Nomadic emcee Preemo has been gaining a considerable amount of buzz on hip-hop blogs lately, and for good reason. He recently dropped The Magic Bullet, his self-described mixtape/album and follow up to the exceptional Concrete Dreams. A month ago, I caught up with Preemo and picked his brain on his past, his career, and his thoughts on the music industry, among other topics.
What have you been up to lately?
Lately I’ve been working on The Magic Bullet. The latest, it’s kind of a mixtape/album. I recorded that last month in Spokane, Washington. I recorded it there and then I mixed it in Dallas. Also, I linked up with Paul Wall’s road manager, Gu.
In a feature article about you on The Rap Up, it was stated that you will be a headache once you figure out what to call yourself, adding that there is only room for one Preemo in hip-hop. How did you come up with that name for yourself, and are you worried that you will suffer backlash for having a name that is the same as DJ Premier’s nickname?
No, not at all. To answer your first question, they used to call me “Slim.” And obviously another “Slim” (Eminem, aka Slim Shady) came out. I came up during that era. I was with a friend of mine and we were going to a club in Mexico and he said I need a new name. Well what happened was, we got in line at the club in Mexico, and it was our turn to go in and the bouncer said “Esperate, primo” (which means, “hold up, cousin” in Spanish). Me and my homeboy we knew. It was just one of those moments, like a light-bulb went off. Back then nobody was calling Premier “Preemo.” I spelled it p-r-i-m-o, but we found out that it was copyrighted by an Italian company.
Sometimes a rapper can try to be different or conscious, but they become so focused on that goal, they sound preachy and don’t connect with the listener. How do you balance the two? In other words, how can you simultaneously make music that people both respect for its content and play it on repeat in their car?
I’ve gotten to a point, man, that when I write, I’m just so comfortable in my own skin. I don’t sit down and think “what is this person gonna think?” I guess it comes from experience. I kind of know when I’m coming off preachy. Somebody once told me, “Make their head bob first, and then slip in a little truth, and then a little bit more, and then a little bit more.” It’s like, when you give a baby medicine, you wrap it in food. The one person, or people, that did it better than anybody is Outkast.
Do you have an overall message, or is your focus on making dope music that people can connect with?
I would have to say that it is about the music first and foremost. It’s edutainment. I always liked the way KRS-One spoke on that and presented hip-hop that way. You want to just be free to be yourself and not have any bias or point of view. Who I am as a person reflects who I am as a MC.
Let’s talk about your latest album, Concrete Dreams, for a little bit. I read on houstonpress.com that you stated that you created Concrete Dreams with “one hand behind your back.” What did you mean by that?
Basically, I couldn’t work with the producers that I wanted to work with because of (money issues). I’m talking about people that I know personally. All I had was beats from the homies, a few of them, and I could only afford like a hundred dollars a week (to spend on the album).
How long did it take to record the album?
The recording of the album took two and a half years. The whole thing took three years. I got a little apartment. Where I was staying at the time, there was a studio there. I could have easily just stayed there and did it there. I knew what I had to do. What I had to do was seclude myself and shut everything out and focus.
What songs are you proudest of on Concrete Dreams?
“The Ultimate Truth,” “2020.” You know what, I did 45 songs, and I put my 19 favorite on concrete dreams. So to be honest with you, all of them are my favorite.
In “Pass the Time,” you mention “staring at a blank page” and being “sick of this city.” When you cut yourself off from the world to make Concrete Dreams, was there ever a time you felt like giving up? If so, what kept you going?
Absolutely man, absolutely. What kept me going is just that I wanted it. I had started promoting it on my Myspace page. I put “Concrete Dreams Coming Summer of 2006.” It was still like early in the year and I even put it out thinking I’d have plenty of time.
They had me speak at a high school man, and what I told the kids is like, I’ve been doing this for 16 years. I failed at it for 16 years, over and over and over again. For 16 years I tried (to make undeniable music) and I knew I could still get better. (Making undeniable music) was the ultimate goal for me. Honestly there were over 100 different versions of Concrete Dreams.
New Pistol sports one of the sickest beats I’ve heard in a while. How did that come about?
That’s Charli Brown, man. Charli Brown from New York (created that beat). What I did was, at the last minute, I had my boy add a live baseline over the baseline that was there. I had that beat for like three years before I wrote to it. And it was just the snippet, and I wrote to the snippet. (The album contains) 19 tracks, 17 songs. Out of those 17 songs, only two or three of them were tracked out. The rest of them I did mixtape style, with a stereo two-track to the beat. The engineer that put it together was really phenomenal.
If I wasn’t such a hip-hop head, I would never have come across Concrete Dreams, which is a shame because it is excellent. How do you plan on getting your music out there while staying true to yourself and your style?
You know what? Promotion is key. The amount of hours you dedicate to promotion, having a team in place, marketing; all of that is key. But at the end of the day, my foremost focus, myself, is to make music so dope that word of mouth is gonna be the biggest part of the whole promotion. I think when you listen to The Magic Bullet you’ll feel me more. I want to keep raising the bar every time I come out.
Is there anyone well-known in hip-hop right now that you would like to work with in the future?
You know what, man? I just want to work with anybody. I mean, anybody dope. It’s not even about a name right now for me. It’s about dope music. Just give me some dope music, and I’ll write shit to it.
(Being yourself) is key, too, man. That’s key. I spent all this time around people in the industry. All they know is how to follow. All they know is how to try to duplicate a hit.
Your music transcends bland, generic rap to reach the levels of great hip-hop. You took the time to craft an excellent album from start to finish, and you have the skills of a true MC. However, in today’s bubblegum market, are you at all worried about what direction your career is headed in?
Nah, man, because I’m in control of my own situation, man. I’ve done the label thing before, and I’m doing it myself.
A lot of rappers seem to buy into the notion that making money is the ultimate goal on this earth. While you reference money in your songs, it is seldom the main focus. What do you think your purpose in the world is? In other words, what do you hope to accomplish while you’re here?
(Money) has its place, obviously. Everybody could be rapping about pants, and I couldn’t rap about pants. I want to write something different or tell a story or something.
A lot of your songs reference women, though you stray from the stereotypical rap songs that objectify women. What role do women play in your life?
That comes out in Concrete Dreams. I really didn’t see it like (being about women). It took me off-guard (when I heard that). After I listened to the album I could see where (the critic who had said that) was coming from. At that time I was dealing with issues with my mother, my sister, my daughter, and my chick. I think when you hear The Magic Bullet, it’s like, there’s nothing on here about females. There is, but not in the way that you would think because I’m not dealing with that no more.
Every verse I write is very personal, man. I have yet to experience a world where verses become commodities. My verses are like if you write a page in your journal and you know everybody’s gonna read your journal.
What does “keeping it real” mean to you?
I guess keeping it real is being real with yourself. It is a cliché, but all clichés start off as wisdom. It’s just so plain and simple and obvious it becomes a cliché.
Now I’m not trying to pick on any other rappers, but a lot of artists speak about never crossing over or conforming, only to do so a few years later. You, however, have been doing this for a long time and have stayed true to yourself. How do you stand strong and stick to that?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s (just that) I’ve been doing it for so long that if I put some wack shit out there now, it’d be like, “What was all that sacrifice for?” This is the only way I know how to do it. I make some shit that I wanna hear.
You’ve lived all over the place. Why don’t you like to settle into one spot for so long?
It’s just the way I was raised, man. It wasn’t a military thing or anything like that. My stepfather was always looking for bigger and better opportunities. I just got used to that, you know?
Do you think being in so many different places has contributed to your originality regarding your style?
Yeah. I mean, that’s because I’ve only been (here in Houston) since ’05. I’ve been all over the place and been around all different types of places. That has a lot to do with it.
You know I have to ask this one. Who is on your list, in order, of your top five dead-or- alive MCs? I would have to say 2Pac, Big Pun, Big (The Notorious B.I.G.), Scarface, and NaS.
One more question. What’s next for Preemo?
Pre-K. Preemo and K-Sizzle (who was featured on “Choose Your Adventure” off Concrete Dreams). And after that I’m doing Euros. Euros is gonna be fun. I’m doing collaborations with some cats from overseas. It’s gonna be dope. It’s gonna be really dope.
Thanks so much, man. Your time is much-appreciated.
(Note: This interview was originally posted on my Nothing But Muzik blog, but when I decided to leave that blog inactive, I offered it up to TRU.)