“I’m looking out for deer now,” reported DJ Premier, hands-free phoning as he skippered his tour bus through the Cascade Range near Mt. Shasta, in the wilds of northern California.
DJ PREMIER & THE BADDER BAND
When: 10 p.m. June 17
Where: Concord Music Hall, 2047 N. Milwaukee
Tickets: $20-$30 (17 +over)
The storied turntablist and beat creator, frequently listed in the top three of hip-hop’s all-time-greatest producers, was midway through a 10-hour road trip to Sacramento – fifth port on the maiden U.S. voyage of DJ Premier and The Badder Band. The man nicknamed Preemo, plus this new, four-piece live ensemble, dock at Concord Music Hall on June 17.
His illustrious, three-decades-and-counting production career began in the late ’80s, after Premier, born Christopher Martin in Houston, settled for good in Brooklyn, N.Y. There, he teamed up with a Boston-bred MC known as Guru, whose just-sprouting rap group, Gang Starr, was at that point producer-less.
Their partnership flourished. In 1990 Gang Starr inked a record deal with U.K.-based Chrysalis Records, which, as AllMusic.com tells it, “offered Guru and Premier unlimited artistic license and major-label distribution worldwide, a platform the group used to become one of the most influential hip hop acts of that decade.”
At the same time, Premier was deploying his beat-crafting brilliance among manifold MCs, producing tracks on mid-’90s masterpieces from East Coast young lions/future rap legends, most notably by the supreme triumvirate of Nas, the Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z.
Gang Starr disbanded in the mid-aughts; Premier’s production carried on apace. His extensive resume is studded with such noteworthy names as hip-hop heavyweight Kanye West, conscious-rap titans KRS-One and Common, universally exalted neo-soul patriarch D’Angelo, pop diva Christina Aguilera and tyro rapper-actor Joey Bada$$, among many others.
Premier’s current project with The Badder Band, he noted, has roots in his multi-instrumental youth. Budding musician Christopher “played piano as a kid. Then bass and drums – I was actually taught by Travis Scott’s father.”
The family of contemporary hit artist Scott (“Antidote”), pop singer-rapper and producer, lived nearby Premier’s when he was growing up. “They were the first ones in my neighborhood to have a pool table,” Premier related. “I’d go there to play pool, and they had a bass and drums set up; so that’s how I learned. Those two instruments, I think, make up [music’s] backbone and heartbeat.”
“I’d always wanted to put a band together,” he went on, recounting how that particular yen was finally realized through his agent in Japan.
“He had an idea: ‘Preem, I know you do DJ gigs. How would you feel about assembling a band around a Japanese trumpet player I’ve worked with?’” Premier was game, and when the agent introduced him to Takuya Kuroda – who records for the sterling jazz label, Blue Note, and also plays keyboards – “we clicked right away.”
Premier continued constructing The Badder Band “piece by piece.” Bassist Brady Watt, as it happened, serendipitously showed up for a session “at one of my studios. We met, and he told me he played with [respected New York MC and activist] Talib Kweli; I was like, ‘Oh, word?’ And we liked the same bass players [jazz royalty Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius]. He’d come back for more sessions, and every time Brady’d leave, we’d be, ‘Yo, man, one day we gotta work together.’”
Not only is Watt now The Badder Band’s backbone, he’s signed as a solo artist to the newer of Premier’s two record imprints, TTT (“To The Top”). The indefatigable producer calls TTT “my alternative label for stuff outside of the street hip-hop music that I release [on Year Round Records, founded in 2003].”
Rounding out The Badder Band are Mark Williams (trombone and keyboards) and Lenny Reece (drums), with Premier conjuring signature grooves from his turntables, mixer and laptop. The ensemble’s current road jaunt is dubbed the “Catalogue Bash” tour, and for a very special reason: It spotlights the timeless music of Gang Starr, whose founder Guru passed away in 2010 (of complications from bone-marrow cancer). But DJ Premier stirs the late rapper’s vocal tracks into their live performance of Gang Starr’s seminal, hardcore NYC hip-hop – and the effect, he says, is galvanizing.
“You come to the show, you’re gonna get the same energy as when Guru was there, trust me,” Premier emphasized. “And he will be there – in spirit.”
Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.