Three-time Grammy winner DJ Premier, one of the definitive architects of New York hip-hop, brought a new type of life to NPR’s Tiny Desk: their first concert helmed by a DJ.
A packed house of head-nodding journalists grooved through their lunch hour to a nine-song medley of iconic Premier productions while decompressing from the unrelenting grind of the news cycle. The set list rested on the undeniable footprint of Preemo’s classics, but this was more than just another DJ mix. His touring outfit, The Badder Band, overlaid Premier’s blends with an undulating electric bass courtesy of Brady Watt, a steady accent on the one from drummer Lenny Reece and boisterous horns from Mark Williams and Jonathan Powell.
But it was Premier who remained front-and-center, commanding the crowd like a true party rocker. With throwbacks ranging from Gangstarr’s “Step into the Arena” to an amped rendition of Jeru The Damaja’s “Da Bitches,” embellished by The Badder’s jazzy horns, Preemo concluded the set with a “Moment of Truth,” featuring the exalted rhymes of his posthumous Gangstarr partner, Guru.
Tiny Desk concerts are short by design, so naturally the format could barely scratch the surface of Premier’s vault of street anthems, done for the likes of the Notorious B.I.G., JAY-Z, Nas, Kanye West, Big L, M.O.P., Mos Def, Group Home, Jeru the Damaja, AZ, Snoop Dogg, and many more. Even after a career spanning almost three decades, the man born Christopher Martin has managed to stay authentic to his analog grit and sample-chopping integrity, as if he were still an underdog.