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, “This guy is going to be the next big thing.” It was already understood. With “Halftime,” “Back To The Grill,” “[Live at the] Barbeque,” – we hadn’t heard anything else. Then, “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” dropped and even that put you in a whole different perspective. Nas and Guru – I would sit in all of their sessions and watch them work so naturally together. So, that was a big deal. Because of that I wanted to give him that same feeling that Large Professor gave me when he connected to Nas. Every track that they did together just happened to work. You couldn’t deny it. You can’t deny greatness of that level. You have to accept it for what it is and Nas had that type of an impact.
L+T: I don’t trust hearsay, so I will just ask – is it true that you’re actually working on an album with Nas this year or is that a rumor?
DJ Premier: This is what Nas told me recently and every time that we talk this is what he tells me; he says, “Look, I got another new album I got to do on Def Jam and then my contract is over. I’d rather do your album…that’s because we can do whatever we want. There’s no strings. We can just rock out.” Everybody’s like, “When are ya’ll gonna do an album?” I’m not rushing it and I have other things to do. I don’t even take it personal when he’s like, “Yo, I’m working this first.” Whenever he says that he’s ready, I’m going in. So, that was always my way of looking at it. I never looked at it no other way. I ain’t trippin.’
Rappers Kanye West and Common have joined forces on a new initiative to provide over 20,000 jobs for young people in their native Chicago, Illinois.
The pair is using their star power to help the less fortunate using their youth-focused non-profit organisations based in the Windy City.
Through West's charity Donda's House Inc. and Common's Common Ground Foundation, they have created a new employment drive with the Chicago Urban League, which focuses on building strong African American communities.
Common has revealed that a recent study showed a huge percentage of young people in Chicago are unemployed, and he hopes this new campaign will steer kids on a path to a successful career, rather than a life of crime on the streets.
He explains, "Obviously, one of the biggest reasons our kids are going through what they're going through is because of poverty. I was doing an event in the neighbourhood and there were some kids... and I said, 'Man, what do y'all really need? What's gonna stop this (poverty)?' And they were like, 'We need money. Man, if we could work.' They want a chance."
In addition to helping teens find jobs, the rappers will also curate a music festival that will serve as an annual fundraiser for the initiative.
The first event will be held 20th and the 21st of September, 2014.
On January 6, 2014, Common announced his tenth studio album would be entirely produced by No I.D. and is titledNobody Smiling. The album, which Common revealed was originally going to be an EP, is set to feature featureVince Staples,James Fauntleroyand "some new artists from Chicago." The concept of the album was inspired by his troubled hometown of Chicago: "We came up with this concept 'nobody's smiling.' It was really a thought that came about because of all the violence in Chicago," he says. "It happens in Chicago, but it's happening around the world in many ways." He continues, "We was talking about the conditions of what's happening, when I say 'nobody's smiling.' But it's really a call to action."
On April 19, 1994, Columbia Records released the debut album of a 20-year-old from Queensbridge Houses in New York City. It was deft, wise, deadly serious and matched the babyface with unparalleled promise to beats made by the era's preeminent producers.
Two decades after Illmatic, Nas sat down with Microphone Check for a conversation that moved from his love for Ali Shaheed Muhammad's group, A Tribe Called Quest, to music journalism ("If you're Sade, it doesn't matter. She does what she does. But for all of us, journalism is a huge deal.") hearing himself on the radio for the first time and his audience:
"My surroundings. The hip-hop community also," says Nas. "So that meant I made it for other rappers, I made it for other MCs, I made it for other hip-hop groups. I made it for artists, singers, people in the arts — that's who I made it for. But it comes from the street, so my surroundings wrote that album. I made it for them."