DJ Premier Talks ‘Illmatic’ Sessions, Meeting AZ, And Nas’ Ear For Beats


During VIBE’s sitdown with DJ Premier for our Great Debate videos, the hip-hop Almanac had tales for days. Here, the legendary producer shares details about early Illmatic sessions and working with Nasir Jones

On meeting AZ and Nas’ father for the first time
“I came to drop off the mix of ‘Memory Lane’ to Nas at Chung King and he introduced me to his father. His father was just getting prepped to play. He was like, ‘My father’s gon play on this joint.’ He was like, ‘This my man AZ.’ AZ went in and did his joint… He did it in one take.”

On “Life’s A Bitch” and Nas’ ear for beats
“The emotion that was put in there was just so dope. And then Nas went in and cut his vocal. I was getting ready to leave and he goes, ‘Yo, come listen to my father play. Tell me what you think.’ He went in the booth, did a first take and then his father goes, ‘How was that?’ He goes, ‘Hey, pop, I need you to go down a little bit.’ His father goes, ‘You want me to go down or you want me to go way down?’ Nas goes, ‘Go way down.’ Nas was the one that picked the samples when I did ‘New York State of Mind.’ We were just listening to records. He was like, ‘Let’s not make beats yet. Let’s make records.’”

On Nas’ relationship with Large Professor
“To me, Large Professor is to Nas what I am to Guru with Gang Starr. They were a team. I used to go to a lot of their sessions. I was there when they did ‘One Time 4 Your Mind,’ and I would just watch them build beats right on the spot… ‘Half Time’ and ‘Live From The BBQ’ — he was just back to back coming with joints and I was like, ‘Yo this dude…’ Large Professor made him glow.”