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Hip-Hop Fridays: Dre Or Premier?

Over a year ago I took part in one of those dangerous, endless and indecisive conversations with a few of my closest friends over who the "greatest producer" in Hip-Hop history is. It actually was a lot of fun and I found my self going back and forth throughout the conversation. No disrespect to any of Hip-Hop's greatest producers like Marly Marl, The Bomb Squad, Erick Sermon, Pete Rock, Beats By The Pound, DJ Quick, Easy Mo Bee, Havoc, The Ummah, Rockwilder, Trackmasterz, Timbaland, Organized Noize, The Neptunes, JuJu, Large Professor, Swizz Beats, Mannie Fresh and of course the RZA (who I have to leave out for fear of bias) but this conversation and several others always seem to boil down to Dr. Dre and DJ Premier.

If Dre and Premier were compared to war strategies, Dre would be like dropping an atom bomb and Premier would be like carpet-bombing.

Dre comes out a few years at a time and drops nuclear explosions like NWA and the D.O.C.; then himself, Snoop Dogg and the Dogg Pound; then himself, Eminem and Xzibit. Premier, on the other hand, over virtually the same time period, drops multiple Gang Starr albums, and non-stop cuts for a virtual who's who in Hip-Hop, including numerous underground artists whose albums will never go Gold.

Dre and Premier represent two tracks in Hip-Hop - Dre brings innovation and street sounds and crosses them over without even trying and Premier brings consistency and street sounds and keeps them, and the artists he works with "underground". And that is what makes it so hard to say who is really "better" because they both do two different things powerfully. If you want multi-millions in sales and maximum impact, then call Dre. If you want several hundred thousand sold and instant street credibility, then call Premier.

In the discussion with my friends, I initially leaned slightly toward Dre because of his matchless ability to totally change the industry, most recently with the use of musicians who play live instruments for him. He has always really been a master arranger, kind of like Quincy Jones, able to bring various people together to produce a final product greater than the sum of its parts - always with a ground-breaking impact. It is like when Dre comes out with something, it changes not just the game but the rules of the game.

Premier, on the other hand, makes you respect the art of sampling and simplicity and the ability to take jazz, R&B, voices, classical, rock and basic drum patterns and turn them into masterpieces. And who could ever forget Premier's irresistible signature choruses where he scratches the voice of the artist he works with in a melody that ensures head nodding and your repetition of the words. It is so simple that no one can really duplicate what he does, although numerous people try. You can tell a Premier beat a mile away, just from the use of his favorite bass and snare drum, but still can't help but like it.

The turning point in the conversation, for me, came when we began to run down all of the artists that Premier has worked with. It is a virtual "greatest MC list": KRS-One, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Notorious B.IG., Nas, Jay-Z, Brand Nubian …incredible. Not to mention the fact that in just one year Premier provided hot tracks for artists like The Lox, Capone-N-Noreaga, Common, Mos Def, Big L and M.O.P. We felt that Premier's incomparable resume at least pulled him even with Dre's overwhelming influence on the sound of the whole industry.

My dream album would include one side of each and who knows, maybe we will get that now that Rakim has just signed with Dr. Dre.

What's messin' with a Dre A-Side and a Premier B-side?

Oh well, one can only hope.

So, Dre or Premier? You pick 'em, because I sure can't.

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, February 2, 2001

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