Schooling DJ Premier on Fusing Hip-Hop with Classical

By 
Lesley Mahoney
January 6, 2012

Berklee alumni and faculty have amassed an impressive 30 Grammy Award nominations this year. But that's not the only way the college is showing up to the party. Led by turntable master and music production and engineering professor Stephen Webber, Berklee has put its stamp on the documentary Re: Generation, which is being produced in association with the Grammys and scheduled to premiere in Los Angeles the week before the annual February awards show.

The film features five musicians who were tasked with making music fusing their genres with another. Hip-hop dynamo DJ Premier was assigned classical music and called on Webber—whose 2007 Stylus Symphony blends orchestral and turntable sounds—to school him in the art of meshing seemingly dissimilar music.

Premier and Webber met in L.A. to strategize and then Premier sent Webber a track. Premier came to Boston, where he got a conducting lesson from Webber at Jordan Hall and jammed on campus with Berklee's Turntable and Turntable Technique ensembles.

The track—which Webber orchestrated, composed additional melodies for, and coproduced—also gets some special Berklee treatment; for the beat, Webber used the 58-piece Berklee Symphony Orchestra (composed of students and alumni and contracted by student Amparo Edo Biol and alumni Will Wells and Maureen Choi) and recorded at Boston WGBH's Fraser Recording Studio.

"I do this all the time-where all these styles come together. It was really fun to have DJ as a student," says Webber. "It was the most fun orchestral session I've ever had. It was a marvelous clash of cultures and everybody had a blast."

Berklee wasn't the only collaborator on the piece; rapper Nas's lyrics were added later in New York. The result: a hip-hop/classical hybrid track, "DJ Premier's Regeneration," bridging generations and styles. 

Re:Generation will premiere in February 9 in L.A. and be shown at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts February 16 and 17.