I‘ve seen the American DJ Premier (Christopher Martin aka Primo) live three times. He is one of the best live rap DJs. He is also one of the most prominent rap producers; always dope, whether on wax or behind the turntables. But when he is scratching over live music, including the bass, drums, horns, keys and trombone, it’s pretty close you will not have a heart attack when the funky sound uplifts your pulse up to somewhere around 150 times per minute.
Live versions of Primo’s classics was the theme of his performance in Nosturi in Helsinki on Thursday night, when DJ Premier and his live band, called The Badders, gave their everything in a performance to a crowd of hundreds that lasted about one and a half hours.
For those who need a refresher of the background of the man behind the wheels and steels, he is the producer of one of the best rap duos of all time, Gang Starr.
Guru, and DJ Premier were an inseparable team from 1985-2006 until their separation before Guru’s death in 2010. The East Coast duo released so many classic tracks during two decades that I have lost count.
However, the climax of Gang Starr’s work was reached in 1998 with their album Moment of Truth.
In the hands of the live band, one of the album’s most rememberable tracks carrying the title of the album turned into a beautiful instrumental.
Work, another classic from the album worked well, too.
Many associate DJ Premier’s name with the word ‘banger’, a neck-snapping beat, which still leaves enough room for the rapper to shine with his flow of rhymes. The man has produced many head-nodding beats for rap artists such as Jay-Z, Nas and Biggie, and even crossed genres with by producing one of the most danceable songs of the pop artist Christina Aguilera (think Ain’t No Other Man).
Primo is also a master of the remix with a long list of songs for artists, such as Janet Jackson and Limp Bizkit.
In Nosturi, he didn’t really touch the most mainstream songs in his arsenal, but instead focused on keeping the most enthusiastic rap heads nodding.
Jeru the Damaja’s Da Bichez turned alive when accompanied by the raspy horn of Takuya Kuroda and the groovy trombone of Corey King.
When Lenny “The Ox” Reece played the drums on top of Royce 5’9’s classic Boom, the crowd was jumping through the roof.
The drums did also justice for Nas’s Nas Is Like and for the remix of Showbiz & AG’s Next Level (1995), one of the funkiest rap songs of all time, which got a new sound and feeling by the bass of Brady Watt playing on top of the original deep bass sample.
Primo’s ear for samples is unmatched. His skills in scratching are incomparable. He might not be the man doing the most crazy beat juggling but the rawness and funkiness of moving the vinyl back and forth has such a legendary feel that nowadays he is often asked to provide the scratches even on other rival producers’ tracks, the most recent example being Dr. Dre’s Animals for his latest album Compton (2015).
In addition, what makes DJ Premier so likable apart from his skills is the engagement with the audience. He talks, listens – demands . . .
He demands the audience to raise their hands up, to move and to scream, and like he said on Thursday, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.”
Needless to say, the crowd stayed bouncing to the very end.