Paying tribute to the living legends: Dj Premier

This year a lot of music legends have left us, from Bowie and Prince to Bernie Worell and Maurice White to name but a few, unfortunately there were many more. There were a lot of tributes and more are under way since these music icons have had a huge impact on modern music. But isn’t it sad that we don’t talk about most of them while they are still alive and often ‘rediscover’ their genius only when they pass away?

This is why I am starting a new series of drawings that pays tribute to living legends. I want to pay tribute to music icons alive and well, and hopefully so for a long time to come.

The first tribute goes to a living legend I have had the honor of handing over my illustration in person: Dj Premier, the sound of New York hip hop from the 90’s, the golden era of the genre. Dj Premier is considered one of the top if not the top all time hip hop producers and is a celebrated dj as well. He was the Dj/producer of Gang Starr and produced or remixed everybody in the rap game (Nas, Jay Z, Notorious Big, Rakim, Jeru, Krs One, Dr Dre, Snoop, ODB, Joey Bada$$, DITC, MOP…) and beyond (Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson, Mark Ronson, D’Angelo, Branford Marsalis, Macy Gray, Limp Bizkit, Black Eyed Peas…). In the last decades he produced hundreds of tracks and still going strong. He elevated sampling to a real artform and pushed this recording technique to new heights. He sampled jazz records before other hip hop producers caught on and did the same. And he has been important for me personally because he is one of the reasons I started collecting vinyl records and djing. Thanks to his encyclopedian knowledge of all music he introduced me to a lot of great and overlooked music from the sixties and seventies, jazz, soul, funk, blues, rock and original soundtracks.

The pencil drawing of Dj Premier. He said he would hang the original in his NYC studio.

Needless to say that meeting him was a dream come true. In July, Premier was headlining the closing night of the Free4Style sports and music festival in Estavayer, Switzerland, a venue where I had been djing during the day for a couple of years. When I learned they had booked Dj Premier, I asked the organizers about an opportunity to meet him. So in the afternoon, when he arrived backstage to prepare his soundcheck, I gave him my drawing as a present.

This tribute drawing is a very different piece of artwork than what I usually do. It is a portrait inspired by graffiti art I wanted to be close to reality, integrating a lot of details of Dj Premier’s amazing career that I had been following, as a fan, for more than 20 years. I was really pleased that he liked the illustration, and I was humbled that he appreciated the level of details to the point of posting about it several times on his instagram account. My fondest souvenir remains our picture together, beause it reminds me of our wonderful little chat, where he talked about his music and forthcoming projects the way other people talk about their kids.

Later in the day he went on Estavayer’s one and two and rocked the crowd, mixing not only hip hop tracks but also soul music and rock as well, cutting AC DC « Back in Black » and even Phil Collins « In the Air tonight ». For those who missed it, here’s a mix he did on the Diplo & Friends show on BBC Radio where he mixes a little bit of everything (from Rush, the Doors, to AC DC, RATM and Steve Miller as well as a lot of hip hop of course, you can check the tracklist here) and showing he has not lost a step.