I recently got the opportunity to interview DJ Primeminister about music and scratch DJing. Primeminister is more than just your average scratch DJ, he paints pictures through record scratching. He recently performed his “Ode To Detroit” scratch set at TEDxDetroit.

DU: What is a Scratchtracknologist, and did I say that right?

PM: You said it right! You don’t know how many people had a struggle with that, like “What are you talking about, dude?” A Scratchtracknologist is a term that I coined. It’s someone who takes scratches, and puts them over music, in an arrangement form. It can often be poetic, you know, you can talk about whatever you want to talk about through scratching, it’s juts how you arrange them.

DU: How important is turntablism in hip hop culture?

PM: Very important. Hip hop started off the turntable. Everybody’s credited Cool Herc for basically germinating the culture. He would bring his turntables out in the streets, and people would party and stuff like that. Then from there, you’ve got emcees, who would get up and entertain the crowds, based on what he was doing on the turntables. So, turntables are like the whole foundation of the hip hop culture.

DU: Absolutely. So, where did you grow up?

PM: I grew up in Michigan, Southfield to be exact. Went to Southfield High. Had a cool upbringing, you know. My parents were big influences on me growing up. Taught me values, hard work, integrity and stuff like that. Yeah, had a lot of fun times.

DU: Did either of your parents have any influence on your music interests when you were growing up?

PM: You know what, they actually did. You know, my family was more of a practical family. When I first got into DJing they kinda didn’t support it, because they were like, “What kind of living are you going to make? Blah Blah Blah.” But at the same time it was kinda hypocritical because they had this musical undertone with them. My mom has a very nice singing voice, sang in the choir at church, and I’d always go to choir rehearsal with her and watch the organ player. We had this giant pipe organ at my church, it was almost spooky, but it was intriguing. I would watch the guy play the organ and direct the choir, and I was fascinated, you know. So that had a big influence on me. Then my dad, he played trumpet and bass guitar in college. He told me a little secret, he played in a little jam band with Maceo Parker in college. So, I was like wow. So there’s a nice little musical undertone in my family.

DU: Are there any other areas of your life where you apply the same principles that you do with turntablism?

PM: Pretty much everywhere. Even going shopping, it’s like if I’m going grocery shopping or something, it’s like I’m looking for the right groceries that I need for the week. It’s the same thing with turntablism. I’m always digging through records, and I have to find the right sounds, and textures as I like to call them. I like to find the right sounds and put them together, the right voices, sounds and words, and assemble them together in a manner that communicates. I kind of apply that to a lot of areas in life, you know. And even the persistence part. I have to be very patient and persistent in digging through all those records. It can be tedious, but someone’s gotta do it.

DU: How do you make a song using scratches?

PM: Basically, I’ll hear some music, either a track or some kind of instrumental, and I’ll come up with a topic. You know, anything I want to scratch about. Then, what I’ll do is I’ll find words and sounds that kind of relate to that topic. Then the magic is in arranging it, and making it entertaining. I recently did a song called “Hockey Night in Turntable Land.” People know I’m like a big hockey fan, you know. I had to do like a scratch song that’s dedicated to hockey. So, what I did was I took clips from different games, and put them in over an instrumental. And I found sounds that sounded like skating, and I scratched the skate sounds. And then like a puck sound, getting a slapshot, and I scratched that in. So it’s like you’re in the middle of a hockey game, and these are all scratches being done. So that’s a real good example of what Scratchtracknology is. It’s like, I go beyond just scratching sounds for the sake of scratching. It’s like I’m expressing myself and anything I want to express through scratches.

DU: Do you feel then that you have transcended hip hop, as far as where your music is going and where you are now?

PM: To a certain extent, I feel like I’ve transcended. I feel like I’m contributing to hip hop. I feel like I’ve transcended scratching and turntablism. What I’m doing is bringing the element of art into it. Where it’s artistic expression, just unadulterated. There’s no denying it. Yeah, I feel like I’ve transcended just turntablism. I’m bringing personality and perspective into it.

DU: Tell me about the person who taught you how to play records and the influence they had on you.

PM: A big influence on that for me was my Aunt. She was a DJ, and she was a big influence on me. She used to babysit me and she had a large record collection. She had a very diverse collection. She had everything from Rock to Jazz to New Age to R&B, so a lot of my musical palette is because of her. She had two turntables and a mixer, and she used to make mixtapes for me and my family when we’d go on summer road trips and stuff. And I would watch her do it, and I was fascinated. That’s where I get my diverse music taste and my aptitude for DJing.

DU: What is your most valuable record, and what does it mean to you?

PM: You know, I have a few. A really important era in music to me, was like the golden era of hip hop, like in the late eighties. A lot of stuff like, the Big Daddy Kanes, and the early Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff records. So, I have a lot records from that era. All the Marley Marl and all the Kool G Raps, and all that good stuff. I have them all in protective covers too. I have like, MC Lyte and Audio Two, and I have this group called the Alliance that was affiliated with them. Found that record in Fat Beats when I was living on the East Coast for a while.

DU: Fat Beats recently closed down their retail locations, what are your thoughts on that?

PM: Personally, I think that people just aren’t interested in buying records anymore. To a certain extent, I can understand them, because records can become a burden, if you have to buy too many of them. I was thinking about that yesterday, I have an event coming up. I was like, wow, you know just being able to download music, I can spend so much less money and take up less space. It becomes more convenient. I still appreciate buying records though. I don’t’ buy as many as I used to, because I had to, you know. But if I want to venture into a new music genre, I don’t have to go out and spend $500 on a bunch of twelve inches, you know. I can just spend $20 and download 20 different songs and make a nice mixtape, or a mix [TABLET] as I like to call them. I kind of have mixed feelings, I appreciate vinyl very very very much, but at the same time I do like the advantages of the digital age.

DU: Tell me about the work you’ve done with other Detroit underground artists.

PM: I’ve done scratches for artists like Asylum 7 from United States of Mind. I’ve done scratches for Big Tone on his last two albums. I’ve done scratches for Leaf Erikson, B.L.A.K.E. Eerie. I’ve done scratches for Black Vegas. I just recently did scratches for Blaksmith from Cold Men Young, and he did a collaboration with a cat named Mister, another prolific emcee, and I did a lot of scratches on their EP. It’s called Passalacqua. I’ve done cuts for people around the world, I’ve done scratches for this electro band from Sweden a couple of years ago. And I also did some scratches for this emcee from South Africa named Demola.

DU: Who are your biggest influences?

PM: My biggest influences I would say of course, Grand Wizard Theodore, the guy who was credited with inventing the scratch. Definitely like Grandmaster Flash, some of those earlier famous DJs. As a kid I would watch them and be fascinated. DJ Jazzy Jeff definitely, definitely a big influence for me. Another big influence that really sparked me to get my turntables was DJ Premier. I used to listen to Gang Starr albums, I think it was the second album, Daily Operation, walking home from school one day, and that’s when it hit me like, I have to get some turntables. It was like the voices from the sky were like, “Get turntables kid.”

DU: What are your thoughts on Serato and other digital DJing platforms. Are you a strict purist, or do you think you can enhance your art form through technology?

PM: I am a hybrid. I believe that all DJs should have experience with vinyl and traditional DJing form, but at the same time I do like the advantages that Traktor and Serato bring. It makes managing music so much easier, it makes expanding your own musical horizons so much easier. Like I said, I don’t have to go to the store, if I’ve been spinning hip hop my whole life, and I want to start getting into techno, I don’t have to go to the store and spend a thousand dollars on a bunch of new techno twelve inches. I can just go to one of the websites, preview songs, check out my favorite ones, and spend not even half as much money, and get the same amount of music and start mixing it up, and exploring that realm. I like both worlds. The best of both worlds is what kind of guy I am.

DU: Qbert and Mix Master Mike say that when they are scratching records, that they are communicating with aliens. Is this something you can relate to?

PM: You know what, there’s very much something to that. I really believe that scratching is a communication, a really deep communication. I believe that I’m communicating to people through scratching, in a way that they can really understand. When I first got my turntables, I was a quiet kid. I would have friends over, and we’d all be hanging out, and I didn’t really say much. But when I would scratch a record, everyone would stop talking and listen. That’s when it hit me that I really am communicating, so ever since then I just took it to another level. This is how I can communicate. This is my gift, and I can say whatever I want to say to the world, just through the sounds of scratching. So I believe that there’s something to that, talking to aliens, whatever life is out there, I’m just talking.

DU: Is there anything you are currently working on?

PM: Yes, my next scratch track album. It’s titled, “The Terrific Scratch Painter At Work.” It’s under construction right now, and I’m going to be filming videos for some of the pieces as well. That’s going to be something people should look out for. I’m doing scratches on numerous projects, so look for my name out there. If you hear the infamous Primeminister drops, then you hear some scratches come in over your favorite artist, then you know who it is!

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