DJ Premier on Making Drake's 'Sandra's Rose' & Their Unfinished Song 'Sail' With Rick Ross
Late Thursday night (June 29), Drake punched in his fifth studio album, Scorpion. The 25-track double-album finds Drake slashing his way through the muddy waters of hip-hop gossip, baby mama drama, and his contentious feud with Pusha T. Rather than bluff and bluster, Drizzy aims and fires with bullets of candor.
One of the standout records from his double-album comes from his DJ Premier and Maneesh-produced track "Sandra's Rose." For years, hip-hop purists have salivated for a Drake and Premier collaboration. In May, anticipation rose to a crescendo when Drake posted a cryptic picture of DJ Premier and a scorpion image on his Instagram story.
For "Sandra's Rose," Drake's hectoring punch lines -- including a low blow to Charlamagne Tha God -- and Preemo's dreamy soundscape makes the record an indelible gem from the hefty entree that is Scorpion. Since its release, fans have already been asking for more music between the two sides, and fortunately, according to Preemo, one more track might very well be on the way.
Billboard spoke to DJ Premier about crafting "Sandra's Rose," his favorite line from the song, a second collaboration with Drake featuring Rick Ross called "Sail" and more. Check out the interview below.
Congratulations for the placement on the Scorpion album. I was just on 9th Wonder’s Instagram page, and Cookin Soul commented on the post about “Sandra’s Rose” saying that it’s "the best Preemo beat in years.”
I was on 2 Chainz’s page too and I saw he posted the song. I dropped a little hint yesterday by putting a rose on my Twitter. I knew that was a subtle way of doing it without admitting which one. Everyone was like, “Which one did you do? Which one did you do?” I decided to do a subliminal tease and either you get it when you look at the track list or you don’t get it.
I thought that was a clever way of teasing people, man. How did the beat first come about?
What happened was, well first, I’m actually working on two other album projects that I cannot speak on. I’m so locked into doing these other projects that my manager, Ian, brought it to my attention. He was like, “Hey, man. Drake has a new album and you should get on that.” Me and Drake have talked four or five times just in passing. I’ll see him backstage at a concert or if I’m in town and he’s in town and we’ll run into each other at the same spot.
Every time, it’s like, “We gotta get something in, man. We gotta get something together. One day we’re gonna get something in.” Ian told me the new album’s name is Scorpion and maybe that’s the one I should get on, but I said, "I don’t really have the time right now, but I’ll just shoot 40 a text saying if he needs anything, I’m there."
So, I sent him a text and he said, “Yo. This is a good time. I’ll holla at Drake and let you know.” A week or two passed and Drake hit me and said Drake has this sample he wants me to flip. It’s done by an artist named Maneesh. He’s signed to 40. He creates his own sample sounds to sound like the soul samples, but he creates them himself. When he told me he really wanted me to flip it, he said he really likes the way my drums and bass lines bounce, he said he wanted the Preemo bounce. I was like, “All right, let me hear it.”
He sent me it and it said “Sandra Rose,” and I thought that was the name of the sample. I didn’t know that was going to be the name of the song. A lot of people have a “dummy name” until you get a real title. I thought that was what the deal was, but I thought about it and his mother, I think that’s her name and it’s tied in for a reason. I flipped it and sent it to him. It was around 4 or 5 in the morning.
I get up early all the time. I sent it really late at night, and by the time I woke up, and as soon as I said “Thank you for another day” and my eyes opened, my phone lit up and it was a video clip from 40 of it with Drake’s vocals on it. I had just sent it to him a few hours prior. I know they stay up late just like I do. Same thing with Kanye. It was up to the part where it says “Scratch like Preemo,” and I was like, “Ooh!”
We partially finished it and I told them I wanted to lay scratches on it, but I got in the car because my father wasn’t well. I was on tour and I had to cancel it and come home. I brought my drum machine with me because I wanted to at least distract my mind about him being sick. We knew he was going to pass, but he told us, “Hey, I know I’m going to pass any day. But get me home and let me pass in the house.”
I literally got off stage in Boston on the prom tour. I have a close friend who was instrumental, his name is Carlos Garza, he was instrumental in helping me get signed. I came home and he gave me a key to his studio. I even bought him a mixer so I can go into the studio even in the middle of the night and mix up my own stuff. I was prepared because I didn’t want to miss being on the album.
40 sent me two beats. The other was called “Sail,” like a sailboat. Rick Ross had put a verse on it. Drake never got a chance to put his vocals on it. I was doing two. I didn’t know what they were going to do with that one. “Sail” was actually first. It already had drums in it and everything and I was asking if they can remove certain things, but then I sent “Sandra’s Rose” and I guess that one was the winner. That was immediate.
Like I said, I sent it and in the morning, the vocals were laid. I told him my dad just died and after I bury him at the funeral, if he needs me let me know. He said, “I don’t care if you turn something in on the 27th of June. We will be mixing and recording new songs even at that point."
Literally, “Sandra’s Rose” just got done yesterday.
And I’m back in Texas already for family business and I got it done. They literally were recording a bulk of new stuff. My manager sent me a picture of Drake in the booth and I said, “Man, they’re still recording?” He said, "Drake does this all the time. Every time we’re releasing, Drake is recording and doing vocals right before we upload to digital format." I go through the same thing, so I knew what they were going through, so I was like, “Yeah, I’ve been there.”
Even with Nas’ Illmatic, we were down to the wire. We had to master it the next day so it could get put out. I know what it’s like to be that much under the gun while other people think you may have finished it a month ago. He was still cutting.
That’s crazy. I figured that too. When I was listening to the “Talk Up” record and Jay shouted out XXX. I was like, “Damn.”
Yup. And he’s on tour.
What was your favorite line on “Sandra’s Rose"?
“All you n---as scratched like Preemo.” [Laughs] That’s a dope line and a dope plug. I do my radio show on Tuesday nights on Eminem’s Shade 45 channel, so I will be cutting that up to that part. I also did a version with scratches on it and I have to find out if we can put out that version for the DJs. Drake wanted to let that section breathe and I was like, “It’s your record at the end of the day.” I didn’t go too crazy on it. It was subtle, but it works.
I’m already getting texts from DJs asking where the scratches are at. They do exist, but the album version is what it is and I’m fine with that.
Twitter was going nuts with that. They were like, “The beat is crazy, but where are the scratches though?”
Maybe we can get like a scratch mix or a DJ mix if they’re cool with it. I’ll follow up on it. I already have that version and I'll pass that to the DJs.
I loved how when he rapped: "N---as want classics, that's just 10 of these." [Laughs] Ten of these!
The chemistry on the track was there. Would you entertain doing a full project with Drake, like 10 songs deep?
Yeah, [the chemistry] was great. That's a dope line. That's a dope way to start off a second verse too. But yeah, most definitely. With my eyes closed, I'd do it.
This is very early to say, but do you think Scorpion has the potential to be alongside an All Eyez on Me, Ready to Die and SpeakerBoxx/The Love Below in terms of being a high-caliber double-album?
It’s hard for me to say because I just started listening to it this morning. Even though I heard “Emotionless” because I wanted to see what that one was about. “March 14,” even “Ratchet Happy Birthday,” I was like, “What’s that about?” I just got it, just like everybody else. I only heard the one that I worked on. On “Sail,” I only heard Rick Ross’ verse because Drake never cut his vocals on it.
I’m not really a comparison dude. Even when people say “Big or Pac?,” because they’re two totally different types of lyricists. Pac is more of a revolutionary, very militant and into philanthropy and things of that nature, while Big is a dope MC who loves to rhyme and enjoys making good records funny, serious and emotional in all different aspects. Pac’s “I Get Around” is a fun record but “Hail Mary” was heavy street shit and “Dear Mama” will forever go down as one of the greatest records ever made and emotional records ever made when it comes to your mom.
I just would never compare the two, like how today I don't put Kane or Rakim or Kane and KRS-One, because their rhyme styles were so not the same and their approach was so not the same. I just keep them all in their own lane, unless you sound like a biter, and Drake has his own lane. You know, that's why he's being hated so much, because a lot of people look at the Degrassi thing as the thing that doesn't solidify him in some type of way because he was actor.
He was an actor, but whatever, he has the records, though. The records matter. They're dope. You can't deny the great records that he makes, which is why he stays on top. It's the records. They hold weight and they're timeless. He's like JAY-Z. He has that many hits and his catalog is tremendous. It's insane.
I asked Pusha T and T.I. the same question, and I'm curious about whether you think you can be considered the best rapper alive if you don't write your lyrics.
I definitely put that in a different box. I say if you don't write your lyrics, then you can't be the best rapper alive. Not at all. You can be one of the best artists, especially in rap, you gotta write everything yourself. Again, I never witnessed what goes on in Drake's sessions and with all the past stuff with the whole Quentin Miller [ghostwriting allegations], I know there's more to that than for us to really say, "Oh, how many times did that happen?," even if it's not Quentin Miller and it's anybody.
But I agree, to call yourself the best rapper alive, I would single that to strictly writers and those who write. Still, that doesn't mean you can't be the best artist, because the artistry is there and you can't take that away. But in the rap world, you're supposed to write everything yourself.