A celebration dedicated to too many people to mention both living and resting (R.I.P. Guru), DJ Premier and the Beat Junkies (including DJ Rhettmatic and DJ Babu) absolutely obliterated hip-hop at the Echoplex on Saturday only to reconstruct it via expertly crafted golden age-inspired sets. Babu and Rhettmatic made their way through the likes of James Brown, Dead Prez, The Pharcyde, Redman, some classic Wu-Tang and some soul gems to get the body moving. A fantastic and well-organized set, Babu and Rhettmatic did a magnificent job hyping the crowd up for DJ Premier, which in their own respect, could have headlined any other DJ show. But keep in mind this is Primo we’re talking about here. DJ Premier, Primo, Mean Joe Preem, the guy who brought you most of Nas’ Illmatic, just about everything from GangStarr, Jeru the Damaja’s first couple of albums and countless other unquestionably classic selections ranging from M.O.P., KRS-One, Showbiz/AG and the Notorious B.I.G. himself. Premier is one of the best DJs to ever grace the tables in the hip-hop genre—check the fact sheet—his production history is a testament to this very stat. Undeniably a legend. With this anticipatory feeling in the air, happy people breakdancing near the stage, folks making art on blank vinyls in the back, and of course beautiful ladies, the atmosphere at the Echoplex was primed for great things.
As we near the close of Rhettmatic and Babu’s comprehensively dope sets (minus that hiccup in playing “Yonkers” by Tyler the Creator which made me walk away from the stage and buy myself a drink), DJ Premier nonchalantly walks on stage to roars and yells of the crowd who have been awaiting the fabled mix master from hip-hop mythology to lay down some genius on the 1′s and 2′s. At this point Premier walks on stage with his hands up waving to the audience briskly setting up his system onto the same turntables that Babu and Rhettmatic had previously been rocking on. Tightening up the needles on the tables, Premier introduces himself to the lively Los Angeles crowd and begins to rock his return to the circuit with the most unexpected of tracks—Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” Fitting. Premier, grateful for the opportunity to deejay this venue thanks the audience, Babu, Rhettmatic and whole crew, getting amped up on the energy in the room. “Primo! Primo! Primo!” shouts the audience in somewhat disjointed unison, to which Premier begins to rock some “Nas is Like” from the iconic sophomore album by Nas, I Am. Cutting and scratching, playing with the track like he’s the one who made it—Primo begins to flex his production abilities onstage to the amazement of the audience followed by the more recent “Classic” featuring Nas, Rakim, KRS-One and Kanye West. A classic Primo beat with hot verses by great established emcees sans maybe Mr. West (though Kanye’s delivery on this track is impeccable). Here are a bunch of hip-hop heads, some on the older end of things, listening to tracks they’ve only heard on their headphones from the originator who gave life to those infectuous, headnodding rhythms. An amazing sight to watch this genius at work, a high-octane Primo rhymes along with the chorus of the track, inciting louder and more pronounced sing-along from the audience. It’s a very warm and comforting sight.
The crux of Premier’s set was situated around crowd participation and obviously throwing down the most definitive of GangStarr jams. Taking requests from the audience like a true hip-hop party DJ while shouting out Guru whenever a GangStarr joint was dropped, Primo showcased “Mass Appeal”, “Moment of Truth”, “Just to Get a Rep”, “You Know My Steez”, “Above the Clouds”, and countless others in snippets, mixed together seamlessly like only their creator could. Showcasing his encyclopedic memory and quick hands, Premier played around with the language of the raps to deconstruct and reassemble memorable parts of tracks from GangStarr such as “Full Clip”, Royce da 5’9″s “Boom”, Pitch Black “It’s All Real” and as a way to show love and appreciation for the late Big L, he let my favorite verse from D.I.T.C.’s “Day One” play all the way through as I happily rapped along (at this point, I would have been satisfied ’cause it’s one of my favorite jams). During Royce’s “Boom” when he shouts Premier in his rap, “Me and Premier, we’re kinda the same in ways/We both speak with our hands in dangerous ways” the crowd went wild and as the song mentioned him, Premier characteristic pointed to himself and his shirt which read “Ya Want Hardcore?” Fuckin’ dope. As you can probably guess, literally all the songs I’ve bumped with joy and awe throughout these years were being played in continuity by the man himself, the creative legend, DJ Premier. It really cannot get any better. Being too young in the 90s to attend hip-hop shows and missing what is possibly the best era of hip-hop ever, this was a dream come true—more than a consolation prize—this was incredible, simply unforgettable. At a cool 45 years of age, Premier might be storing away his “live” show in the near future and I can always say to the newly initiated, “Yeah, I saw Primo cut it up live. And what? You jealous?”
Highlighting this show, as if there were anything to make it better short from Guru coming back and reciting a few bars from “Mass Appeal” or from his brilliant yet underrated Jazzmatazz records with cuts such as “Life Saver” and “The Anthem”, others artists in the building slid their way onstage—Ras Kass and Bishop Lamont. After Premier playing “Goldyn Chyld”, Ras Kass slyly bumps up to Premier deep in concentration to say what’s up. Premier gets on the mic and hypes up Ras Kass, calling forth Bishop Lamont “Yo come on Lamont!” Lamont makes it onto the stage as “Goldyn Chyld” is rewound (this time only instrumental) with both Ras Kass and Bishop Lamont taking down this Premier cut. Ras Kass took down two verses from his own track, Lamont going straight off the dome. Check out the video below and see for yourself. Later we would have Psycho Les of The Beatnuts come out and show love for Primo (pictured above). He didn’t perform but he hung out on stage while Primo played a couple of joints by the high-energy and acclaimed Latin emcees.
Doing work on wheels of steel, part hypeman, part DJ, and full musician extraordinaire, Preem shouted out in emotive and forceful fashion the names of all artists who passed away before their time. Pointing to the sky and in the name of hip-hop, Premier played more definitive GangStarr and D.I.T.C. as well as snippets from other Premier produced tracks—he shouted out 2Pac, Biggie (with some scratch wordplay on the word “biggie” from “Kick in the Door”), Eazy-E, Proof, Big L, Big Pun, and of course Nate Dogg (here Preem played “The Next Episode”, the song designed for Nate Dogg’s clean gangsta persona off Dre’s 2001). In addition to playing cuts that he did with Termanology and others, Premier’s set clocked in at about 2 hours, but it nevertheless felt too short. Primo kept saying, “You wanna keep rocking LA?” to which everyone shouted with an emphatic “Yeah!” but shortly thereafter Rhettmatic came out and told Primo to wrap it up. Primo would’ve most likely kept going, the energy was there. And as Primo himself told us, the parties don’t stop in NYC ’til 11am. Finishing up on a high note, Primo exited with a O.D.B.’s “Pop Shots” and a sweeping thank you to everyone in attendance, the organizers, the fallen soldiers, and of course the main man Guru. Once again, RIP. You made this hip-hop kid’s dream come true, Premier. Thanks for keeping it consistent and always holding down real hip hop.