Red Bull Music Academy Toronto 2007
Search Menu

Ranking the 15 DJ Premier Beats Made for Nas & Jay-Z

The legendary DJ Premier has worked with some of the greatest rappers of all time. Over the past three decades, he’s blessed artists from all different eras with some of their best beats ever.

From “Come Clean” for Jeru the Damaja, “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” for KRS-One, “Kick in the Door” for Biggie, “It’s Been a Long Time” for Rakim, “Mathematics” for Mos Def, or “The 6th Sense” for Common, Premo has been lacing legendary rappers with heaters his entire career. Not to mention all the work he’s done with Guru for Gang Starr and Group Home. There’s a reason why he’s one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time.

But if there are two rappers who have been consistently been blessed with the very best of Premo, it’s Jay-Z and Nas. Between the two GOAT rappers, there are 15 Premier production credits, and we’re going to rank all of them today.

From “Friend or Foe” and “So Ghetto” to “Nas Is Like” and “N.Y. State of Mind”, here are the rankings for all the DJ Premier beats for Jay-Z and Nas.

15. Nas – “Come Get Me”

Album: Nastradamus

Released: November 23, 1999

“Come Get Me” doesn’t have bad production, I’d never disrespect DJ Premier like that. It’s just an uninspired beat that happens to feature on Nas’ worst album ever. It also pales in comparison to anything else the two legends have made together.

14. Jay-Z – “Bring It On” (featuring Big Jaz and Sauce Money)

Album: Reasonable Doubt

Released: June 25, 1996

Fun fact: it was meant to Nas and AZ featured on “Bring It On”, instead of Jaz-O and Sauce Money, but they kept flaking which offended the Roc-A-Fella crew. Just one of the many reasons for the Nas vs. Jay-Z beef years later on. That aside, Jaz and Sauce do their thing, and those Fat Joe vocal scratches are fire.

13. Nas – “N.Y. State of Mind Pt. II”

Album: I Am…

Released: April 6, 1999

Premo flips their 1994 collaboration for the opening of Nas’ third album. “N.Y. State of Mind Pt. II” isn’t as hard or vivid as the original, the sequel is more melancholic than action-packed, with Nas looking back on fallen homies, lost friendships and betrayals.

12. Jay-Z – “Intro – Hand It Down” (featuring Memphis Bleek)

Album: Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life

Released: September 29, 1998

All I’m saying is that Hov wasted an incredible Premo beat by letting Memphis Bleek rap over it. And it was the opening track for Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life too, what was he thinking?! “Bleek’s gonna be a good rapper, new, improved Jay-Z” – said no-one ever, besides Pain In Da Ass.

11. Jay-Z – “Friend or Foe”

Album: Reasonable Doubt

Released: June 25, 1996

This is Jay-Z the mafioso storyteller in full effect, with Premo lacing him with a film score-like beat to set up the scene. I feel funny saying this about Hov, because he’s generally recognised as one of the greatest rappers of all time, but I really do think his storytelling raps are massively underrated. In my opinion, he’s on the same level as other renowned storytelling greats like Slick Rick, G Rap, Big, Nas and Cube.

10. Nas – “2nd Childhood”

Album: Stillmatic

Released: December 18, 2001

The way Premo bottled up nostalgia into a beat for “2nd Childhood” is just, well, one of of the reasons why he’s one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time. One of the highlights off Nas’ comeback classic, “2nd Childhood” is vintage, project window imagery in full effect.

9. Nas – “Represent”

Album: Illmatic

Released: April 19, 1994

“Represent” is one of the songs that I slept on initially when listening to Illmatic. It’s an incredible song, but on an album that features “N.Y. State of Mind”, “The World Is Yours”, “One Love” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”, it sometimes got overlooked during my listening sessions. Going back to it more recently, I’ve realised it’s one of the hardest tracks Premo has ever done for Nas. This is just straight up, Queensbridge, hood shit energy on a song.

8. Jay-Z – “Friend or Foe ’98”

Alum: In My Lifetime, Vol. 1

Released: November 4, 1997

Premo takes the same energy from the original “Friend or Foe” but he amps up the frenetic paranoia on the track. Instead of lush symphonic strings, the producer opts for stuttering keys that provide the perfect soundscape for Hov’s crime stories.

7. Nas – “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)”

Album: Illmatic

Released: April 19, 1994

According to Premo, it was Nas who chose the Reuben Wilson “We’re In Love” sample to use for the song’s backdrop. This song, courtesy of the production, is simply one of the most beautiful records in hip hop history. Nothing else needs to be said.

6. Nas – “I Gave You Power”

Album: It Was Written

Released: July 2, 1996

The emotions that Premier are able to conjure from the sampler and drum machine are mesmerising. This interview with Complex about the making of “I Gave You Power” says a lot of his and Nas’ working relationship:

DJ Premier: I was on tour with Gang Starr, and I was just getting back. And I was going right back out to go to Japan. So I didn’t have any time to make any other beats for It Was Written. But Nas said, ‘I want to make a record as if I was a gun.’ We started messing around, trying to figure out what he’s going to do, and we finally figured out a way, because he said, ‘Maybe I should do a skit where I drop the gun, and somebody else finds it.’ And that’s how it all built, and I said, ‘You know what? Instead of making this a hard mean shit, let me make it sound sad.’ Because he said I’m going to be the gun talking about being tired of all the stuff I’m doing to people. That’s why I put that emotion behind it.”

DJ Premier Tells All: The Stories Behind His Classic Records | Complex

5. Jay-Z – “So Ghetto”

Album: Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter

Released: December 28, 1999

This is the hardest Jay-Z song ever. This is number one selling rap artist in the world Jay-Z still keeping it Brooklyn as fuck. On Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, the rap kingpin was expanding out to include beats by Timbaland and features by Mariah Carey, but he made sure, at the end of the day, he set off the album with one of the gulliest Brooklyn rap records ever.

4. Nas – “Nas Is Like”

Album: I Am…

Released: April 6, 1999

Apparently Premo was about to throw the sample for this record away, but something told him, “before you throw it away, put it on the turntable, see if you can find something on it.” And just like that, “Nas Is Like” was born. Name a hotter instrumental that other super lyrical rappers like to rhyme over than this one. “Nas Is Like” has been destroyed by everyone – from Royce da 5’9″ to Vic Mensa – but nothing touches the original.

3. Jay-Z – “D’Evils”

Album: Reasonable Doubt

Released: June 25, 1996

On a classic album like Reasonable Doubt that includes the likes of “Brooklyn’s Finest”, “Dead Presidents II” and “Can I Live”, “D’Evils” might just be the best song off the project. In fact, there’s a very good argument for it being the best Jay-Z song ever. Built around a sample of “Go Back Home” by Allen Toussaint, “D’Evils” also features vocal scratches, personally chosen by Jay-Z, from Prodigy off “I Shot Ya (Remix)” and Snoop Dogg off “Murder Was the Case”.

2. Nas – “N.Y. State of Mind”

Album: Illmatic

Released: April 19, 1994

As the first track off Nas’ seminal Illmatic, “N.Y. State of Mind” has the impossible task of setting the tone for one of the greatest rap albums of all time (it’s certainly the greatest rap record of the ’90s). As soon as those dusty drums kick in and that menacing bassline starts creeping in and out of the song, listeners were instantly transported to another world; one where the protagonist is either on the corner betting Grants with the cee-lo champs, laughing at baseheads trying to sell some broken amps.

1. Jay-Z – “A Million and One Questions / Rhyme No More”

Album: In My Lifetime, Vol. 1

Released: November 4, 1997

Honestly, you could have picked any of the top five songs on this list and it would be deserving of the top spot. In the end, it was just that Aaliyah sample and those shimmering keys paired with Hov’s effortless boasts that pushed this one to the number one position. This is as perfect as a DJ Premier production gets.

Related Posts