Preme Details Drake Life Lessons, Meeting Nipsey Hussle & "Link Up"

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Preme stops by to talk about his brand new project, "Link Up" and the music game behind the scenes.

Preme and Popcaan just released their collaborative EP Link Up, blessing fans with 6 new tracks that pay homage to their Caribbean heritage. 

Preme has been closely affiliated with Drake since the early days but he's also had a long running career of his own. Link Up is his first project since 2018's Light of Day but don't get it twisted: he's got five more just chilling in the vault.

Link Up is a bit of a stylistic switch-up for Preme, marking his first dancehall project.  "I'm still worried," he admitted to us, laughing. "I'm fucked up about this shit."

You wouldn't guess that judging from his effortless flows on the album. Preme might have been silent lately but with Link Up, it's clear that he's doing it purely for the love of the music. "Me and my homie did some cool shit and we gotta put it out," he said. "I don't care what it does, as long as people fuck with it."

We caught up with Preme to talk about Link Up, work ethic in the studio, and going independent. Read below for the interview, edited lightly for clarity and length.

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HNHH: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. 

Preme: I was trying to tell my PR guys who I just started working with, I've been with HotNewHipHop before I ever got a deal, before I ever got signed. They supported me from the beginning. Like always, from the beginning, anything I've ever released, I've made sure to do press with HotNewHipHop. They always show me love, so I appreciate it. It's good to be back.

Jaegen has been one of the hottest producers in the city for some time now, especially in the dancehall realm, and he’s all over this project. How did that link-up happen?

When I first got back to the city, I was struggling to find an engineer because that, for me, is one of the biggest key elements to just making great music, period. So I linked with my original engineer Pro Logic but when I moved to L.A., he moved with me, and he was like "Fuck that, I ain't going back." His intern at the time was named Amir so when I got into the studio with Amir, he's a huge fan of Popcaan too. He was just like, "yo, you gotta meet this kid Jaegen, he made fucking ‘Unforgettable.’" So I was like, "He's from Toronto? The dude that made ‘Unforgettable’?" He's like, "Yeah, he's my homie." I'm like, "Bring him through." He came through and played a bunch of shit and I was like, "Yo, this is incredible.” Like, if I was Popcaan, this is the type of beats I would want. So I met him organically just through my engineer, they happened to be friends.

Jamaican culture is so influential to Toronto. What are your thoughts on non-Jamaicans embracing the music and the lingo, like Ramriddlz and Jaegen?

I think it was just a matter of time before it became part of the music that's been coming out of the city and it just took a guy like Drake to put it on the forefront with songs like "One Dance" and "Controlla." When people see people like Drake having such commercial success, they always follow suit. But that's always been our thing, so I'm happy the reason that it's become so big is because at least one of ours, a Canadian, did it. But I think we should've been doing it and we kind of had with guys like Kardinal [Offishal] Now I think we feel like it's accepted to a point where we feel comfortable doing it. When you think about it, only Party and them were doing it and really embracing it. You gotta give them their props and shout them out for not waiting for it to be cool before they incorporated that style into their music.

You and Popcaan have good chemistry together on the project. How did you two get together for the EP? 

We were friends before we ever made a song together. Like, we're really close, OVO and his clique Unruly, just from having mutual friends. We've been chilling with Popcaan for years before anybody made music. I think that listening to the music, you can hear it. because everybody's like, "yo, y’all sound so dope together.” When you hang out with somebody that much and you know  their slang and they know your slang and you guys kinda know what each other's lifestyles are like and the things you guys are really into, that’s gonna come out without even thinking about it in the music.

How did you two start the recording process?

It's a funny story because it wasn't ever supposed to be a tape. We had a song together. We had a song together that's on Popcaan's mixtape [Fixtape] he released recently and that song is actually a song with him and Drake now called “All I Need.” So that was originally a song me and Popcaan had years ago when I was living in L.A. We never had any plans for it, we were just making music. But it ended up becoming a song with him and Drake and he was like, "Yo, when I get back to Toronto, we gotta do another one." So, I'm like "Yeah, cool. Whenever you're in town, we'll get it in." And then he came by and like I said, I already knew Jaegen and I thought putting him with Jaegen on a record would be insane. I was feeling chills and shit with that. We did like four, three or four songs the first night and then like two songs, two or three songs the second night and we're like "Yo, are we tripping, or are all six of these next-level?" And I'm like, “N**** we gotta drop a whole tape. I can't pick which one I want between the whole six. We'll have to drop the whole shit." And he was like "Yo, I think you're right. This whole shit is fire." And then, we're playing it for people, like, we did this like a year ago. We're playing this for people and shit like that and everybody has a different favourite record. Then I'm like, "Let's just drop a whole fucking project." and that's literally how it happened. Nothing to it.

One of your biggest mixtapes, Dear America, was written during a period of time when you weren't really allowed to cross the border into the states. So after all that time and all those let-downs, what were you most excited to do when you first touched down in LA? 

Kiss the floor. As soon as I got out the airport, first thing I did was kiss the floor. I didn't care how dirty it was, which was probably a bad idea at the time. But when we walked out the airport, first thing I did was make sure a cameraman got a picture where I kissed the floor. That was the first thing I wanted to do and the first thing I fucking did. That's how bad I needed to get here. Especially being an artist, and you're signed to a major label, and you're putting out tapes with fucking Drake and Future and you can't go to America? I’d wake up and wanna kill myself. It was that serious to me at the time. They picked me up, came and scooped me in the Phantom. We went straight to a party Drake was having. That was the other thing I wanted to do was literally go to a fucking club in America to see what that shit was like. Besides social media, I had never experienced it.

"You're signed to a major label, and you're putting out tapes with fucking Drake and Future and you can't go to America? I’d wake up and wanna kill myself. It was that serious to me at the time."

Speaking of LA, you've expressed your admiration for Nipsey Hussle on numerous occasions. What was the impact he had on you as a musician and as a man?

I met him a few times before he passed and I'm happy I was even able to do that. I just respected him as a real n****. You know a real n**** when you see one. When we met, I just let him know I was a fan of his shit but I respected him as well and he was like, "Yeah man, I mutually love your music. I'm a fan as well. Like shit, we gotta get in the studio." Like we had connected on that level. My homie had introduced us at a party at Diddy's crib. And I was just like, yo we gotta get one together. You know, I'm finally in America. And he was like "Yeah I remember that you couldn't come here. Actually, I remember seeing the video of you kissing the floor when you first got here." And I was like, "Yeah, I'ma send you something." And then when I was finally working on a project that I finished before this Popcaan tape came up, I sent him a record. I still have the texts. I couldn't even delete the shit of him saying "Yeah I fuck with the joint. I'm just wrapping my album up. Soon as it's done I'll get to it."  

Kanye West once grabbed you at a club in Toronto when one of your songs was on and he told you “this shit is dope!” What song was that? 

That was a song I got with Young Thug called "Dipped in Gold" off of one of my projects Off the Books. It was insane. He came to OVO Fest so he was at the afterparty and I remember telling my DJ, “yo, play that new shit with me and Thug that's about to come out." My DJ ran it and then Ye was like “yo, what the fuck is this" to Drake, like I'm watching him ask Drake, and Drake goes “oh that's Preme's shit." Then he says “who's Preme?" And he says, "My n**** right here, he raps." Ye was like “N**** that shit is hard." 

Preme with Drake and Chubbs in the club for Future's birthday - Prince Williams/Wireimage/Getty Images

You were an A&R for Scorpion and you've also worked with a lot of huge names in the industry with your own music. What qualities do you look for in an artist or producer when you're deciding to work with them and does this change when you're working on somebody else's project?

The funny thing is, even A&Ring on Scorpion for Drake, I never knew that's what I had set out to do. We were in Miami for three months working on his album, so I'm going to the studio every night and just helping him pick beats, like hitting producers like “yeah, I know Drake needs this kind of vibe as a beat." I also produced on Scorpion as well, on a song called "Is There More." I was just trying to get my own beat on the album but I was also like, "Yo, what type of shit you looking for?" I'm hitting different producers like "Yo, you have a beat like this that I know you're capable of making that Drake probably wouldn't think of?" At the end of the album, I guess he just appreciated the fact I stuck it out with him for those months putting shit together, and he was like, “yo I wanna make you an A&R on Scorpion.” I'm like, “n****, you don't gotta do all that. I already got a beat on that album. Mission accomplished." And he was like "Nah, I really appreciate you helping me with this, so I really wanted to make you A&R on this shit." That's how that came together. As far as how I choose who I wanna work with, as long as the energy is right and you're dope and hungry to work. I don't really care about brand name cause that shit doesn't really mean nothing. The biggest producers are the laziest ones nowadays and shit. It's more about who's ready to get it. 

Of all the people you've ever made music with, who did you learn the most from and how did it impact your workflow and your artistry?

Definitely Drake. I think I'd be an idiot to work that closely with Drake and not say that's who I learned the most from. I used to go to the studio with like 100 n****s, smoking weed, shit. Gang and shit. Since the day I met Drake, there's probably a handful of people that he even let see him in his recording process or hear shit before it even comes out like that. So that was one thing that I actually learned, the vibe is always good when you have people around but you get way more work done when you're there by yourself. Besides that, just to take your time with the shit, how much time you put into your music. Like a lot of the kids now just freestyle and say whatever comes to mind and that works for them but I'm not from that cloth. I’m from “n****, take your time and shit, verse is hard, make sure the bars are right.” I've seen Drake literally rewrite the same verse five times over a week until the shit was perfect. That's probably why he's where he's at and that's probably why a lot of these kids are here today and gone tomorrow. At the end of the day, good music's gonna last. If there's anybody I learned the most from, it's him. If there was one thing I could take away from it, it's the time he puts into getting everything perfect and really making sure it's the highest level to compete and stick around.

"I've seen Drake literally rewrite the same verse five times over a week until the shit was perfect. That's probably why he's where he's at and that's probably why a lot of these kids are here today and gone tomorrow. At the end of the day, good music's gonna last. If there's anybody I learned the most from, it's him. If there was one thing I could take away from it, it's the time he puts into getting everything perfect and really making sure it's the highest level to compete and stick around."

Did you really teach him how to spot an officer in plain clothes?

I taught him a lot when it comes to the street shit. I definitely had him around all my homies and he was definitely somebody I wanted to make sure was always protected because I cared about him. He's seen how we handle ourselves when situations arose, whether it was in a club or whatever. N****s get at us, we're always ready. He’s a beast nowadays. Like, you can't even talk to Drake like you might've gotten away with some shit back in the day. Talk to Drake now, I might have to tell the n**** calm down. He’s definitely learned some shit from us.

Where do you plan on taking Reps Up from here?

I got thrown into the world of producing and writing by accident and it's been doing really well as a whole other avenue of success, another stream of income, and it's just something I love to do. Really what I'm focusing on is finding producers and writers and building these publishing companies. I have a partnership with Sony, a joint venture that I just signed. Seven-figure shit. Big dog shit. I just signed a few producers and writers and I'm really, really excited to just try and get them off the ground and start popping on the business side. Besides that, I left RCA Records recently and went independent. I just felt I had to do it on my own. The most success I had in my life, which recently made me a millionaire, I did on my own. So I'm like, "Why don't I just continue to do it on my own and reap the benefits myself?" So I just recently went independent and did a partnership with EMPIRE, so I'm fully independent. I did a joint venture with Sony where I can sign producers and publishers. I'm really trying to focus on guys from the city and put Toronto on. I also just started a joint venture with Columbia Records. More millionaire shit for my own record label. The first n**** ever to get a joint venture with Columbia Records and I'm looking for artists. I'm trying to make Reps Up what Birdman made Cash Money, you know, big dog shit. Put the city on and get this shit rolling.

Yessir. Master P, No Limit.

Hell yeah.

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