DJ Premier Wanted to Produce for Drake & Kendrick Lamar for Years—Finally, He Got One

"I’m one of the few that’s 52 years old who is active and still enjoying what I do for a living."
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On May 22, Drake uploaded a photo of DJ Premier with a scorpion emoji to Instagram Stories. This was our first indication that the iconic producer and one-half of the legendary duo Gang Starr would be featured on Drake’s then-forthcoming album, Scorpion. As one of hip-hop’s most storied producers, the possibilities were exciting, to say the least. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that Premier is the producer who laced Drake with the beat for “Sandra’s Rose,” one of the instant standouts from the A SIDE of Scorpion. His signature scratches aren’t attached to the record, but the track's soulful bounce is covered in his fingerprints. Drake's two verses are introspective, weaving between various topics in his life in one long stream of consciousness. 

On the record, the Toronto superstar makes note of the fact that 10 songs of this caliber would be the classic album that currently eludes his discography. I would happily sign a petition for Preemo to be to Drake what No I.D. was to JAY-Z

What brought Drake and DJ Premier together? They exist in the same industry but operate in two opposite worlds. The collision is rewarding but completely unexpected. 

I was able to speak with Premier this afternoon about the origins of how their collaboration came together. Not only does he share the backstory of “Sandra’s Rose,” but also of “Sail,” another song he made for Scorpion that features Rick Ross. 

Preemo also touches on the remix of J. Cole’s “1985 (Intro to "The Fall Off")” and submitting beats for both Kendrick Lamar albums that followed good kid, m.A.A.d city. We all pray that he makes the next one. Long live the Gang Starr legend, and our sincere condolences on the passing of his late father.

DJBooth’s full interview with DJ Premier, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: When were you contacted about working with Drake?

DJ Premier: Actually, we've been seeing each other all the time and talking about getting it in one day. From year to year, catching him at a party, or catching him backstage at a show. I’ve been cool with 40 for a long time. It’s always the same conversation about one day getting us one. 

I’m in the middle of doing three albums that I can’t speak on yet, but you’ll hear about them soon. I’m in the middle of that, and since I’m in that zone I’m not really doing too much outside work. I had just dropped the PRhyme album… That’s why the tour dates are broken up into five shows at a time, so I can finish these projects for this year. 

So, Ian [Schwartzman], my manager, kept saying Drake is doing a new album called Scorpion and how I should get on that. I’m never the type to reach out and ask to get on your album—that’s just not me. With this particular one, I’m good friends with 40 and I’m cool with Drake, so I sent 40 a text letting him know that if there’s a slot I’m around.

How did 40 respond?

He said he’d love to get me on there. I cooked up a couple of my own, just in case it was going to happen. About two weeks later, 40 reached out and said Drake had a sample he wanted me to flip called “Sandra’s Rose.” I didn’t know that would be the name of the song, I thought that was just the name of the sample. 

The sample is done by his guy Maneesh. I knew of Maneesh back when he was known as DJ M-Rock. Me and Marco Polo was just talking about him the other day. When 40 said he was the one who created the sample, he literally created it. All the voices you hear in the background, he makes it sound like a sample you would get from a record. Drake wanted me to flip it.

When they sent it, I thought “Sandra’s Rose” was a tentative name for the sample until we got a title for the record. They sent it to me and I did my drums, my bass. They asked for the Preem bounce, so I gave it my bounce. I sent it back at like four in the morning. I get up early, even if I go to bed at four, I’ll be up by 7 a.m. It’s an automatic thing my body does. 

When I got up that morning, opened my eyes and said, "Thank you for another day," my alert sound went off. I checked the text and it was 40. When I opened it I saw the play button in the middle. I said, "Oh shit, I just turned this in a couple hours ago." I hit the button and it’s the verses to “Sandra’s Rose.” I was surprised. He did it that quick. 

Were there any scratches on the record? 

I told him, "Before you finish it I want to do some scratches." He said before they wrap up they’ll do scratches. As time passed, Drake said he would touch it up and send it back for the scratches. Around that time, my father had passed on June 8. I was caught up dealing with my dad and everything. I brought my drum machine with me to my dad’s house so I could work on anything additional if I had to do the scratches. For one, it keeps my mind occupied. 

My father was already in the process of passing and he had told me he wanted to be brought home from the hospital so he could pass at home. He didn’t know how many more days he had left, and he only lasted two days. During that time, they had sent me two samples from Maneesh. The other one was called “Sail,” like a sailboat.

Actually, “Sail” was the first one I got. Rick Ross did a verse on it but Drake never finished his vocals. That was the first one I actually worked on. They said they would get back on it later. Then I did “Sandra’s Rose” and I got that one back immediately.

You had two potential records on Scorpion. When were you updated on the progress?  

From there, I buried my father, came back to New York for a brief moment for my son’s seventh birthday, and I came right back [home]. I told him now that Ross did a verse on “Sail,” I would touch it up. I know I’m running out of time with the album coming out on the 29th. 40 was like, "Man, Drake does this every time with every album. We record and mix literally 'til the day we upload it to all the [streaming services]. Trust me, you’ll be fine. We’re still recording until the very last day." He called to give his condolences to my dad, and said, "I guarantee even if you turn it in on the 27th, we’re still recording and mixing on the 28th, to have it ready by the 29th. You’re good." This was almost a week out.

Even with touching up and laying scratches to "Sandra’s Rose," I just did that three days ago. Drake wanted to let it breathe and let the record be how it is naturally. I was fine with that, I like to follow what the artist wants at the end of the day. He wanted to leave it with no cuts, but I do have a version with cuts. Maybe it’ll see the light of day later. Just for DJs to play at mix shows. Either way, I’m happy they ran with me programming it with Maneesh’s sound and my bounce. We got one.

So everything happened pretty quickly, right? It sounds like the conversations with 40 were all within the last month and a half?

Yep. Drake never got a chance to record his vocals on “Sail.” Ross went first. It only has his verse. Maybe they’ll do it later. Even when I saw the tracklist they sent me, I knew “Sandra’s Rose” was going to stay that name once they reached out to my legal department, but with “Sail” I wasn’t sure if they used it once I turned in my version of the beat. 

Maneesh had already done his own version with drums, and I just asked him if he could send me the stems so I could pull what I want out of it, do it my own way, but still keep the music the way he had it. He gave me everything and let me do it my way. I thumbed through the album last night looking for it, obviously, they didn’t get a chance to finish it.

You remixed J. Cole last month. You’re credited on Drake’s album this month. When are you going to work with Kendrick? He's the last member of the holy trinity from this class of artists that you haven't worked with.

Whenever he finds one that he likes. Besides the m.A.A.d city album, the last two albums [To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN.], I’ve always submitted tracks that were never recorded. As far as submitting tracks, I've always submitted to Kendrick. They didn’t fit. They weren’t recorded with vocals, or if they were, I never heard them. I’m always down. I love the younger generation. 

I hit Cole up for the a cappella [to "1985"], just to mess around with it on some DJ shit. I wanted to have an alternative version for DJs and for those lyrics. Those lyrics are so true to what really goes on in the life and longevity of an artist. Especially a hip-hop artist. It’s the same story, usually; how we put the material stuff over the other things, have all the jewelry and cars, but don’t have a house. Next thing you know you’re selling all your stuff and on Love & Hip-Hop. I totally get his warning to look out for that. We’ve seen artists from my generation live and die by the same thing. I’m one of the few that’s 52 years old who is active and still enjoying what I do for a living. 

I love DJing, I love breaking records, I love spinning, I love making beats, I love albums, and touring. All of that lets me know there’s no limits. You stop when you don’t want to do it anymore. That’s what I love about seeing JAY-Z on the stage with Beyoncé. He still loves hitting the stage and rocking his jams. Old artists continue to do what they do because the passion is still there. 

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