Track by Track is a recurring music feature in which an artist breaks down every track on their newest album.
The P in PRhyme is for DJ Premier, the producer of classic tracks for JAY-Z, Nas, and Notorious B.I.G. Even with all this success (including a pop turn with Christina Aguilera), he’s most well known for being one-half of critical rap darlings Gang Starr. The R in PRhyme is for Royce Da 5’9″, veteran Detroit MC, ghostwriter for Diddy and Dr. Dre, and frequent partner of Eminem. For the latest release from the duo’s collaborative project, keyboard wizard Antman Wonder becomes the final piece of the puzzle. His compositions make up the backbone of their latest album, PRhyme II, just as Adrian Younge provided the raw music that became the first PRhyme album four years ago.
This is the concept under which PRhyme operate: DJ Premier’s impeccable ear for samples unleashed on new songs by fresh-faced composers — a different composer every album. Over that you have Royce dropping fierce and furious bars of Motor City style. Topping it off is vintage scratching and guest verses from veterans and newcomers like Big K.R.I.T., 2 Chainz, CeeLo Green, and Dave East. Add it all together and you have a vibrant record with a decade-spanning sound.
With their second album, PRhyme has further sharpened their approach. PRhyme II is a mediation on influence, context and history — an attempt to build a bridge between hip-hop’s past and its future. Take a listen to the entire thing below.
For our latest Track by Track, DJ Premier and Royce take us through each and every song on PRhyme II.
“Interlude 1 (Salute)”:
DJ Premier: When it came to doing PRhyme II, we were gonna use Adrian Younge again, but we didn’t have enough source material to really get a whole album’s worth of music. Antman Wonder was presented to me through Royce, and when he said Antman Wonder I already knew that’s gonna be a whole different approach, because he’s very melodic. That’s what I love about sampling music. [Antman] started making original folders that he sent out to us. He sent us over thirty sounds. I just picked apart what I thought I could flip, and we were off to the races.
Royce: “Black History” was one of the earlier songs we did on the album. I took one of the compositions Antman made and just started writing from the perspective of when I was born. Preem made the beat over this separate composition and kind of fused them together, and then I wrote to the other part with the drums. That’s how you got those two pieces. And we always felt like that would be a good way to set off the album, to take everybody back to the beginning of where I come from and where Preem comes from; when two separate worlds intertwine and they’re so much alike.
“1 Of The Hardest”:
Royce: I try not to limit myself in any way, I totally put that kind of thinking out of my mind completely. The fans are going to always put us in a box anyway. I’m guilty of doing it myself, I like my favorite artists to be exactly the way I want them to be, you know what I’m saying? I want JAY-Z’s albums to be how I want JAY-Z’s albums to be. But I try to push Preem as much as I can out of his comfort zone.
“Era” feat. Dave East:
DJ Premier: “Era” was actually constructed around Dave East. When Royce’s album “Layers” came out, he put out a pre-album called, “Trust The Shooter.” Dave was supposed to be on it, but he submitted his verse too late. Royce brought it to my attention. I said, let me construct a beat around his a capellas, and I just turned off the beat he rapped to, to see if I could make it fit. That’s one of the reasons “Era” is so stripped down.
Royce: Once he started adding drums to it, and he added that, “Rocket in the pocket,” there, I was like, “Oh shit, it sounds like he’s mixing eras together. Futuristic noise and vintage drums, cutting and mixing them together.” That’s where the concept came from. Me and Preem, we always had these long conversations about things that went on in his era – cause Preem got the longevity, I’m a baby to him, he’s my OG. He tells me stories all the time about the shit they used to do back in the day and I just sit there and listen, fascinated. Sometimes I imagine myself in those stories, in those eras. Even when I’m talking to my dad, he be telling things that happened to them, how they all used to stand on the street corner singing, just a bunch of hard-ass niggas on the corner singing. I just feel like sometimes I’m stuck in the wrong era.
“Respect My Gun” feat. Roc Marciano:
Royce: I think the narrative is starting to change a little bit, I think a lot of artists are becoming more socially aware. I did the song kind of long ago, but my mind frame on carrying guns and the way I want to use them has changed drastically. When I was a little kid I was angry. Now I’m a grown man, I don’t want to hurt anybody. Please just stay away from my family. I don’t want to see anybody’s mom at a funeral, I don’t wanna see anybody’s mom crying. I’m a very peaceful person. But I do feel like every man should have the right to protect his family. If somebody comes into your house, wanting to do one of your daughters harm, you got to do what you got to do. I just think people are always going to be able to get their hands on guns. The good people should have them, too. If I say, “Respect my gun,” it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m talking to somebody in the street. I could be talking to a burglar or a rapist.
“W.O.W. (WITH OUT WARNING)” feat. Yelawolf:
DJ Premier: I didn’t come up scratching Kendrick, because he wasn’t out yet. If I could find a Kendrick line… You know, he doesn’t really have many a capellas that are clean. A lot of his beats may clash with mine when I scratch it in. You know, the background noise?
So this is from the “Control” verse: “Put the rap game on a crutch!” And the way he said that with that bark, I was like, “Yo, this is the opening line!” The opening line means a lot to me whenever I scratch. Connecting that with other voices… [The voices] have to really join hands. “Put the rap game in the clutch,” is the perfect line to set everything off, to connect to Rakim, “Blow the spot without warning,” and Xzibit, “You get no chance to back down.”
“Sunflower Seeds” feat. Novel and Summer of ’69:
Royce: You can make all the money in the world and be depressed. People equate success with money, and I really don’t think they have much of a correlation at all. You can win the lottery and ruin your life. But if you’re building something that continues to grow, and continues to fulfill you creatively, then there’s [nothing] more successful than that.
The song is basically about being a grown man and being comfortable in your skin. You got to have some level of comfort with your environment to be riding around with your window down spitting sunflower seeds.
DJ Premier: I just love that sound. The way that bass does that bend — that burrmm.
DJ Premier: Royce came up with the, “Oh my gosh!” part. But the, “You know I come around and rock it,” I just kept cutting that over and over. I did that in one take, I said let me record myself cutting a scratch. It’s from The Jungle Brothers. I love the way Mike G’s voice sounds.
Royce: This is a prime example of why Preem is a producer and not just a beatmaker. Without even having to tell me, he kind of laid out what the formula of the song was going to be. So all I really had to do, once I heard the “rock it” was play off that.
“Loved Ones” feat. Rapsody:
DJ Premier: I didn’t know Rapsody was on it. Antman sent [compositions] to both of us. I said, “Yo, here’s one of these beats I just came up with.” I played that for Royce, and he was like, “Yo, that’s crazy, I just did a song with Rapsody for the album to that same sample!”
When he played it for me, I had to figure out how to mix the parts I didn’t use with when she came in, because that’s not the part I chose in the sample. The funny thing is, when we sent it to Rapsody to say, “Yo, we just want you to hear the final mix,” she was like, “Noooo I didn’t know you were going to put drums to it! Let me rewrite my verse! I’ll write it right now and send it right back!”
Royce: When I started rapping at open mics when I was 17, 18 years old, I just felt accepted. I hadn’t felt that acceptance outside of basketball and boxing. It was kind of a validation for me. At that age, you’re seeking validation. You want to find your purpose.
DJ Premier: As a five year old kid… You know my mother, she taught art, she had every vinyl album you could think of. I was fascinated by the shape of the record; the label; the way the automatic arm would land on the record; the mechanics of it. I’d watch Soul Train and see everybody dancing to these records we’d hear in the house. It made me say, “I wanna be in a band, I wanna be on stage, I wanna be a performer, I wanna hear people scream for me.”
“Made Man” feat. Big K.R.I.T. and Denaun Porter:
DJ Premier: I think I have a very good ear. You can knock me for other stuff, but I think my ear, musically, is very well tuned. I just catch things that make me immediately go, “Ooh, I could flip that.” I’ll stop it, rewind it back. Test the tempo of it. Once I went at it, Royce was like, “Oh, you crazy for this one.”
Royce: Sometimes Preem will send me something, and you can tell he was trying to put his foot in it. Sometimes he’ll send me a skeleton, and you can tell that he’s busy doing other things. Those are the two different kinds of Preem joints you can expect when you’re twisting his arm, like, “Yo, send something, send something, send something!” This particular beat, I can tell he was in his zone.
DJ Premier: I didn’t want to do no scratches at the beginning of “Flirt”. Usually if I scratch at the beginning, it helps set up the verse. With this one, I wanted the beat to just ride for six bars. I felt like, if it just comes on after “Made Man”, it just goes right to the verse.
With that Antman piece, with the “rrrrRRR,” “rrrrrRRR,” it just felt like a movie, like The Twilight Zone and it sets up the story. It felt like I had a cigarette, in the background like, “Witness if you will…”
“Flirt” (feat. 2 Chainz):
Royce: I had a threesome with these girls, and I actually talk about it in the song. The main girl I was in communication with was mad at me because I wasn’t answering my phone. And then, come to find out, when we were having the threesome, I was so drunk that she was recording me and taking pictures of me when I was asleep! So she sold the video and pictures to Media Takedown! The craziest shit about that: I had done so much shit and got caught by my wife that when that shit came out she wasn’t even mad. I was already so far in the doghouse…
“Everyday Struggle” feat. Chavis Chandler:
DJ Premier: Royce said the way I programmed the beat reminded him of the generation gap. They’re saying, “You rappers are old, we don’t respect ya’all, we don’t care about all that old school stuff.” And the rappers from my generation are like, “Man, fuck all these young motherfuckers! They don’t respect the culture, they’re rapping about drugs, they ain’t got no lyrics and they can’t rap!” I never thought this would happen in hip hop. It’s always been a rebellious, young man’s sport, but it’s also grown. JAY-Z is the best example: an almost 50 year-old who can still sell out arenas. I just never thought we’d have a gap between the youngsters and our age group.
“Do Ya Thang”:
Royce: Yeah, I’ve been called the songbird of my generation. (laughs)
DJ Premier: Royce can sing. That’s that Detroit soul. He’s raised with it.
“Gotta Love It” feat. CeeLo Green and Brady Watt:
DJ Premier: I love music with a passion. I don’t think you can ever lose love for music.
Royce: Your tastes can change, depending on what’s going on. If you take a dark turn in your life, you may switch over to dark music. But I think there’s music for everything. I don’t think it’s possible for a human being to fall out of love with music.