It's hard to name two hip-hop producers more iconic than DJ Premier and Dr. Dre. They've both had a hand in the genre's growing canon, yet despite traveling in the same circles for more than 25 years, the pair had never worked together -- until now. Compton, Dr. Dre's first album in 16 years (which went on sale Friday), features "Animals," the pair's first collaboration. Billboard spoke to Premier about his contribution to the album, his history with Dr. Dre and what it means to be a hip-hop producer.
When did you first meet Dr. Dre? We met back in 1989, when my first Gang Starr album, No More Mr. Nice Guy, came out. We had a release party, and N.W.A came. Eazy-E came, MC Ren came, and Dre came. They were in town, people were still new to N.W.A, but they were starting to make a little noise to where they were getting accepted in New York. They came to support our album, so we he had met them -- but as far as having conversations and being around the recording process, I was around right after The Chronic came out, and I was there for when [Snoop Dogg's] Doggystyle was still being recorded. I knew him and Suge [Knight] around that time, so we were already cool. I just had never really done any work with him on that process. I'd recorded and produced records for [Death Row Records artist] Lady of Rage -- [but] Dre had already left Death Row at that time, so he wasn't around.
Was there ever any tension as far as West Coast vs. East Coast? It's whatever -- people like me and Dre are music people, so we're beyond just hip-hop. We're purists. Not everybody who makes beats is a purist. I did his radio show [The Pharmacy on Beats 1] that's going to air in a couple weeks, and he dedicated the whole show to my career. We talked about the same thing you just asked -- for one, what's the difference between a producer and a beatmaker? I explained how I see it, and he felt the same way. We don't just lay the beats down -- we're coaches. We tell you, "Your voice squeaked right there. You need to go back. Let's fix that line," or "Can you do that again with more energy?" or "Can you say this better?" We're about more than just putting the track down and calling it a day.
How did "Animals," your track on Compton, come together? He was working on a different project -- not for the movie [Straight Outta Compton], he just started recording again for a different project -- so I was already sending him tracks because we spoke to each other last year. He told me, "I want to start recording, doing some new music, and I want you to get involved. I don't know what I'm going to do with them yet, but I'd love for you to send a few tracks if you have time." I said, "Yeah, I'll put something together," and I sent him like three or four. One he liked right off the bat, and he said, "I'm going to work on this." He told me, "I don't have a set time for it, but I do want to do it." I went to Moscow earlier this year to work with, like, the top producer in Moscow, which I don't do -- I don't need to work with any producers. The pitch was for me to get with a Russian producer, to use Russian samples and music, and then to have MF Doom rap on it. I was like, "Hell yeah," because me and MF Doom had just done a song for the PRhyme deluxe album that's about to be released. To get the opportunity to work with him on another project, with the producer in Russia, who goes by the name of BMB Spacekid.
When we were about to head out to Moscow, MF Doom fell ill and wasn't able to come out, according to what they told us. I'm like, "Well, who are you going to get to replace him?" He said, "We're going to get a singer instead of a rapper, Anderson .Paak." I was like, "Who is that?" They asked if I was down to do it with him, and I said, "I gotta make sure I like him first, I've never heard of him." They sent me some YouTube links, and there was one called "Suede." I saw Knxwledge doing the beat, and I know Knxwledge and his work on Stone's Throw. So I already liked the track, and then I just loved the way [.Paak] looked in the video and his whole demeanor. I told them, "I'm totally in." Once we got out there, we recorded two tracks. The first one was the one that ended up on the Compton soundtrack -- we didn't have any vocals on it, it was just a beat. BMB [Spacekid] programmed the drums. I liked the way he laid it down, I found some samples and stuff I liked, I laid that down and programmed it to have the same bounce that I do, so it would have the Premier style of sound. That's all we did to it -- it had a couple change-ups, but mostly we left it alone and started working on another track. The second track was more of a bounce record, which is already out, through Boiler Room TV. That's how the whole project had come about, because I had done it with PRhyme, and [Boiler Room] was connected with people in Moscow, and they just wanted to show the process of me connecting with a producer in another country. They wanted to go with the second track, which ended up being called "Til It's Done," which has already come out. The first track was just sitting on the back burner, to be used for whatever we wanted to. When the whole Freddie Gray thing happened in Baltimore, Anderson called me and was like, "I'm real angry with what's going on with the police, and I just wrote a song to that other beat. I want to sent it to you and see what you think -- maybe we could leak it out, put it out in the streets and show that we're angry too." When he sent it to me it was called "F.S.U." -- F--- Shit Up. In the hook he's saying, "Don't come around these parts, the whole world thinks we're animals/ The only way they want to turn the cameras on is when we're f---ing shit up." When he said that, I was like, "Yo that's dope." Anderson just happened to be going to a meeting with Dre -- he had already done a few songs with him, through their management. Anderson's from the West Coast as well.
When he told him he had a record with Premier that he did in Moscow, Dre said, "Let me hear it." Once he played it for him, [Dre] called right away and said, "Yo, I want to do this song for my soundtrack. I decided to do a soundtrack album last minute, and I want to put it out with the movie." I said, "What do you want to do?" And he said, "I want to put a verse on it." Like, shit, Dre rapping on a verse? Hell yeah. The song was already done, and I explained how it came about with BMB Spacekid. He said, "I'll spit the verse and let you hear it and make sure you're cool with it, and if so let's add on to it. Come out to L.A. and we can add on a few more things to it." I flew out just to add a few more things to the production side with some of his musicians. A couple more vocals were added in the hook, Dre already had his verse down -- even Talib Kweli showed up and put a verse on it. We're not going to use it for the album version, but I told him maybe we can do a remix version and maybe add Common or somebody. That kind of commentary with police brutality and killing black men is totally up their alley. Next thing you know, it's on the soundtrack. Does Dre's verse fit in with the theme of fighting police brutality? [Dre] showed me [Straight Outta Compton] in the studio, so I got to feel the whole energy of the movie. He had already said that the 1992 riots, with everything going on with the police after the Rodney King beating, was totally in that same vein as Anderson .Paak's lyrics. His verse is about the same thing: Why the f--- are they hassling me? They're harassing us and doing all this stuff, so it's still relevant to this day with how we're being treated. He said, "All I'm going to do is change the title, from 'F.S.U.' to 'Animals,'" because that's what Anderson says in the hook.
Is this the first time you've worked together, officially? Yes, this is the first time. We went in the booth together and talked a little shit at the end of the song, me and him. I scratched on it, with my traditional scratches. Just saying that we're collaborating together -- buggin' out and having fun. A real dope experience. Have you gotten to listen to the rest of the album? First thing I asked him was how many songs he had. He said, "16." I was like, "Wow, that's a lot." People don't do that anymore. I heard about seven of them, they were all dope. What's the vibe like? It's very now. Even just the people that are on it... Snoop Dogg, you're not even going to know it's Snoop. He played that one for me, it's like a rock-type of song. When he played it for me -- I went to the house that night, to do some work at his home studio -- we're chillin' and he's playing this hard guitar shit and I'm just boppin' my head and all of a sudden the vocals come on and I'm like, "Damn, who's that guy?" He said, "That's Snoop." I'm like, "That's Snoop?!" You're gonna be surprised -- it doesn't sound like "One, two, three and a four" [imitating Snoop Dogg's voice]. It's a whole different thing. Dre just looked so happy -- you can tell that he knows this album's solid. Did he talk to you at all about scrapping Detox? Yeah, he just said it's not up to his standards of quality. He said it is officially over. But when they hear this album, they'll understand why. It's well-produced, well-done -- he does this record with The Game that's just straight raw boom-bap, hard lyrics and head-nodding, snap yo' neck type shit. "All in a Day's Work" is crazy -- I kept bothering him while he's recording, like, "Can you play 'All in a Day's Work' again?" There's this one called "Deep Water," I got to watch them record that -- Anderson .Paak recording the drowning. He's rehearsing with a bottle of water, swigging the water [makes choking noises], and I think that he's choking for real. I get up to grab him to give him the Heimlich maneuver, and he was like, "I'm just rehearsing!" He was like shaking his body and trembling, but he was just preparing to do what Dre wanted him to do to sound like a drowning man. Once they have all the effects on it, it sounds like a guy really drowning. It was fun to witness all of that stuff. How long were you guys in the studio together? Four days the first week. I went home, and he flew me out three days later to mix it down and to put on the finishing touches on it. [Dre] was like, "Yo, I'm making this date." I said, "You still got six more [songs] to go!" He goes, "I'm gonna make it, I'm gonna make it." Everyone's always like, "Oh, it's coming out" and it doesn't. The day that I was leaving from finishing my song, all of a sudden he had a chart on a dry-erase board. He had the sequence -- he was moving fast, like "I'm gonna make this date." Very determined. He said once the movie got to a certain point, he started watching it and was like, "You know what -- I'm doing an album right now." That's what inspired him to do it.