DJ Premier Details The Secret Battle Of The Beats He Had With RZA (Video)
Who is Hip-Hop’s greatest producer of all-time? It’s a question that has generated endless debate, over the years. In 2017, Ambrosia For Heads hosted a discussion among millions of readers, and let them decide by voting in an NCAA-style round robin tournament. DJ Premier emerged the victor in a 32-contender field that included such greats as J. Dilla, Dr. Dre, RZA, Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, Q-Tip, Organized Noize, The Neptunes, Alchemist and more.
While those conversations are held regularly amongst pundits and fans, it is rare that the producers themselves speak openly about their competitive natures. During AFH’s tournament, Swizz Beatz began a series of head to head beat battles with some of his most respected peers. In February of that year, he took on Just Blaze in a battle where the world heard a previously unreleased collaboration featuring Nas, JAY-Z, DMX and Jadakiss for the first time. That June, he took on Timbaland live at Hot 97’s Summer Jam. As it turns out, twenty years before them, producers were also competing directly, but the discussions were being held behind closed doors.
During an appearance to promote the stellar new Gang Starr album, One Of The Best Yet, the group’s first release in 16 years, DJ Premier spoke with Hot 97 about a number of things, including the legal wranglings needed to get the album made, working with JAY-Z and Biggie, his favorite non- Gang Starr album he produced (Jeru The Damaja’s The Sun Rises In The East) and more.
When asked about what inspired him to make the beat for Jeru’s “D. Original,” Preemo’s response took an unexpected turn. “I was battling RZA,” said the veteran beat maker. After stating that he knew RZA since the days when he was known as Prince Rakeem, Premier continued “RZA told me ‘I’m going to start this group called Wu-Tang Clan.’ He said ‘It’s going to be karate sh*t, but it’s going to be where we form individuals. And, I’m going to get my dudes from Staten Island. I’m going to get my dudes from Brooklyn. I got this guy named Method Man and he’s from Long Island, but he lives in Staten Island…'”
Preemo says he did not pay much attention to RZA at the time, but one day when he, Guru and the members of ONYX were at a bar, a song came on the radio that he did not recognize, but which sent ONYX into a frenzy. When Premier asked what the song was, ONYX told him it was “Protect Ya Neck” by Wu-Tang Clan. He instantly connected the dots, realizing RZA had manifested the vision he’d described to Premier.
Hearing the song did not instantly make Premier competitive, but during a trip to LA, RZA approached him, saying “That ‘Come Clean [by Jeru],’ yeah, that’s cool [but] I’ve got some piano joints I’m about to throw that’s going to shut that down.” Premier responded, “Aight, cool,” accepting the challenge. “So, I said [to myself] ‘I’m going to do a piano joint.’ I did ‘D. Original.’ That popped off. He saw me again in LA, at another party. [At a place called] ‘Jamaica Jamaica’ back then. He sees me there. He says ‘OK. Yeah. You got me on that piano joint there, but I got one called ‘C.R.E.A.M.‘ Wait til you hear that.’ I heard ‘C.R.E.A.M.,’ I was like ‘Alright, you win,'” says Preem with a wry smile and his hands in the air in salutation to the legendary Wu-Tang Clan anthem. “He got me on that one. We laughed about it in May when we was on tour with De La [Soul] and Public Enemy.”
Although Premier concedes the loss in that beat battle, it was Preemo who got the win in Ambrosia For Heads’ Finding The GOAT: Producer competition, when he and RZA went head to head. Fans voted decisively, handing Preemo the victory by a 67% to 33% margin. In AFH’s Finding The GOAT: Album competition, however, the Clan’s 36 Chambers album bested Gang Starr’s Moment Of Truth, by a margin of 76% to 24%, so the competition between the two greats is far from decided.