HHS: It was inevitable that sooner or later, your “behind-the-scenes” role and usual position would become more recognized with time – especially seeing how much you’re doing. Is it just that DJ personality which makes you more comfortable just laying low?
JJ: “Well, yeah, yeah..actually it is, but that is really encompassing of my personality in general. I love music. Even through all of the stuff that I’ve done, I’ve never lost the fact that I love music – it’s music first. And the bad thing is especially nowadays, everything kinda gets so caught up, that it’s not about music. It’s about how much money can I make, how much points I’m ah gonna get, what’s my advance? I sit back and I look and I’m like, damn! All of the cats that I talk to in the music industry, we don’t ever talk about the music! But at the end of the day, I’m still back where it all started – we did parties and got $15 and went straight to McDonald’s and ate, your money was gone, but we did it because we loved it. That’s where I am at the end of the day.
HHS: Right now, Philly has never been better as far as the urban music scene is concerned. You and your Touch of Jazz production team are in the thick of it, as J-Live says, ‘break it down’ for us not hip to what has made and makes Philly tick with all this culture.
JJ: “Not taking anything away from Philadelphia, but I believe the talent pool in just that kind of situation is in every major urban city in the world. I’m not just gonna say it’s in Philadelphia only, it’s in Oakland, California, it’s just that spotlight isn’t on Oakland right now. It seems like when the spotlight started to shine on Philly, then all it’s gonna do is make you that much confident and make you feel that much better about what you’re doing, then you gonna continue to do better stuff. Same thing, it was here in the ’70s, then it left and it went to Indianapolis, Atlanta, Detroitâ€¦so it’s just your time. I think what helped Philly out especially was for the past ten years we’ve been having the jam sessions, the poetry readings, the open mics, and we were doing that for ourselves. As soon as it became on a national spotlight, it was almost like well, wow, for ten years we’ve been practicing, we kinda ready for what’s going on now.”
HHS: I think the average fan hears your name and automatically thinks, Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith and what some misguided hip-hoppers would consider ‘corny’ or ‘user-friendly’ rap. Obviously somewhere along the line, they got fooled. Musically, guide us to what you’ve always been and continue to be about over these years.
JJ: “The beginning of Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, it was kinda like if you turn back the clock and listen to the first album that we made – we have “A Touch of Jazz”? on it, which was pretty much one of the first records to ever use Jazz samples mixed together with Will rhyming. You have “The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff” on it which was pretty much probably one of the very early turntablist records. Then you have “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble” which was a huge hip hop hit, ’cause you got Will telling the story basically to a beat. You got records like “Jeff’s Rocking” which was almost like an early hardcore Will just spitting. Then comes the second record (He’s The DJ I’m The Rapper), which had the layout of the same stuff. But you have “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” And because “Parents Just Don’t Understand” blew up on the commercial side, you’re automatically locked. People were like, ‘oh my God, you guys are from the suburbs!’ For a while you try to fight that stereotype but it got to a point. I’ve always been into all types of music, Will has always been a lyricist. You get to a point where you really can’t worry about the perceptions. A lot of stuff that I’m doing now is really soulful, but when you sit and think about it – the song that I did with J-Live, is kinda like a jazz record, just like “A Touch of Jazz” was; then you got a whole bunch of soulful stuff, but what was “Summertime”? The whole thing about the music industry is once you do something and you’re deemed successful at doing it, they ain’t trying to have you try anything else. It stunts your growth as an artist. That was one of the main reasons why I created A Touch of Jazz (the production company), it was to give me that kind of outlet. As an artist, you not gonna accept me doing soul music? I got two areas of music – GOOD and BAD. That’s it.”
HHS: When you were approached to be a part of this BEAT GENERATION series, along with the roster of beat technicians like Pete Rock, Jay Dee, King Britt, Will.I.Am, Marley Marl and others. How excited were you and your crew pouring out the true sound with that sense of total freedom from label-politics?
JJ: “Just the idea of somebody giving you the creative freedom, and that’s one of the reasons I didn’t go first or second or third in this series. When someone gives you that kind of freedom, what da hell am I gonna do with this kind of freedom when no one has ever given it to me? It wasn’t until Jay Dee kind of did his (Welcome 2 Detroit), he set the tone for everybody like, ‘ok I see where he’s goingâ€¦oh man, he’s going for some hardcore hip hop and he just goes into this….damn!’ It’s not about doing a genre of music, it’s about letting you know what makes you up as a producer. How fucked up is it that a little, tiny label out of London gives you this type of freedom, and Sony don’t? The hard thing is, once you start doing records like that, you kind of ask yourself how can I go back to doing anything else? As bad as it is, we got that same creative freedom doing Jill Scott’s record, but now that Jill Scott has become successful, people or the record company may not accept Jill saying, ‘hey I wanna do something completely different.’”
HHS: On this album, there are all different types of vibes: mostly hip-hop, soul, a bit of house, a touch of spoken word, etc. Is there a few cuts that stand out as making you blush with pride when you listen back to this truly ‘magnificent’ album?
JJ: “Each song has such a different story that means something to me. To have that creative freedom, I can paint a picture of every song that we did. I did the remake of “We live in Brooklyn” as an instrumental, and something said you know what, I really want Jill on this, and I don’t want Jill to do the typical song, I want her to write. I held that song ’til Jill came back from tour.”
HHS: Philly, obviously holds a group of very cutting-edge, proud hotsteppers in the music industry. With an album like this, how is Jazzy Jeff looked upon? Are you like a father figure amongst the artists and musicians out there? Or, has some in Philly gotten too big to acknowledge the ones before?
JJ: “I don’t think I’ve ever really stepped back and paid attention to how I’m perceived, because I love what I do so much, I’m not trying to distance myself from anybody. I mentor and tutor all of the guys that are down with the Touch of Jazz, but I do that on a basis of I may have a little bit more experience. I don’t like that philosophy of you gotta pay your dues. If I made a mistake, then let me tell you the mistake I made, so you don’t have to make it. I don’t wanna say, ‘oh you gotta make the mistake in order for you to learn.’”
HHS: So far for the year, this is one of those albums that have a permanent place in my disc-changer. Besides this Beat Generation release, are there any more hip-hop projects you’re working on or any new artists you plan on launching? I’m constantly hearing about a duo from London called Floetry?
JJ: “The Floetry album is done, it’s coming out through DreamWorks Records. Actually, they just pushed that back ’til October. Pauly Yamz, we’re finishing up his record. I’m looking at this album (The Magnificent), as a calling card to try to get people to do these Beat Generation-type records. My whole thing is, I would love for all of the creative people I know to have the ability to do a record like this. If only you could just de-program everybodyâ€¦I ain’t mad that you play Jay Z five times, my whole thing is why don’t you play Jay two times, and play J-Live two times as well. Just give me some variety. You can’t mean to tell me that the extent of our music situation is the twenty-five records that you play fifty times on the radio. If you play twenty-five records and then I go in Tower Record Store, and I see two million records there, so I’m like outta two million only twenty-five are good??? C’mon maaaanâ€¦.”
HHS: The cutting and scratching and turntable wizardry you’ve done way back in the day. I see it’s all here on the album. Most might have forgotten, but way before this new generation of turntablism, you were one of the first to showcase this. Are you kind of over this phase in hip-hop, or are you very much into it still, while still handling the other production duties as well?
JJ: “I’m a DJ first and foremost. Everything that I have in music, I owe to two turntables and a mixer, and I’ll never cast that to the side. I’m extremely active, I do parties a hundred dates out of the year – anywhere from South Africa to all over. I’m happy and very excited that the whole turntablist movement is bigger than it’s ever been.”
HHS: You’re an old school hip hop cat no doubt, but definitely still trend-setting the shape of urban music presently. Jeff, how has this been so possible while many of your peers from way back have faded into nowhere?
JJ: “I think because I’ve never looked at it like I got a grip on this, it’s kinda like I’ve been doing this professionally for nineteen years, and I’m still learning just as much as I learned the first year. As long as I have that attitude, a lot of young guys that I’m bringing in that I’m teaching what to do and what not to do, I’m getting lessons from them also. As long as I keep my brain to any new kind of ideas, I probably could be doing this for the rest of my life. I think if I pay too much attention to what I’ve done, I’m not going to do anything new.”
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