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DJ Premier

For twenty-five years, the music of DJ Premier has been the cornerstone of hip-hop’s sound. From The Notorious B.I.G. to Christina Aguilera, “PREEMO”—as he’s affectionately known—is the conduit for artists in all genres to attach their lyrics to the complex rhythm of the streets. Throughout it all, Premier and late partner Guru orchestrated a unique sound and wise message in the gold-selling duo Gang Starr that remains a hallmark of positive, advanced music. The three-time Grammy Award winner pushes ahead with an active label, a legendary studio, and his hands scratching away at hip-hop’s next wave of greatness.Born and raised outside of Houston, Texas, Chris Martin’s infatuation with music was encouraged within his family. Whether it was the Earth, Wind & Fire singles on the radio or his sister’s stash of The Eagles vinyl, the young audiophile studied the arrangements of all the music he encountered. A lover of percussion and crowd-moving tracks, it was Whodini’s “Five Minutes Of Funk” that magnetized the teenager to the sound of New York City hip-hop. Traveling to visit relatives in Brooklyn throughout his adolescence, Preemo amassed the records releasing in Rap’s earliest years, and chased his passion through managing a record store and deejaying under the moniker Waxmaster C. After studying Computer Science at Prairie View A&M, the emerging DJ headed for New York City, to be closer to those making the music he could not stop playing.As fate would have it, Premier would make history with another transplant to the five boroughs. A Boston, Massachusetts hip-hop outfit called Gang Starr had released a handful of 12” singles in the late ‘80s. Led by the raspy-voiced Keith “Guru” Elam, the group, which also featured local DJ Mike Dee, Damo D-Ski and Big Shug, linked with famed Flavor Unit producer 45 King to provide the beats in the earliest days. When Guru relocated to Brooklyn to pursue music, his team opted to remain in Boston. It was at this pivotal time, the bedroom producer still known as Waxmaster C would send Gang Starr some of his beats on a cassette tape. Premier and Guru would bond immediately. The opening cut from 1989’s No More Mr. Nice Guy celebrated the revamped Gang Starr lineup with “Premier & The Guru.” Throughout the next 15 years, the two out of town kids would embrace New York City as their own, and serenade her with a gritty soundtrack.Released on the storied Wild Pitch Records imprint, No More Mr. Nice Guy ushered in changing styles in hip-hop. Breakthrough single “Words I Manifest (Remix)” integrated the music of Jazz luminary Charlie Parker alongside the unmistakable James Brown. Guru’s verbal essays on history, pride, and knowledge of self married beautifully to Premier’s limitless sample sources and stellar drum programming.Between Gang Starr albums, Preemo’s sound was soon in growing demand. While honing his craft, Premier assisted label-mates Lord Finesse & DJ Mike Smooth on 1990’s Funky Technician, in addition to working on Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack. By 1991, with Gang Starr’s sophomore Step Into The Arena, the group began a four-album run as revered as any artist or group catalog in hip-hop. Cautionary single “Just To Get A Rep” became the duo’s first Top 5 single, and would later serve as a soundbed in multi-national advertising campaigns.Quickly after Gang Starr’s first foray into the Top 200 albums charts, the group promptly returned in 1992 with Daily Operation. Now signed to Rock imprint Chrysalis/EMI Records, the duo’s trunk-rattling single “Take It Personal” went to #1. The song was an underdog’s anthem, applicable to relationships of all kinds, and helped cement Guru and DJ Premier as enduring Rap stars. The tight-knit group worked together and lived together, sharing their familial bond with a litany of their hip-hop peers. The third album also marked the arrival of the Gang Starr Foundation, a clique that would include original group member Big Shug, as well as Jeru The Damaja, plus Group Home’s Lil Dap and Melachi The Nutcracker.Between 1992 and 1993, DJ Premier was recruited to produce for an array of artists outside of the group. While helping KRS-One carve solo success with Return Of The Boom-Bap, Preemo worked with Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, Heavy D & The Boyz, as well as emerging talents Das EFX and Mobb Deep. Hard drums, crisp scratches and mosaic arrangements attracted artists of all kinds to the “Works Of Mart” his production company.In one of hip-hop’s most celebrated years, Gang Starr greatly contributed to the legacy with 1994’s Hard To Earn. The Top 25 LP incorporated the booming bass and tight routines of Rap’s origins with far-reaching samples, innovative flows, and virgin subject matter. Turning 20 years old in 2014, the album remains a pillar of the New York street Rap movement that permeated years to follow. This pivotal year for Preemo also found the active DJ at the helm of classic debut albums, Notorious B.I.G’s Ready To Die and Nas’s Illmatic. The esteemed creator was able to build unique chemistry with each artist he worked with, whether the boisterous Biggie or introspective Nas, and a fast rising rapper named Jay-Z.In the mid-1990s, most classic hip-hop albums were incomplete until stopping through Preemo’s 37thStreet studio at D&D Studios’ B-Room. Sharing the facility with Da Beatminerz, Diggin’ In The Crates producer Showbiz, Funkmaster Flex and DJ Tony Touch, Premier plugged away through the nights on would-be street anthems like Jeru’s “Come Clean,” Jay-Z’s “A Million And One Questions,” and Mos Def’s “Mathematics.” Outside of Rap, Preemo quietly racked cross-over hits for the likes of D’Angelo, Limp Bizkit and Macy Gray.Following a four-year hiatus, Gang Starr reached a new plateau with their fifth album, Moment Of Truth. After a decade in waiting, the duo secured a gold plaque for the critically acclaimed 1998 album featuring a revamped Premier sound. With extensive cut-and-paste scratch choruses, Premier spoke with his hands, as Guru mourned hip-hop’s fallen soldiers, stressed work ethic, and blitzed the notion that underground and commercial were mutually exclusive. The effort was promptly followed by Full Clip: A Decade Of Gang Starr, Gang Starr’s first of two best of compilations, which included new music, garnering 3 more singles and a second gold plaque.As a decorated veteran, DJ Premier’s musical output only increased by the 2000’s. The producer remained active with leading lyricists such as Jay-Z, Nas, and Jadakiss, in addition to a growing discography with the likes of Big L, Common, and Cee-Lo Green. With platinum and gold plaques lining his studio hallway, Premier remained devoted to the underground sound, working with would-be cult acts such as Non-Phixion and Royce Da 5’9, as well as fellow ‘80s alumni Just-Ice, Bumpy Knuckles, and Kool G Rap. During this time Pop sensation Christina Aguilera—a longtime hip-hop fan—personally sought the collaborative vision of Premier for her fifth album, Back To Basics. The 2006 multi-platinum LP yielded Christina and Chris a Grammy Award for their radio takeover, “Ain’t No Other Man.” With a sound unlike his previous, Preemo’s dynamic compositions transcended genre, and expectations.After Gang Starr’s sixth album, The Ownerz, Premier and Guru toured the world with Common and Talib Kweli before pausing for solo endeavors. During this period, Preemo worked with the likes of Kanye West, Ludacris, and The Game, amidst his constant independent output. In 2003, after 15 years in the label system, Premier purchased D&D Studios, renaming it to HeadQcourterz, and launched Year Round Records. The imprint, managed from the legendary studio, has released instrumental catalog, and label compilations, as well as Gang Starr Foundation’s NYGz and Blaq Poet’s successful LP Tha Blaqprint.In early 2010, the hip-hop community mourned alongside DJ Premier following the sudden, tragic death of Guru. Preemo’s Gang Starr partner died in April of that year, after a private battle with cancer. In t

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Saturday, May 20

9:00pm EDT


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