DJ Premier and Pete Rock Gig Review (Melbourne 07/05/2014)

Golden era hip hop seems to be passing through Melbourne of late. I caught several Ninja Tune producers deconstruct/remake ‘Paul’s Boutique’ in its entirety at the Prince of Wales at the end of February, saw Public Enemy (with S1W’s to boot) do a high energy greatest hits show in early March, and the other night I was lucky enough to catch two of the greatest producers ever to grace the game, DJ Premier and Pete Rock when they DJ’d at the Corner Hotel.

Having missed their original show at 170 Russell Street a few nights previously, I was enormously glad when this extra gig was announced as the opportunity to see these two perform was simply unmissable in my eyes. Due to Rock’s seminal work as one half of Pete Rock and CL Smooth, the work he did for Nas, his superlative version of ‘Shut ‘Em Down’, ‘Fakin Jax’ and my personal favourite 2003’s ‘Petestrumentals’ album which contains the best (and least obvious) flip of James Brown’s ‘The Boss’ that I know of.

DJ Premier as the beat maker for Gangstarr created some of the most identifiable and indelible hip hop tunes of the 1990s with all the duo’s albums essentially becoming classics. Never resting, he went onto an incredibly high level solo career making beats for Biggie Smalls (such as ‘Kick in the Door’ and ‘Unbelievable’), Group Home, Nas and Jeru’s best work (Wrath of the Maths’ and ‘The Sun Rises in the East’) amongst others.

Both producers seem a perfect match for collaboration given their background as the musical halves of successful partnerships, their noticeable Jazz leanings and place within the hip hop pantheon. Certainly their musical knowledge can’t be faulted and given their record collections and sample savvy, a live performance was never going to be anything other than great.

Upon their arrival on the stage, Premier announced that everything they were about to play would be ‘real’, whether we liked it or not and using what appeared to be two Apple MacBooks, some 1200s and a copy of Serato, they started with a Run DMC medley including King of Rock, Beats to the Rhyme, My Adidas and a wicked ‘Peter Piper’ cut-up before moving on to well known tunes that they either liked or had a hand in creating.

There was a fantastic Stevie Wonder section in which they played a variety up of his hits to celebrate his forthcoming birthday and a lengthy Jay Dilla tribute which featured a lot of his stuff from Doughnuts and the Electric Circus era with a smattering of instrumental Pharcyde as well.

They broke it down and re-built from the basics by literally re-starting with the break from Funky Drummer and launching into a ill James Brown segment which thankfully included my favourite James Brown (or Fred Wesley) cut ‘Blind Man Can See It’ from the Black Caesar OST, flipping that into Das FX’s ‘They Want FX’. This then segued into what all beat minded hip hop heads want, which was about an hour of sample sources mixed into the tunes that sampled them… Such as Eric Burdon mixed into Pot Holes in my Lawn, ‘As Long as I’ve Got You’ by The Charmels blended into Cream by Wu-Tang, L’il’ Ghetto Boy into, um… Lil’ Ghetto Boy, and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Jessica’ into Shook Ones Pt II to rousing effect.

Both were on the mic throughout the gig exhorting the crowd to ‘say ho’, ‘yell Premo’, ‘clap your hands’ and so on a’ la old school block parties and the crowd happily rose to the challenge and attempted to follow all commands including throwing Wu Tang ‘W’ hand shapes during the Cream / Charmels mix and imitating Stevie Wonder’s distinctive head rolls during the Wonder birthday tribute at Premier’s behest.

Premier and Pete Rock shared cutting and scratching duties equally, with Rock being the better scratcher in this author’s opinion. They also worked together for big scratching effects, notably transforming two parts of a big uplifter that lead into a new segment at one point and giving each other side eye and congratulatory half smiles when they successfully pulled it off. Premier stated that, he couldn’t rap, but ‘Pete Rock can rhyme’. And to illustrate this fact, Rock took his mic off the stand for awhile and threw down while Premier stayed behind the decks providing the background for his flows.

Before the evening was over, I got to hear Premier yelling most of the lines to my favourite Gangstarr track, ‘Just to Get A Rep’, whilst Rock cut it up in the background and the two and a bit hour set concluded with Rock humming the melody for ‘They Reminisce Over You’ into the mic while Premier mixed in the name sake anthem for a barn storming closer.

According to other people who had seen their previous show a few nights before, they varied the set a fair bit, excising Nas sections in favour of Dilla and generally ensuring they didn’t play the same stuff twice. They were also good enough to hang around afterwards sign stuff and pose for photos and all in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better gig. It’s rare nowadays that something like this meets my expectations. This not only met them, it vastly exceeded them. To paraphrase Rakim, these guys know how to move a crowd and I would highly recommend catching them if they ever come to your town.

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Also see earlier post:


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4 Great Gangstarr Tracks

Dropped as a single in 1994, ‘DWYK’ featuring Nice, Smooth and Kid Capri was a non-single/single from their fourth album ‘Hard To Earn’. I say non-single/single as outside of Japan this cut didn’t make the album as apparently Premier himself didn’t think this tune would be as popular as it was and they released it as almost a throw away track.

Whilst they’ve made better tunes, this is still supremely catchy and has a great laid back vibe which is only enhanced by the video which predominantly features chicks in G-bangers running up and down the beach near Coney Island as Guru, Greg Nice and Smooth B throw down a verse a piece and Premier transformer scratches horns over the top .

With a forceful beat based around the ‘Synthetic Substitution’ break and a good filtered pass of the bass line from Clarence Wheeler and The Enforcers instrumental cover of ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles, the track is a driving force to be reckoned with and features scratched in snippets of another Nice & Smooth tune ‘Funky For You’ which is good in its own right.

<Check Red Alert in the background and the significant repping of Cross Colours >

Actually on a few of these old Gangstarr tunes, Premier loved cutting in samples of artists he either produced for or worked with, so tunes like ‘Just to Get A Rep’ which was on 1991’s ‘Step Into The Arena’ album, also feature a snippet of ‘Funky For You’, notably in the “Stick up kid is out to tax” line which is used prominently in the chorus (such as at the 25 second mark on the clip below).

‘Hard To Earn’ also featured ‘Now You’re Mine’, which stands as one of the best tunes Gangstarr made IMO.

Despite this album having some great cuts and being a little more hard ass than its predecessors (perhaps in response to the gangster rap onslaught of the previous two years), Guru and Premier took a break from recording after this and didn’t release another album for about 4 years. Whilst that is a shame, it allowed Guru the latitude to do his second Jazzamataz album and Premier to cut some great tracks for Group Home and Jeru (amongst others).

Although they wouldn’t hit the heights of this album again, Gangstarr certainly left a legacy of great material and ‘Check The Technique’ with its massive Marlena Shaw sample isn’t merely bragging or just trying to rip of Eric B and Rakim when it states:

” Your raps crazy wack, so don’t try to pull that
You’re lackin’ the vernacular, I’m slappin’ ya and cappin’ ya
And closin’ your jaw, cause you can’t mess with Gangstarr
The Guru and Premier always dope with the blessed beats
Dance your ass off hobbes, check the technique”.

Check it.

Written and Posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.