt. 2" & "Nas Is Like"
  • Screwball - Y2K The Album -- (2 tracks)"F.A.Y.B.A.N.", "Seen It All"
  • Rakim - The Master -- (2 tracks) "When I B on tha Mic" & "Waiting for the World to End"
  • Mos Def - Black on Both Sides -- "Mathematics"
  • The Notorious B.I.G. - Born Again -- "Rap Phenomenon"
  • Nas - Nastradamus-- "Come Get Me"
  • Group Home - A Tear for the Ghetto-- "The Legacy" (with Method Man)
  • Limp Bizkit - Significant Other-- "N 2 Gether Now"
  • AG - The Dirty Version - "Weed Scented"
  • Rah Digga - Dirty Harriet - "Lessons of Today"


  • Freddie Foxxx - Industry Shakedown-- (2 tracks) "R.N.S." & "Part of My Life"
  • Guru - Jazzmatazz, Vol. 3: Streetsoul -- "Hustlin' Daze"
  • M.O.P. - Warriorz -- (5 tracks)
  • Big L - The Big Picture -- (3 tracks) "The Big Picture (Intro)", "The Enemy" & "Platinum Plus"
  • D.I.T.C. - D.I.T.C. -- (3 tracks) "Thick", "Ebonix (Premo Mix)" & "Da Enemy"
  • Afu-Ra - Body of the Life Force -- (5 tracks)
  • The Lox - We Are The Streets -- "Recognize"
  • Common - Like Water for Chocolate -- "The 6th Sense"
  • Capone-N-Noreaga - The Reunion -- "Invincible"


  • Jadakiss featuring The Lox - "Kiss tha Game Goodbye" "None Of Y'all Betta"
  • Ed O.G. - The Truth Hurts -- "Sayin' Somethin'"
  • Nas - Stillmatic -- "2nd Childhood"
  • Dilated Peoples - Expansion Team' -- "Clockwork"
  • Limp Bizkit - New Old Songs -- (2 tracks)
  • Royce Da 5'9" - Rock City (Version 2.0) -- (2 tracks) "My Friend" & "Boom"


  • Non Phixion - The Future Is Now-- "Rock Stars"
  • Snoop Dogg - Paid tha Cost to Be da Bo$$ -- "The One and Only", Batman & Robib
  • Xzibit - Man Vs. Machine -- "What a Mess"
  • Ras Kass -- "Goldyn Chlyd (DJ Premier Remix)"
  • Afu-Ra - Life Force Radio -- (2 tracks) "Lyrical Monster" & "Blvd."
  • NYG'z - "Giantz Ta Thiz", "Strength" (12" Single)


  • Freddie Foxxx - "Konexion" -- "Konexion"
  • Gang Starr - The Ownerz
  • Blaq Poet - "Poet Has Come", "A Message From Poet"


  • Pitch Black - Pitch Black Law -- (2 tracks) "It's All Real" & "Got It Locked"
  • Royce Da 5'9" - Death is Certain -- "Hip Hop"
  • Cee-Lo - Cee-Lo Green... is the Soul Machine-- "Evening News"
  • Big Daddy Kane -- "Any Type of Way"


  • Big Shug - Who's Hard?-- (9 tracks)
  • Afu-Ra - State of the Arts-- "Sucka Free"
  • Teriyaki Boyz - Beef or Chicken -- "You Know What Time Is It!?"
  • AZ - A.W.O.L -- "The Come Up"


  • Christina Aguilera - Back to Basics (5 tracks)
  • Agallah - You Already Know -- "New York Ryder Music"
  • AZ - The Format -- "The Format"
  • DJ Cam - DJ Cam Revisited By...-- "Voodoo Child (Remix)"
  • Four Tet - "As Serious as Your Life (DJ Premier Remix)"
  • Termanology -- "Watch How It Go Down"
  • Blaq Poet - 4 tracks from Rewind: Deja Screw
  • Verbal Threat - The Golden Era -- "Reality Check"


  • Nas/KRS-One/Kanye West/Rakim - "Classic (Better Than I've Ever Been) (DJ Premier Remix)"
  • Skyzoo feat. Torae" - "Get it done"
  • Freddy Foxxx - "Mic and Gun"
  • NYGZ - "Gz and Hustlaz"
  • Blaq Poet - "Voices"
  • Blaq Poet - "Hood Crazy"
  • Royce Da 5'9" - "Hit Em!" "Ding!"
  • Blaq Poet/NYG'z - NHB (Nigga, Ho, Bitch)
  • Skyzoo feat. Torae - "Click"
  • Big Shug - "Streets Move", "It Just Don’t Stop", "Play It" (from Streetchamp)