Something I learned from DJ Premier: A Quick Hip Hop Lesson

Around 1983-84, I remember hearing a sound that would forever be embedded in my brain. It was the sound of Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. For days this vinyl record would spend on the turntable until I learn the words from beginning to end. Then you would go to school and spit the lyrics as if you wrote them yourself, with your own personal swag.

It was years later that I would learn the art of sampling that would dominate the 90’s Hip Hop. It was DJ Premier (Premo) of Gangstarr that I would grow to love as the epitome of the sample. Not only did he sample for beats to produce, he also used lyrics from different artist to scratch into the song as a hook.

90’s Hip Hop was known for Dj’s providing a hook through showing homage to a fellow rapper by scratching one of their lyrics on a song. You could hear Gangstarr’s Mass Appeal with a hook from the Da Youngstaz’s Pass the Mic as they said, “Moneys growing like grass with the mass appeal.” 
The Youngstaz’s were never a really large mainstream group but got some play in Philly (their hometown) and from those of us that were true Hip Hop heads. They never sold a million albums but will forever be etched in Hip Hop because of that potent, powerful lyric.  Premo also does the same thing on a Notorious B.I.G.’s song, Unbelievable
where he uses a hook from R. Kelly’s Your Body’s Calling Me.  

With precise skill and timing, Premo manages to scratch some of the most obscure sentences into a song from other creditable sources-other hip hop artist or singers.  He displays his knowledge for the music as well as his intentional ear for the definitive. It is not usual to hear Premo mix a classic lyric into a song of new Emcee too create a masterpiece. (just too many to name) His hook brought a level of creditability to the song much the same as a footnote from a scholar in a certain field.  The hook acts as the proverbial agreement to the lyrics of the song. It is up to the artist to then add context, clarity and creativeness to the hook provide through the scratch.

Through 22 years of listening to authentic Hip Hop and analyzing the skill set that Djs such as Premo possessed, I learn to do the same thing with books. As with great Hip Hop songs, the finding of great passages from obscure books or subject matter expert, brought about a certain viability that otherwise might be lacking in the discussion, article or dialog.  It was through trying to figure out where Premo got that hook that would lead me to other great albums. Much like endnotes, footnotes or bibliographies the records were noted in the liner notes. So, I would read the liner notes then go buy that album as well. Now I do the same things with books. I buy the book that was quoted in the footnotes because that is what I took from Premo as he displayed his signature scratches.

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