DJ Jazzy Jeff is known as a legend worldwide for his contribution as one of the pioneers of the rich history of Philly DJs, as well as his production work which is respected by both mainstream and underground Hip Hop heads and music fans generally. It was a real pleasure to have this conversation with one of my personal heroes and an inspiration to many.
How has Technology affected your musical life?
Jazzy Jeff: It's definitely changed a lot. If I go back from when I first started DJing or even when I first started making beats, the equipment is a lot less bulky, a lot more streamlined. I think it only really affects you in a negative way if you're not really willing to change with technology. I mean I definitely have tools, and it's funny, Will and I kinda joked about, if we had had the ability to record on a laptop like you can today we probably would have had 50 albums out. So it's definitely a lot different, you have a lot more control and it's a lot easier. I'm not gonna say that the sound is better, the sound is different. There's a give and take in it, it's a lot easier than carrying your entire record collection to a show now, instead of carrying 10 record boxes, and having to risk the airline losing them or extra baggage charges, so that's definitely a plus.
Do you still collect vinyl?
Jazzy Jeff: Yes. And I'm one of those people, that I've said 'I'm not gonna do it anymore… and walk into a record shop and buy $1000 worth of records. I think it's one of those things, if you're a collector, you're always a collector…
The Magnificent album and how it came about…
Jazzy Jeff: That was the first time that I… I took almost a sabbatical from being… I don't wanna say a producer, I took a sabbatical from being an artist. It had a lot to do with the way of the music industry, with having a career and just me not being happy at Jive records, and being a recording artist, and I kind of refocused my love of music.
What happened was BBE was doing a beat generations collection, they were doing producer driven albums, and I was introduced to Pete at BBE and he was like, 'I would love for you to do an album, with you as a producer'. And people really didn't know, from the Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince stuff, that we did the Jill Scott album, we did the Musiq Soulchild album, that I was doing all kinds of music. The whole idea of my forming a production company was so I could hide behind it and basically experiment with all of the music that I wanted to do.
So when I was asked to do an album, it really took a minute to sit down and I was like 'wow what do I really wanna do on this album?'. Because I don't think one thing really necessarily defines me as a producer. I don't consider myself a 'Hip Hop producer', I don't consider myself a soul music producer, an R&B producer, a house producer – I just like music.
So after sitting down and really thinking about it, that was the approach in making the record. I like all of these things, so why not encompass all of these things into an album. I don't know one person that loves music that only loves one type of music. I just started looking at it, like I think there's more people in the world like me so that was pretty much my approach.
It took about 3 and a half months to start because I needed to figure that out, and it took about a month once I started to finish it. So once I got things set into my mind I work pretty fast.
Are you still close to Philly?
Jazzy Jeff: I'm always gonna have that. It wasn't so much the Philly rappers, I think I was really intrigued by the independent rappers. We have a tendency to think that the only people that are good are the people that you know. I know so many great singers and rappers and producers that the world has no clue who they are, that I looked at that like this is my chance to actually showcase these guys. And it was great because it was the first big project that people like Oddissee, Kev Brown, Raheem DeVaughn and a lot of those guys, that was a platform for them. The independent artist has less means to let the world know who he is.
The separation of the Elements of Hip Hop.
Jazzy Jeff: Oh I definitely saw that change, almost in a heartbeat… Graffiti was the first one to kinda drift off, and then it turned into, to me the breakers didn't necessarily have the same impact on Hip Hop, and then it really turned into the DJ… it was like, you know it was interesting to me that we went through a period of time that the top 5, from a perspective of 'big', the top 5 Hip Hop artists, none of them had DJs! It kinda broke apart and I think that is a reason why today the DJ is so big. Everybody in the world wants to be a DJ, now you have the rappers who are trying to DJ because the DJ culture has gotten so big. But I think it was just because we were left behind by everybody else. The rappers were kinda like 'it's us'… and it bothered me for a time that I felt like every big Hip Hop artist didn't have a DJ, but every big rap group did.
The Evolution of Turntablism.
Jazzy Jeff: I don't think it will ever peak out,… I think things go in waves. There was a period in time – I was just in San Francisco and Q-Bert and I had this conversation – I told him there was a period in time where guys like myself and guys like Cash Money took it to… the height, and it was almost like I closed my eyes, started making records and opened my eyes up to Roc Raida and Q-Bert. I was like 'Oh my god! These guys just took what we did to the next level. And it was pretty much the same thing with the Crazes and the A-Traks and it got a point where I felt like the turntablists hit a wall. They hit a creative wall, the fan base changed. It's still very much alive and thriving, this happens with everything that you hit that low and then it comes back with an incredible vengeance. I definitely think it's on the incline again.
You still practice scratching?
Jazzy Jeff: Absolutely, I'll never stop that.
Just keep learning and expanding your repertoire…
Jazzy Jeff: You know what I think it is, there's different kinds of DJs, you have the scratch DJs, you have the party rocking DJs, you have the play selection DJs. What I really focused on is, I like that fact that I consider myself a very good All Around DJ. I like to get in those party rocking settings and add a little bit of every last one of those elements. That I could have 1000 people on the dance floor, I can rock doubles, I can do a very intricate scratch to the very basic scratch, I can do some kind of a beat juggle – but you look, and those 1000 people will still be on the dance floor. So it's encompassing all those things, and now I think what you're getting, you're getting a lot of these DJs to become very good party rockers.
I did a show a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco that I do maybe 2 or 3 times a year with Shortkut that Shortkut and I play on 4 turntables. Shortkut is one of the best party rocking DJs I've heard because he knows how to play everything from new stuff to James Brown to funk and soul to Hip Hop to House and he still does his juggles and his cuts and all the rest, but he encompasses it in a party rocking style that is just amazing to me. A-Trak the same, and Craze the same, you get a lot of these guys that's like 'I'm never gonna stop cutting and scratching and doing what I do, I'm just gonna incorporate it into an overall theme'.
What track will guarantee to go off?
Jazzy Jeff: I think that all changes, it depends on where you are playing. I have a whole bunch of surprises that I just have, that just in case… I will grab. I will try and do that twice or three times in a night, grab something that's very unexpected… I've been in the middle of the biggest Hip Hop party, where everybody's rocking, and I will play 'Africa' by Toto. And it throws everybody off, but everybody in the party is singing the song.
They're like 'I didn't really expect that' but to me, a lot of it is just the placement, when do you play it, how do you bring it in, and that gives that 'woooooo' effect. 'I didn't expect that!' To me that's what the art of a great night is… it's like, Imma give you the stuff you hear all the time, Imma give you stuff that you haven't heard in a long time, but Imma throw 2 or 3 of these curve balls in. These are the songs, that when you are on your way home you are like 'yo can you believe he dropped ____?'
And that's what you wanna do, that's a good night.
Global Hip Hop.
Jazzy Jeff: Everywhere I go I try to grab whatever people are listening to, I don't care what country it is. I went through a period of 2 years where every time I opened up my set I opened it with Witness by Roots Manuva. I thought that that was one of the bangingest tracks I had ever heard in my life. And I would play it in America and everybody would be like 'what is that??'. Which kinda makes you mad because you should know what that is! I believe that music is universal to a point where, if it's a great song, it's not a great song for the UK or a great song for the America or South America, it's a great song for everybody. Everybody should play it. Unfortunately, America is not set up like that. I think that's probably why I play a lot of international tunes doing the course of the year. Because you get a chance to not only play music that you don't get a chance to hear, but also to see what everybody else is doing because I think what keeps you on the your toes is – ahead of the game -is knowing what the rest of the world does. I am one of those people, I do not believe that America is at the forefront of good music.
You broadcast a lot of positive vibes, thanks for your energy.
Jazzy Jeff: Ah I appreciate it. You know I am extremely blessed and I pay attention to the blessings just being able to travel the world and give everybody good music, man, its great. Not often do people get a chance to do something they love and make a good living off of it. So I definitely have to give back as much as I can.
Special shouts to Spin Doctor for the hook up and for all his work putting on these events and bringing Jeff out for the 250th show on April 13th. Also be on the look out this year for the exclusive IBMCs remix of Jeff's Worldwide track from The Magnificent album.
By: Esh | IBMCs