By Linear Labs
“Unbeknownst to the master, he taught the student over the last 25 years on how to make beats. The student then went out on his own to create music that synthesized his perspective; thereafter, the master sampled the student’s production to once again reignite the student’s passion for the master’s compositional perspectives.”
DJ Premier (“Preemo”) is arguably the greatest Hip Hop producer of all time and the culture is deeply indebted to his contribution. That being said, I am honored that a producer of his stature decided to exclusively sample my catalog to produce PRhyme. PRhyme debuts the musical partnership between Royce Da 5’9″, Preemo, and myself.
Preemo is a symphonic composer; not a mere “Beatmaker.” Over the years, he has repeatedly proven himself by exhibiting unadulterated talent, molding the evolution of Hip Hop’s raw cultural sentiment. He turns unmelodic sounds into lavish masterpieces; bleak compositions into thriving works of art and has changed the landscape of modern Soul. Royce is one of the best M.C.’s on the planet, and his association with Preemo is for the sole purpose of creating classics.
On Oct. 4th, 2014, Preemo invited me to his legendary D&D/HeadQCouterz studio, in Manhattan, for my initial PRhyme listening session; Royce was out of town, and unable to attend. At the beginning of the session, Preemo and I felt some anxiety. Unbeknownst to me, Preemo was fearful that I would not creatively approve of this new production. He was aware of my exaltation of his talent, but this sentiment was compounded by the fact that he knew I wasn’t impressed with how some producers sampled my music. Conversely, I felt anxiety because I had no idea how I was going to feel about this new production.
When this session began, he played the song “PRhyme.” After 10 seconds, I shouted “Stop! Start this over.” About 30 seconds, I turned to him and said, “I’m speechless…I expected you to meet my expectations, but I didn’t expect you to far exceed them.” Below, I explain everything that went through my mind on this special listening session, song by song:
PRhyme: Here, Preemo sampled three sections of the instrumental entitled “Midnight Blue,” from Something About April. The reason he sampled three sections was to rearrange the melodic progressions composed, to take the listener to the chorus. By using Midnight Blue’s intro for the PRhyme chorus, he essentially reversed my progression in a way that I would never have predicted. Also, it’s ironic that Preemo chose this instrumental because Midnight Blue is based on a song he produced for Jeru, entitled “Ain’t the Devil Happy.” In writing Midnight Blue, I sought to create a chord progression that Ennio Morricone would have written, coupled with Preemo on the drums and the bass. I never predicted that Preemo would sample it, to essentially make a new derivative version of a song he actually inspired.
Dat Sound Good: When the beat dropped, I was blown away. Preemo sampled the instrumental to “Chicago Wind,” from the Black Dynamite Score. In creating “Dat Sound Good,” Preemo employed his signature chopping method to create an entirely new melody, using the chorus of Chicago Wind. When creating the original, in 2009, I was compositionally channeling RZA, as well as the source material he used to create many of his classics (Stax, Hi-Records, etc.). Hence, Dat Sound Good is classic Preemo production, synthesizing the sonic and compositional perspectives that RZA introduced to hip hop in the ‘90s. I was impressed.
U LOOZ: Preemo sampled “Shot Me In The Heart,” from the Black Dynamite Score. When Preemo played this for me, it took me a minute to determine the source of the sample. This is because Preemo sampled a section of the song that I never perceived as being a potential “break” (the sweet spot of a song that Hip Hop producers/DJs are naturally inclined to loop). This section was actually written to lead the listener to my intended break (approximately 7 seconds after the organ chops). In any case, this is just another example of why Preemo is a genius. He purposely skipped the obvious break in order to create a new beat from a mere transitional moment. The break can stand alone, looped, but Preemo wanted to work for this beat. Again, classic Preemo. At this point, I was fully secure in the fact that this PRhyme album would be considered a modern Preemo classic.
You Should Know: Preemo sampled “True Love,” as found on Adrian Younge presents The Delfonics. He sampled four sections, and like the self titled song, PRhyme, he rearranged my chord progressions in an entirely new way. In composing the original, I sought to create a classic Delfonics ballad that had potential breaks within the song; instead of looping one part, he compiled these breaks to create an entirely new uptempo composition. Such artistry is a testament to why Preemo is a composer and not just a beat maker. For some reason, this song took me back to the feeling I had when I first heard the Gangstarr classic, “The ? Remainz.”
Courtesy: Preemo sampled “Tears I Cry,” a bonus track on The Black Dynamite Score. Once again, it took me a little time to determine the lead sample because Preemo sampled a portion that I never considered being a potential break. About halfway into the song, Preemo informed me that this album is the first time he ever produced in stereo (a production process where the engineer utilizes a wider aural spectrum to maximize the listening experience. For example, the lead guitar may be exclusively on the right speaker as the background vocals and piano may be exclusively on the left speaker). He utilized stereo production because my original music was in stereo, and this somehow inspired him to maintain the consistency of that spacing. Listen closely to the spacing of the synthesizer/theremin sound on the chorus… He killed this one.
Wishin: “Sound Of A Man,” as found on Something About April, is my favorite song on the album, and I was absolutely dumbfounded when he played it for me. It took me about six full listens before I could even focus on the brilliant lyrics Common and Royce performed on this song, because the tempo changes, scratches, and the chops are so compositionally astounding. In writing the original sample, my band (Venice Dawn) sought to create a song that resembled early Pink Floyd meets Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood, meets Marvin Gaye on Here My Dear. I never would have expected a derivative version to sound like this. Among many things, Preemo individually changed the pitch of the tremolo guitar, to rewrite the melody, as if he was playing a new guitar riff. On the album, I enjoy listening to the production on Wishin because of the sampling gymnastics. Only Preemo could make this beat.
To Me To You: This one he used “It’s Me,” from Something About April. To Me To You was created before the release of Common’s “7 Deadly Sins, ” on Nobody’s Smiling, which incporated the same sample. Common’s version was produced by No I.D. In writing my song, I sought to create a composition that RZA would have written for Erykah Badu, or Alicia Keys, with chord progressions and potential breaks. When I met Alicia Keys (three years after It’s Me was released), she sang the lyrics of the song, while playing it on her phone for me. I was completely blown away and this feeling was echoed when I sat with No I.D. and Preemo during our separate listening sessions for their albums. Here, you have two veteran producers sampling the same song. Their sequential choices for the development of their seperate songs are both masterful and unique. I advise all producers to listen to It’s Me, 7 Deadly Sins, and To Me To You, to recognize the different moments each producer created. One thing to focus on is how we all used the concept of syncopation, or the “off beat,” to create an unconventional swing. Also, focus on how No I.D. and Preemo attacked the RZA inspired organ chop (in writing the original, I sought to create an organ hit that was a nod to RZA’s sampling of Wende Rene’s “After The Laughter” as heard on RZA’s production for “Tearz.”)
Underground Kings: Samples “Thunderstrike,” from Something About April. In creating the sampled music, I composed a song that embodied the ‘60s aural concept of outer space. Composers of the time, such as Peter Thomas would use electronic sounds to depict the notion of the future/space travel. In creating Underground Kings, Preemo surprised me with the syncopated drums at the top of the song. On first listen, I couldn’t quite figure out the rhythm and swing of the drums until the sample commenced. I was blown away by how he was able to incorporate the vintage space theme with boom bap. He’s a genius.
Microphone Preem: Samples “Two Hearts Combine,” from Something About April. In creating the sampled music, I composed a song that was inspired by “You’re All I Need, ” as originally sung by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye. In writing the progressions, I sought to create a harder version of You’re All I Need by diluting the pop edge and replacing it with a more psychedelic sequence of fuzz, drums, and organ. On Microphone Preem, Preemo blew me away because he altered the time signature of the sample, based on how it was placed over his drums. I remember telling him that I can’t believe he even thought of changing the timing like that. It’s just not the obvious thing to do and this is why Preemo is a master.
When the session was over, I thanked Preemo for listening to Royce’s suggestion to exclusively sample my catalog. With this project, Preemo and Royce have actually enhanced my personal experience when listening to my own music. This is because my original compositions are now solidified as formidable breaks, enhancing the value of the works, as well as expanding upon the meaning of the originals. When reflecting on my originals, there was a time when I only associated them with great singers; now, I can listen to my music and associate it with not only Venice Dawn, but with Dj Premier and Royce da 5’9″, together as PRhyme.