Easily one of the most prolific Hip-Hop producers of all time, DJ Premier is renowned for his incredibly distinctive style. We’re taking a closer look at the process and how he produced some of the most iconic tracks we’ve heard.
Christopher Edward Martin aka DJ Premier moved to Brooklyn NY, in 1989, where he joined a fledgling group known as Gang Starr with Keith Edward Elam aka GURU.
The pair released their first single, Words I Manifest, and the album, No More Mr. Nice Guy, that same year. The following year they were signed with Chrysalis Records and would go on to become one of the most influential Hip-Hip acts of the 1990s.
That DJ Premier sound
The Gang Starr collaboration laid the foundation for Prem’s sound and his unique style of beat production and remixing quickly become in demand at a time commonly referred to as the golden era of Hip-Hop.
Some of his notable collaborations included working with the likes of Nas, Big L, KRS-One, M.O.P, Jay-Z, Mobb Deep, Limp Bizkit, and Christina Aguilera.
DJ Premier is a turntablist and record collector first and foremost. So his production style springs from his ability to unearth gems buried within both known and unknown records.
Perhaps a signature throughout Prem’s 1990s productions was the use of acapella vocals cut to dubplates. This allowed Prem to manipulate the vocal rhythmically, creating unique riffs and patterns in ways even digital samplers could not reproduce.
Besides a hefty amount of talent, if you’re aiming to create similar sounds you’ll need a direct-drive DJ turntable with multiple playback speeds like the Audio-Technica LP140XP.
Audio-Technica AT-LP140XP Silver
Introduced in the late 1980s, the HR-16 was one of the first drum machines from Alesis. Despite the relatively “stock” sounding built-in drum sounds, the accessibility and programmability it provided made it a choice amongst many Hip-Hop producers in the early 1990s.
This “budget Linndrum” has dual stereo outputs, as well as MIDI. However, possibly the most interesting aspect of the HR-16 is the satisfying user experience of programming beats on the drum pads.
If you’re looking to make Hip-Hop beats, the Drumbrute Impact provides a great entry point with a gritty sound and some great sound creation features.
Arturia DrumBrute Impact Noir
Before he moved on to the MPC, Prem used both the SP-12 and SP-1200 sampling drum machines in his formative years as a producer.
The unique combination of limited sample memory, lo-fi sample rate, and an analogue filter proved inspirational for Premier and many other great artists in Hip-Hop and dance music.
The SP-1200 has since been reissued by its original designer, Dave Rossum, but there are some more affordable creative samplers from Elektron in the form of the Octatrack, Digitakt, and Model: Samples.
Prem built an empire on 3.5-inch floppy disks using a range of AKAI samplers. From the MPC60 and MPC60 II to the S950, and later the MPC3000.
Samples were recorded from vinyl and then processed with the S950. From here, the individual drum hits and one-shots were pitched and triggered from the MPC60 pads.
The latest version of the MPC, the MPC X SE offers more processing power than most users in the 90s would’ve ever dreamed of, and the DAW integration features make it a more versatile instrument.
AKAI Professional MPC X SE
Besides sampling, Prem also used a range of keyboards and racks for sounds. These included the Trident, the Fantom, the Motif, and the E-mu Planet Phatt and Mo’Phatt modules which he controlled with an Oxygen 8 keyboard.
The E-mu ROM racks were extremely popular in the 1990s and early 2000s as they provided quick access to powerful sound libraries. They were rather limited from a synthesis point of view, but the Mo’Phatt offered 3 expansion slot with a range of additional sound sets and a wealth of effects.
The closest modern-day equivalent is probably a software bundle like Komplete 14, with a collection of sampler instruments and synthesizers for almost any professional application.
Native Instruments Komplete 14 Standard Download
Which of your favourite artists would you like to see featured in our Sound-alike series? Please let us know in the comments below!
More about DJ Premier:
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- SL-1210 Gold Anniversary Edition: Part-Time Audiophile
- Prince Paul's HR-16: Sotheby's
- E-mu SP-12: Cyborg Studio
- AKAI MPC 60: Google
- E-mu Mo'Phatt: EMU Mania