To celebrate the release of his directorial debut, Mid90s, Jonah Hill linked with A24 to put out a special ‘zine, Inner Children. In it, Hill interviewed 12 people (including Michael Cera, Edie Falco, Na-Kel Smith, and Q-Tip) for a “snapshot of themselves” that he feels everyone has “from a time when they were young that they’re ashamed of.” Hill says it was him at 14, being “overweight and unattractive,” feeling “ugly to the world” while immersing himself in the worlds of hip-hop and skating (which, if you’ve peeped the trailers for Mid90s, you see fits perfectly into his film).
While the issues of Inner Children aren’t being stocked until Monday, Oct. 15, A24 blessed us with Hill’s full interview with DJ Premier. TKTKTTK
Read the full interview below, and be sure to check out the ‘zine when it drops.
DJ Premier: Yo, what’s going on, man?
Jonah Hill: Primo, what an honor.
DP: Thanks for even selecting me to do this. When I saw the email, I was like, hell, yeah, let’s get it.
JH: I’m so grateful, man. You and I have only met once, but it’s cool for me to get to talk to people whose work has inspired me so much.
DP: Wow, that’s really dope. I appreciate that, yo.
JH: It just happens to be the truth, you know?
DP: No, that’s real shit.
JH: A big part of my film Mid90s is showing that Gang Starr, Tribe, Mobb Deep were to my generation what The Beatles were to my parents. I’m 34, so I’m kind of like the first age group… Not to make you feel old, sir, at all.
DP: It’s all good, man. I’m 52 years old and I’m happy to make it that far. I lost a lot of people along the way. And by the way, condolences to your brother too, as well.
JH: Thank you. I really appreciate that.
DP: Sure enough. I just lost my dad in June, so that was rough, but we got through it. He prepared us for everything, so it is what it is.
DP: Dude, you were so dope in War Dogs, I watched that movie a gillion times. Every time it comes on, it’s always fun to watch. Well done acting.
JH: Thank you, man. That means a lot to me. It’s still trippy to me that you would see a movie that I was in. It’s insane.
DP: Oh, come on, man. Superbad, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. For the black folks, Superbad goes in there with the Fridays and the Boyz n The Hood, and Menace. Superbad got to sneak up in there.
JH: Why do you think that is?
DP: For one, I remember high school, when you were drawing all the penises, all that crazy stuff, that happened in schools in my era. I graduated high school in ’84, and even during that time, we’d play pranks on guys in the locker room when they were just getting out of the shower. One of my guys would run up on them while they’re still drying off. They’d thump them from behind on the tip of their dick and take off running.
JH: Where did you grow up?
DP: I grew up in a town called Prairie View. It’s like 45 minutes outside of Houston. My mom’s an art teacher, so I always had music in the house. She always had records, and I was mesmerized by the mechanics of how a turntable works. Obviously, there was no scratching yet, but I always thought the records were toys, because the way the labels looks. Motown, Soul, and Atlantic, they all looked like little toys. My mother used to say, “If you put your fingerprints on the top of that record, you’ll get a beating.” Always hold it from the side.
JH: It’s pretty ironic you made a career out of getting your fingerprints on the record.
DP: Oh, no question.
JH: Were you in the band, or the drumline?
DP: No, because I played football in junior high. Then my father bought me a motorcycle, and I crashed it, and knocked my teeth out, and tore my knee up. So, I couldn’t play my freshman year. You heard of Travis Scott, right?
JH: Yeah, of course.
DP: Travis Scott’s dad was the OG in my neighborhood.
JH: No way.
DP: Yeah, Travis Scott’s dad taught me how to ride minibikes and how to repair the engines. His name’s Jack Webster. Jack had a drum set and his brother had a bass. So I used to play with them, and that’s what started me wanting to get into music and take it serious. And this is before rap.
JH: That’s insane. So, Travis Scott’s dad and uncle inspired you to start playing music?
DP: One-hundred-percent. I was already into it as a fan, because my mom had every record in the house. You name it, she has it. But to the degree of being a musician and taking it to that next stage, yes, his dad and his uncle were my influence.
JH: That’s too crazy, because you then become the greatest hip-hop producer of all time and he’s like the biggest young artist right now. When did you start making music professionally? When did it start to become real?
DP: Professionally? 1988. My mom’s dad, Grandfather Bill from Brooklyn, we used to always go visit him every summer. He was in a jazz band and he used to show me all these pictures of all the places he had been to in Europe. And I was like, “You traveled to all these places?” And he’d show him picking with Count Basie and these other people. And I was like, “Wow, I’d love to do that, just to go all over the world.” Then, as rap started to develop, I told him that I wanted to get into hip-hop. And he was like, “Man, that’s not gonna last. That’s a fad.” And I was like, “No, grandfather, this is gonna be a big thing.” He just didn’t understand it. And then he passed, maybe, five months before I actually got signed.
DP: Yeah, so 1988, I joined Gang Starr.
JH: Well, let me ask you this. I believe in everyone’s life there’s this snapshot of a version of themselves they’re trying to hide from the world. I’m asking all my heroes if there’s a version of yourself that you’re like, “Damn, this is what I’m embarrassed of in life.”
DP: Absolutely, because I’ve gone up and down in weight my whole life. I was a heavy kid, even though I was into sports and very active. Me and my mother are super close, she’s still my best friend besides my dad. She’s 89 years old. She actually has dementia right now and Parkinson’s disease.
But my mom used to put me down and make my self-esteem really low. I remember when I was in second grade she was like, “You gotta stop eating so much food. You’re fat.” I was really into GQ magazines early, because two of my buddies were really slim and used to be able to wear all the fly, pleated pants. And my mother was like, “You’re too fat to wear pleated pants.”
And she goes, “And you gotta wash your neck more than slim people, because otherwise you’ll have dirt on your neck, and you’re gonna smell.” That shit, to this very day, is why I still pride myself on being clean. I’ve been with many girls, where even after fucking, they’ll be like, “Yo, why do you always gotta get up and wipe yourself?” These are people I’ve been fucking on the regular. And they’re like, “Why do you always gotta get up and wipe yourself? Why can’t you just lay there after we’ve done?” and all this.
But the habit is from the way my mom always instilled in me like, you’re a fat kid. You’re gonna smell quicker than a slim person. I don’t want to smell bad around nobody, because that’s been a stain on my life from my mom just telling me that I’m not attractive as a heavy kid.
DP: I found some old pictures of me where I just look like a fat mess. And I was like, “Man, you should throw it into the garbage.” I don’t want nobody to ever see how I looked back then. So, yeah, I’ve definitely carried that, and I still carry it to this day. I still have this insecurity about my weight.
The only difference is, I know how to combat and deal with it. Like I said, I go up and down, but I’m back on my training shit, because I became a father, and I have a 7-year-old son. And I said, “You know what? I want to be here for this when he’s in his 20s and 30s, and I’m in my 60s.” He already brags to his friends in school, “Damn, dad, you got big muscles.” He’s like, “Let me take your shirt off.” And so then I take my shirt off. He’s like, “Wow, you got a fat belly.” And I’m like, “Damn.”
JH: Kids keep it too real.
DP: Oh my god. He’s like, “Dad, let me drum on your belly.” And even though it’s cute and funny, I’m like, “Man, I gotta fix this.”
JH: There’s nothing more anger-inducing than a kid being too honest with you.
DP: Oh, yeah. It’s not easy, but I definitely am conscious about it now because I’m older and it’s not healthy to be 52, almost 280 pounds.
JH: I respect that. It’s interesting because everybody’s answer to this question has been different. And it’s funny, because yours and mine are probably the most similar. As a man, it’s a very specific thing that you’re almost forced to joke around about, and never admit that it sucks. But for me, no matter whether I get in like crazy, perfect shape, I think I’d still carry that around with me.
DP: Yeah. It got to a point where even my friends were like, “Dude, you need to lose weight.” That would make me mad, and then I’d go buy something to eat. I’d buy a pint of ice cream, knock that down. I’d buy a whole big pizza, knock that down. Drink soda, ginger ale with a whole bunch of ice, so it’s ultra cold, knock that down. Then I’d get a loaf of bread, potato bread preferably, and do about five to six Jif peanut butter sandwiches. Back to back. I’ll try and chew it once or twice, and then just swallow the rest of it. That’s how much I was into eating, whenever I would get annoyed with people telling me about my weight.
JH: I totally feel that. You’re like, “Fuck you.” It’s almost an angry reaction to someone trying to control how you’re supposed to be as a person.
DP: One-hundred-percent. Now, I’m finally into the salads and the green shit. I still do my desserts. I’m always into desserts. That’s my thing. I don’t give a fuck what anybody says. You gotta still have something that excites you when you eat. Just don’t overdo it. You [do] a cheat meal, you don’t do a cheat day. That way I don’t wild out and just start running amok, like I was doing. So, I’m back on point now.
JH: When you talk about your kid and shit, that is beautiful and makes sense. You want to be around and happy so you can be a great father. I’m very sorry. I can tell you were very close to your dad, and your parents.
DP: The thing about my dad, he definitely raised all of us right. I did a lot of stupid stuff. I sold drugs. I used drugs. Just doing all the crazy stuff that I know my father wouldn’t approve of. But I never brought the drama to the house. I was good at being sneaky and very good at disappearing and reappearing when necessary so that I wouldn’t get caught. That’s why I’ve never been arrested. Police would come looking for me before, but never where they caught anything on me. I never got caught with drugs in school. Nothing. And I was always good at talking myself off the ledge. I know some people might need a psychiatrist, or any type of therapist. And if that works for you, I would never knock that. For me, I’m very good at talking to myself and finally just slapping myself in the face and saying, “Yo, dickhead, get right.” You know?
DP: That’s from using every drug in the book. I did it heavy, you know? But I still was able to tell myself to stop and get back on point.
JH: That’s an unbelievable blessing, to have that gift. Because most people can’t.
DP: Oh, yeah, big time. Some of the smartest people that I ran with, that were straight-A students, did well in everything, and they were the worst survivors of drugs. These are people with money, everything, people who I never even thought could slip that bad. That’s why I never put it past anyone, or judge anyone, because you don’t know what people are going through. That’s why I respect everybody. I give respect. I expect it back. If you won’t give it back to me, I just stay away from you.
JH: You know the thing you said about washing your neck and stuff from your mom, right? That’s one of the most interesting things I’ve ever heard, because as someone who makes movies, it’s just an unbelievably specific action that comes from an emotional place.
JH: Like, you, at 52, would wash the back of your neck because of something from when you were 11.
DP: To this very day.
JH: I think that is something with overweight people. It’s funny, because I would say I’m in good shape now and definitely in good health and strong. But still, something could hit a nerve and trigger me like I’m 14.
DP: Right. You know what I will say though? All of my fat years — and I’m talking about blubber — I was never afraid of getting naked in front of chicks. Even though they might go, “Damn, you’re fat. Damn, you got a blubbery belly. Oh, you have tits.” I had no problem stripping in front of girls. Even if they laughed me, I was like, “Yo. Let’s get it.” I don’t know why, but I was always ready.
JH: It’s weird, man., I feel like you have to say some shit that’s like, “Yo, but for real, I get down. Like, don’t worry about it.”
DP: I think fat guys fuck just as good as hunks and people that are ripped. They usually aren’t as good as we are. When we get in shape, then you’re in more trouble. So, there you go. I’m glad I was a fat fuck first.
JH: But it’s also like you’re forced to make jokes about yourself, and I don’t like that shit. I’m trying to change that, so I can love myself.
JH: So I don’t have to put myself down because society is like, “Yo, if you’re overweight, you have to be like a fucking clown.” Or, you have to be able to like really laugh at yourself in a way that pokes fun at something that hurts. There’s a difference between having a good sense of humor and being light about life, and being forced, societally, to say shit about yourself that makes you feel even lower.
So, I try and protect that now, in a way where having a conversation like this is a massive deal to me. I probably couldn’t have even had a conversation like this up until two years ago or something.
DP: Oh, I feel you. Even with the success — I’m at 30 years now of success. Having houses, cars, and the girls, and the money. The whole nine. And I still feel like I have a lot more to go with reaching goals, with my career and all of that stuff. Like I say, you could be in the best shape and have a six pack stomach, but you have another flaw or are insecure about attributes that you wish you had naturally. The thing about us is that we have confidence about work. Like, when it comes to doing music, if they’re like, “Man, you gotta make a hit record with Christina Aguilera.” It’s like, “Okay, got it.” And went and did it, got a Grammy for the single. Jay-Z wants to do this. Biggie wants to do this. All right, got it, let’s go. I’m always confident.
JH: Well, you and Brian Wilson are my favorite producers of all time. You’re like Mozart to me. When I look at your career, I’m like, “He’s the greatest to ever do it. He’s like Michael Jordan.” Anyone who’s ever made a beat would kill to be an eighth as good as you. And it’s cool to know you still have those human feelings.
DP: Of course.
JH: I literally can’t thank you enough. I’m very grateful.
DP: I appreciate you even considering me to be a part of this. It’s dope.
JH: You literally inspire me every day. I wrote my movie to your music. Like, you don’t know.
DP: Wow, that’s ill.
JH: If wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. So, thank you.
DP: Wow. Jonah, I love you, brother. I appreciate that my G.
JH: I mean it from the bottom of my heart. All right, man, I love you a lot.
DP: All right. Be good my brother.
JH: All right, you too, Premier. Thank you.
Mid90s hits theaters on Oct. 19.