Who would have thought that nearly 20 years ago a duo from Philadelphia would show the world the best DJ the world would ever see. Every hip-hop head and especially every DJ know the name Jazzy Jeff. If you don’t, just click off the page now. You are about to embark on a trip down memory lane, a trip to the future and a sit down in the present. Jazzy Jeff is not only one of the most respected DJs in hip-hop today, but one of the most respected people in the industry. He has been to the highest of the high winning a Grammy in 1988 and is still putting out incredible music 19 years later. “The Return of the Magnificent” dropped on May 8th on BBE Records and once again Jazzy Jeff doesn’t disappoint. From the high profile collaborations with Method Man, Rhymefest, and Big Daddy Kane to constantly breaking new artist like Eshon Burgundy and Chinah Blac Jazzy Jeff is as relevant today as he was 19 years ago. It was my esteemed pleasure to sit down with the person who influenced me to become a part of the hip-hop culture and made me want to pick up a pair of 1200′s. Young and old gather around, if threw was one interview you needed to read, this is most definitely it.
Words cannot explain how excited I am to talk to someone who has had such an influence in hip-hop and in myself all these years, how are things?
I appreciate that. I’m real good, it’s a little hectic but hectic is not bad.
You are the reason I got into the hip-hop in the first place so, before we get into the album a couple of things I would like to know personally.
Sure, go ahead.
Since I’m a DJ and you are in my opinion the best DJ to ever touch a 1200, what made you to decide you wanted to DJ?
It’s funny because I remember going to block parties in Philly. During this time it was either a DJ or a band. I used to find it intriguing to go and see this guy who would have these humongous stacks of speakers and he would be playing records and basically have everybody’s attention. He commanded the crowd, whatever he told them to do they did. I remember going to the block parties and just sitting there thinking, that is who I want to be I want to be that guy.
So, did you ever rap or always just the DJ?
No, not at all.
Do you have a favorite record of all time?
I’ve been saying this a lot, but it’s really hard to pick just one. I look at records like my kids and I can’t pick my favorite son.
I love so much music, I could say “Dance to the Drummers Beat” or I could say “Jive Rhythm Tracks”, I could name a thousand records. But if I said “Jive Rhythm Tracks” it would almost be like doing a disservice to “Dance to the Drummers Beat”. It’s always been hard when I’m asked that question about Top 10 tracks, it’s impossible. It’s like I have a thousand kids and I have to the 10 favorite ones.
Nearly everybody knows you and Will Smith relationship in the late 80′s early 90′s, but a lot of people don’t know how you met, how did you go on to form the group DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince? We are here to educated young people.
Will was in a crew called the Hypnotic MCs and I was already DJing and going by Jazzy Jeff and we would see each other at the parties. We knew each other but we didn’t know each other. So, what happened I got asked to do a party on the street he lived on and the MC I had at the time was sick and couldn’t go. When Will showed up at the party and we shook hands and said what up. So about 10 minutes into the party he realized that I didn’t have an MC, so he was like “you mind if I get on the mic”? What happened is that we had a crazy chemistry that we had the whole night. We bugged out all night and had a good time. It was just the chemistry that we had that night. Any DJ that has had an MC will understand that the DJ, MC combination is just incredible. The party was over and he was still with a whole other crew. But, I was like I have a party tomorrow night if you want to come through. He was like yeah, and so without officially getting together it just happened and that’s pretty much how everything started.
Along those same lines, since you played Jazz on the show, did you ever want to pursue acting as a career?
I’m not going to say never but what I knew is that I have a musical itch that I had to get out. There was something that I needed to do musically and I needed to do that before I tried anything out. Music was my passion, I enjoyed doing the show even though that wasn’t what I wanted to but I had a great time. I couldn’t pursue that until I at least give what my passion was a try.
So how much of the character Jazz is Jeff ?
I’m not as dumb as Jazz is
A lot of that was just my personality, laughing joking and being care free. I’m the first to tell you that I wasn’t trying to be an actor. I was just doing it.
Enough of the personal questions, let’s talk about “The Return of the Magnificent” which is dropped May 8th on BBE Records. I’m sure you have had many offers, why stick with BBE?
I have been in the record business so long and have dealt with record companies for years. It’s very rare that you get a record company that gives you the creative freedom that you want. I’ve always said, artists have two main problems with record companies. One is payment and the other is creative freedom. To go in the studio and make a record that defines who you are without someone telling you that you need this type of record for airplay or this type of record for sales, is rare. From the first record that I did with BBE they gave me creative freedom and allowed me to express who I am as an artist, and it’s never changed.
So what makes this album different from “The Magnificent”?
It is primarily growth. I pretty much did everything for “The Return of the Magnificent”. This is the album where I decided to pick up the phone and call a lot of the people that I wanted to work with over the years and see if I could get them to help me out with collaborations. More than anything, this is in the same direction of “The Magnificent” but it’s the natural growth and the natural step up from “The Magnificent”
So this time around you produced the entire album.
That’s what as a fan I like to hear because you as a producer have a very distinct sound. Even though the last album had guests on the boards it seemed like Kev Brown, Oddissee and those guys were inside your head when they were making tracks.
Absolutely, the whole Touch of Jazz thing was a really big school. That was my role, my role was to teach those guys how to be producers, how to make records, and how to get you’re sound to sound full. That was my job. So, naturally my sound was going to come through in their production.
On the “Return of the Magnificent” you decide to pay homage to my favorite track of all time “Brand New Funk”, why did you decide to remake that classic and why choose Peedi Crack for the remake?
You know what, I’ve had a couple people ask me to re-do the record. I wanted to re-do it but it had to be done with someone from Philly, to keep that classic feel about it. I felt that Peedi would do it justice. I heard Peedi do his remake to a Slick Rick record and he payed homage to the original but added his own flavor. To me that is what makes a remake good. You want to make sure you pay some kind of tribute to the original but you also want to make it your own. I asked Peedi if you would be interested in doing it and he did it. I wouldn’t have put it out if I didn’t think he did it justice, and I think he did an incredible job.
In this day and age it’s good to revisit something like “Brand New Funk” for the youth of America. So they can hear how it used to be and maybe they will go pick up the original.
Yeah, yeah. That was good because we put somebody from today on a classic and it’s like educating the younger generation without actually telling them.
Your albums always seem to fuse hip-hop and the neo-soul sound together to create incredible records. In your own words, describe the relationship of hip-hop to neo-soul.
I don’t really like using the term Neo-Soul. That’s the terminology they gave soul music because they didn’t want to call it just soul, they wanted to have it be new soul. To me, every type of music has a soul to it. If you really listen to music one of the most soulful genres out is country and western. The heartfelt lyrics, the heartfelt music, and I try to tap into the soul of every music whether it’s R&B or Hip-Hop. You want something that you don’t just hear, but you can feel because that is the type of music I grew up on. I think it’s a natural fusion that I have always tried to do.
The album has some well known names such as Method Man, Big Daddy Kane, and CL Smooth but with each album you find that diamond in the rough, who would you say that is on “The Return of the Magnificent”
There are actually two, Eshon Burgundy and Black Ice. Black Ice is fairly well known due to Def Poetry and he’s got album out on Koch. Eshon Burgundy is a really good brother that I really wanted to showcase. Tell you the truth even more so than Eshon is Chinah Blac. She is Erykah Badu’s background arranger and has been on the road with Erykah for years. She is just a dynamic soul singer. When I heard her voice I thought I had to do something with her. The first record we did I wasn’t giving it up, I had to take it for myself and put it on the album. That’s my whole thing, I don’t care if you are established or if you are new. I want something that will be a little bit creative and I will put you out.
After your early years it seems that you gravitate more to singers than to rappers, do you prefer song over rap?
You know what it is? I think it’s hard because I’m still longing for the hip-hop of yesterday.
Aren’t we all.
Until I can find that young cat who has the style and the flow of today but the mindset of yesterday, you know? Actually, I think I might have found him and we are going to get in the studio and knock out a record as soon as we can. It’s not that I have favoritism but you get a little bit sad when you hear a lot of the stuff that is out today.
We know you have always represented hip-hop and its culture to the fullest. Every DJ I know you are in someway their mentor. Why do you think you have been able to stay relevant and stay true for nearly 20 years?
First and foremost, I don’t claim to know everything. I don’t care how much credibility you gain or how long you have done something you are always a student. I always think there is a 14 year old kid out there that is going to show me something and help me to become better or help my longevity this year. As long as you keep it open, because I know I lot of older cats who think they know it all. They get to a point where they think they need to be paid homage to and they’ve mastered the game. The way I look at it like the day I don’t enjoy what I’m doing anymore is the day I’m going to stop. I still do what I do for fun. Regardless of the type of living it has afforded me, the bottom line of why I do it is because I enjoy it. I think people can see that. I don’t do this to make a whole lot of money. I look at it like basketball. I don’t know too many people, especially back in the day who got into playing basketball because they wanted to be rich, it’s just something that they enjoyed doing. If was the richest man in the world I would still make beats and I would still DJ somebody’s party.
Why do you think we have gotten to the state in hip-hop we are in right now? Could it have been prevented?
Well, yes and no. I think we got here because hip-hop became so popular that the masses and the corporate side of things realized that it could make and generate a whole lot of money. What happened is that music in general, not just hip-hop is not run by music people anymore. It’s run by the corporations and that’s what tainted the whole thing. That’s where it started to go left. You can’t blame the state of hip-hop on any one individual because it was one of those things. If you make these kids believe that they can be rich, they will follow it to the end and that is exactly what has happened. What you are slowly starting to see is that the corporations are starting to lose their grip on hip-hop. They have to, it almost has to tear itself down for them to give it back to us.
Is there anything we can do to take hip-hop back from the media and make it ours again and would you want to if you could?
I don’t think we are going to have to take it back. These corporations are doing it themselves, they are destroying it. You get to the point where there are a million great hip-hop records out but you only hear the radio play 10 and slowly but surely people are getting sick and tired of it. The corporations are going to find the next new thing, hip-hop isn’t making us any money anymore so let’s go to movies. They have to throw it in the trash in order for us to get it back and start it all over again. It’s going to come full circle again but the older generation has seen hip-hop go downhill. It’s going to crash and burn but what you have to understand and you have to keep in mind is that we will never live in a world without music. The only thing that will truly crash and burn are the corporations prostituting hip-hop. So after that, we are going to pick it up, dust it off, throw our Kangols back on and our fat laces and continue.
In the essence of old school, I know you are a proponent of Serato and so many of us use Serato, I bought it because I saw you use it. What are your thoughts on the industry going strictly to digital?
What’s funny is, I’m a purest, but you cannot fight technology. I don’t care how much you love that rotary phone the push button is here. It’s the same thing with Serato. As a DJ I always had that fear that they would one day they would completely stop making vinyl and I would be forced to start DJing with CDs. At the end of the day, if they stop making vinyl , they only thing we are going to do are play old records.
If they don’t put anything new or current on vinyl, as a DJ you are screwed. We don’t call all the shots. So when they came out with Serato which doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of a DJ because you can still do everything you do with vinyl but takes us into the future as far as technology.
So if there was one thing you could change about Serato, what would it be?
Wow, honestly I am very happy with Serato and can’t think of anything I would change.
You have worked with so many artists in your career and I’m sure you have been asked before, but personally I still want to know if there is anybody you would still like to work with?
Sting. I have always been a fan of Sting. I look at all the collaborations as a recipe. You throw Jazzy Jeff in a pot you get this, you throw Jazzy Jeff in a pot with Method Man you get that. I just think it would be very interesting to throw Jazzy Jeff and Sting in a pot.
I’ll have to agree, that is something we would all to hear.
In my opinion, you’re the best DJ of all time and DJ Premier is the best producer of all time, could we get a Jazzy Jeff collaboration with Primo before its all said and done?
Aww man, you don’t understand that me and Premier are like brothers. We talk once or twice a week and that could definitely happen.
Every DJ needs to read this interview and gain some insight with a true legend, is there anything you have left to say?
Thanks for the love. One thing is that I do know is that none of this is promised to anybody and you should never take any of this for granted. I appreciate all the love people have given me throughout the years.
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