If you were drawing up a World Cup eleven of hip-hop's greatest beatsmiths, certain names would be down on the team sheet without even a moment's reflection. That Luxy was graced by the presence of one of these - DJ Jazzy Jeff, who played two sets in late October - is impressive enough. But tomorrow night (Saturday), the club will set the seal on its reputation as Taipei's foremost hip-hop representer when it plays host to the venerable DJ Premier.
Premier, who will be accompanied by Gang Starr militia emcee Big Shug is amongst those few figures in hip-hop who do not have fans split down the middle. He is frequently cited as an all-time-great in both DJ and producer categories and though everyone has their personal fave, no true hip-hop fan is going to bite your head off for saying Primo, as he is affectionately known, is number one.
Premier was born Chris Martin in Houston, Texas and it was there, while attending college, that he first became interested in Deejaying and producing, influenced by the work of old school legend Marley Marl. But despite his roots, his beats have always tangibly been soundscapes for Brooklyn, his hometown for the last 20 years; and some of his productions rank among the finest East Coast hip-hop ever recorded.
In the late 1980s, Premier formed Gang Starr with Boston native Guru and they went on to become one of hip-hop's best-loved and longest-running acts. Primo was one of the first DJs to incorporate jazz samples into hip-hop, exemplified on tracks like "Jazz Music" (later reworked and renamed "Jazz Thing" for the soundtrack to Spike Lee's "Mo' Better Blues") and "Manifest," which sampled the Dizzy Gillespie classic "Night in Tunisia." Both of these featured on Gang Starr's debut "No More Mr. Nice Guy." However, the album showed only flickers of the ingenuity and creativity, not to mention the deadly scratches and ill beats, for which Primo was to become renowned; and it wasn't until 1991's follow up "Step in the Arena" that things really got going.
"Step in the Arena," saw Primo start to utilize what would one of his trademark techniques - scratched vocal cut-ups that functioned as mini-hooks within the songs. To this day, the way in which Primo uses vocal samples (often placing words and phrases back to back so that they almost create coherent sentences!) makes his work instantly identifiable and, for hip-hop historians, like a fun game of "Name That Tune."
"Step in the Arena" featured early favorites like "Just to Get a Rep," and "Lovesick," and showcased Guru's smooth monotone delivery over tracks that, despite maintaining their jazz influence, were becoming sonically more warped.
In 1992, Gang Starr released the critically acclaimed "Daily Operation," which is regarded by many as their finest hour. Primo's beats were becoming sparser and the slightly discordant hammer-horror keyboard refrain in the seminal "Take it Personal" was an indication of the direction in which Primo was moving. Gang Starr's fourth release "Hard to Earn" arrived in 1994 and was noticeably harder than its predecessors. The standout track was perhaps "Code of the Streets," with its quirky Morse-code style chorus scratch and cinematic strings.
But Primo's work on "Hard to Earn," as strong as it was, was overshadowed by his production on no fewer that three masterpieces that same year. No disrespect to Guru, but it wasn't until Jeru tha Damaja's "The Sun Rises in the East" that Primo finally got to produce an entire album with an emcee worthy of his talent. Jeru's dismissal of posturing gangster rappers on "Come Clean" was underscored by one of the phattest and spookiest beats Premier ever crafted. And the impossibly sinister "New York State of Mind" on Nas' scorching debut "Illmatic" evoked life in the Big Apple's concrete jungle as well as any song before or since. Another debutant, the late Notorious B.I.G. was also a beneficiary, on the aptly titled "Unbelievable."
It was a full four years before Gang Starr's fourth album "Moment of Truth" dropped in 1998. "Full Clip," a retrospective containing some new material, of which the title track was the standout, was next in 1999, and Gang Starr's most recent release "The Ownerz" (2002) showed Primo in as fine fettle as ever. Some of Primo's most recent work can be heard on long time Gang Starr cohort Big Shug's "Who's Hard," album from last year. Once again, despite his booming delivery, Shug is neither lyrically or technically as adept an emcee as Primo merits; still, if you are even vaguely interested in turntablism and quality hip-hop music, you would be a fool to miss DJ Premier's show at Luxy tomorrow night.