The legendary producer DJ Premier and Detroit MC Royce da 5'9" joined forces for a full-length project last year as the duo PRhyme. The project combines sample-based production that'll be familiar to fans of Premier's early group GangStarr and his work with Jay-Z and Nas. With the gritty lyricism of Slaughterhouse affiliate and frequent Eminem collaborator Royce, the result is a classic approach to beats and rhymes reminiscent of the golden age of rap.
Utilizing only samples from psychedelic soul composer Adrian Younge, Premier provides a solid backdrop for Royce's battle-influenced flows. They've just started their national tour as a group, and Gimme Noise caught up with the pair ahead of Sunday's Fine Line show.
Royce da 5'9": Everything's been good, crowd's been really good. Real dope response, a lot of energy in the room. It feels like hip-hop.
What's it like performing as a group versus performing as a solo artist?
Royce: I like it. I think I actually like it better. But the difference between me performing with Preem and me performing with Slaughterhouse is, when I'm out there with Slaughterhouse, I don't have to do as much work. When I'm up there with Preem, I kind of got the whole stage to myself, so I find myself doing a lot more in terms of my energy and my body movements and shit like that. They're all different experiences, and they're all fun. Super fun.
DJ Premier: It's been fun. I'm used to going out on my own, or I take some of my artists that I work with on my independent label and get their feet wet and get them prepared to be able to go out on their own. Royce of course has the experience as a solo artist and with Slaughterhouse, and with Eminem, he's been through all those facets.
This tour is really Royce, Royce, Royce, Royce, Royce. We do a couple of surprises at the show, but still, he's pretty much a lone wolf. I'm used to being in that position on stage by myself, [but it's different being] a duo. As far as my GangStarr career, which will never go away as far as what I cherish, but this is nothing like that. We're trying to give something to people that support both of our projects, separately and together. Slaughterhouse stuff, Royce's stuff, Bad Vs. Evil stuff, and the PRhyme stuff.
You and Preem have worked together several times before, but this has been more specifically collaborative as a whole project. How has your chemistry evolved with each other as you've been working together?
Royce: You know, it's evolved beautifully, and it's still evolving. The friendship is there, we're real close. The chemistry comes from just us being comfortable with each other. We don't really disagree on that much, we got the same vision as far as what we would want to do on a project together. Knowing what you're about to do before you do it is key. It's the same with Slaughterhouse, we all knew what we wanted to do together, we didn't go into it blind. It's relatively easy to achieve short-term goals that way, working with somebody you get along with real well.
DJ Premier: Chemistry-wise, certain people you just have it with automatically. Like Jay-Z and Nas, when we go in, we do it for the work. Same thing with Royce, I'd put Royce in the same category as a Jay-Z or Nas, especially with work ethic. He likes to get it done. I've been known to put off stuff, like I'll come back to it later, in a month. The stuff on the record, the stuff with Royce, he's ready right now, he wants to get it done, he wants it out, and he doesn't hesitate to get it done. So when it comes to that, that's already on my mind. He'll truly know I'm on the same page, and we both just lock in.
It made it easier to get the project recorded, mixed, and done, mastered and ready to go really fast for what I'm used to. It's a good thing because the product we have together, the body of work, we're very excited about it. It did make me feel better because I still had four other albums probably that I put on hold. This came out of nowhere, but [we worked with] a quickness that it didn't really make a delay on [any other projects]. It wasn't like, in a couple years we'll take some time out, it was thrown at me, and I'm so happy that we're touring and taking it to the next level. It's turning into a bigger project than it already is.
Did anything surprise you about working with Royce versus other artists you've worked with in the past?
DJ Premier: Nah, not when it comes to Royce. Some people you have a formula, we have a formula already. I already know how he creates, and then I know how comfortable with recording he is. With other people it's like, "What's your process?", but we've always had that process together, with "Boom" to "Hit 'Em" to "Hood Love", you know, on and on. That never leaves for a second.
Royce, what are specific aspects of Preem's beats that you connect with as a writer?
Royce: It's a certain sound, it's a rawness and it's a grittiness that's in it that has been copied for so many years, but never duplicated. That's what I like about Preem. You go to Preem, you're getting a certain thing, a certain sound that you're going for. That's how it was in the golden era as well, the golden era of hip-hop recording. OK, I want to put together a classic album. I gotta have the Preem sound on there. It's pretty much the blueprint on how to make a classic album. It was hard to do that, unless you're making The Chronic or Doggystyle, it was hard to make a classic album, especially coming out of the East Coast, without adding the Preem sound. I just felt like doing that for a whole project, getting back to my roots to when I started rhyming. Straight up raw, battle MC shit over raw, gritty Preem production, and just do a whole project like that to fill the void today.
Do you prefer working with a single producer over a number of producers? What's the main difference between those two processes?
Royce: I don't know if I prefer it, it's much easier to do it that way, because when you're working with multiple producers, you have to have the ear to be able to pick the right kind of beats that will be able to go with each other to have a cohesive sound, whereas when you're working with just one producer, it's a lot easier to do that. We even upped it another level, saying Preem is basically only gonna sample from one source, [composer Adrian Younge]. You automatically get that approach.
How much do you try to live up to your legacy when writing new work, or are you going in with a different mindset on this project?
DJ Premier: I've already done that. Coming off hot, that's always on my mind. I'm all about great performances, great records, and everything that comes along with that. The legacy part has already been earned on my end, and Royce is headed that way. He's on his way to becoming a legend, to some he already is. For me, that part is already set in stone, now it's about keeping the weight off and not gaining it back. I keep that up by making great music that you can stand behind and be proud of. Me and Royce in the studio have that attitude together.
Royce: Definitely whenever I work on something, I'm trying to top the last thing that I did. That's without a doubt, any time. Maybe with Preem, I don't know if "legacy" is the right word for me, but anything I've done that I think is good, I'm always trying to top it, and constantly being in competition with yourself is one of the things that keeps you hungry as an MC.
Any future projects in the works together?
DJ Premier: After this tour, it's the Slaughterhouse album. I have to prepare for another tour with another group of guys, so each of our plates will be very full. I'm looking forward to the Slaughterhouse album. I did the one record, I don't know if it made the album, but if it did or didn't, mission accomplished. I've always wanted to do a Slaughterhouse song, and I'm glad we were album to do it.
Royce, can you speak on the Slaughterhouse album?
Royce: We're pretty much done with it. We're gonna roll it out this summer. As soon as I come off of this tour, I'm going to work with the guys.
Do you feel like you have more freedom writing solo work, or is it freeing to have to shoulder less of the burden of writing a whole song?
Royce: It's freedom all across the board with all the projects, it's just a different dynamic. There's a certain role that I play in Slaughterhouse that I don't play in my solo stuff. With me and Preem, we just agreed this would be a raw underground album, taking it back to how I was when I first started rhyming. That's just showing one layer to myself too. It's like the Bad Vs. Evil stuff, a lot of back and forth, technical syllable work, a lot of playing off of each other's words, lyrical stuff. They're all fun, I can't put one above the other.
PRhyme. With Your Old Droog, Boldy James, Freez, and DJ Willie Shu. Sunday, March 1 at Fine Line. Tickets.