While DJ Premier has known Dr. Dre since the late '80s, the two legends of their respective coasts had never made music together, but that just changed with the release of Dre's Compton album, the first project from the gangster rapper turned production god turned headphone mogul in 16 years.
It all started about a year ago when Dre called Premo, asking him if he had any beats for a new project. At the time Premier didn't know anything about this mystery project except that Dre assured him that Detox had been scrapped, but when the good doctor calls, you answer. So Premier sent him a folder of five beats and kept his fingers crossed. It was just hours later though when he heard back.
"I was headed to Korea, the plane was literally lifting off, and my phone goes off," DJ Premier told me when I reached him by phone. "And he [Dre] goes, 'Yo, this is amazing, this is dope.' I thought wow, what timing, right on liftoff. At least I got that text to let me know I was on the right track."
Premier hoped for the best and the two stayed in touch, but it became clear that Dr. Dre was so busy working on the N.W.A. movie it would be a while before anything firm crystallized. Fate, however, would continue to bring Premier into Dr. Dre's mysterious project. Premier got connected with Anderson .Paak during work on a collaborative project with Russian producer BMB Spacekid that would result in "Til Its Done." The trio parted ways, but shortly after they finished Premier got another call from Paak, who had continued to write to another beat they had created.
"The Freddie Gray murder by the police happened, the riots in Baltimore jumped off, so Anderson hit me up and said he was really angry about what had happened, that he had made a song about it," recounted Premier. "At the time it was called 'FSU', which means Fucking Shit Up, talking about how they treats us like animals, the only time they turn the cameras on is when we're fucking shit up."
They planned on releasing the song as a loose single to show their support for Baltimore, but at the same time Anderson .Paak was fortioutusly meeting with Dre and told Dre that he and Premier had just finished working together. "Paak played it for him and Dre said, 'This totally fits this soundtrack I decided to do for the movie' - music inspired by the film, it's not in the movie. Dre wanted to rap on it, so since the song was already finished we changed the arrangement, and he had me come out to L.A. to work on it," said Premier.
And just like that, after decades of waiting for the hip-hop planets to align, DJ Premier was in Dr. Dre's home studio making music, working to seamlessly blend Premo's classic east coast sound with Dre's boming west coast DNA. "We started off by getting on the mic, talking shit," said Premier. "And then I started scratching, cutting in other cuts: Eminem, Ed O.G., Torae, Rhettmatic was there and gave me a line to scratch and close it out. And it was real cool, making magic happen. But I kept quiet until now."
All we know as listeners is the final product that hits our ear drums, but my conversation with DJ Premier is a reminder that making hip-hop history is rarely simple, almost never straightforward. It can take years filled with delays, coincidences and magical moments to create even a single song, but when that song sounds like "Animals," it's all worth it. It feels so good to finally be inside Compton.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]