Dj Premier sits with Life and Times and talks Nas and Illmatic
L+T: I’m sure you’re getting sick of the Illmatic questions, but mine is different! From the three tracks you produced on the album, I definitely feel the connection between the instrumentation along with the lyrics – they go hand-in-hand. When you worked with Nas on those three records, how were you able to decide what sounds would actually work with the lyrics? It’s such a real story, the lyrics are poignant.
DJ Premier: Well, with “Memory Lane,” Nas was laughing at the album cover. It was a Reuben Wilson sample – which I can say because it was cleared – I don’t mind people know that. When we were looking at the cover, Nas was like, “Look at this dude, look at his afro!” He was laughing. When he heard that sample (hums the vocals) in the beginning of the song, that’s all we had looped. Well, I looped it. He was like, “Yo, that’s what I want.” I’m like, ‘Yeah, but it ain’t really hardcore beats.’ We had already done N.Y. State of Mind. I was like, ‘I want to do another one on that level.’ He was like, “Nah, because I already have a lot of hardcore stuff already. I need to get something like that to take it to a different type of sonic sound.” I didn’t really like it. So he was like, “Yo, just hook it up and if it doesn’t work as I lay the vocals, we’ll scrap it.” (raps the intro) I was like, ‘Okay’ and it made me like it. He rapped over it and I was like, ‘Alright, we’ll keep it.’
L+T: Everyone has their own perspective of Illmatic. For you, what is it about Illmaticthat makes it – as many critics and some musicians express – one of the greatest hip hop albums in history?
DJ Premier: Mainly because of the fact that at that time Nas was this new sound in music, his attitude, his cockiness – like, “Yo, y’all can’t fuck with me” – and just the rawness and the bluntness of the things he was saying from “[Live at the] Barbecue” to “Halftime” – just all of that stuff made it like... Read the rest of this interview on NasDotCom.com