Friday, May 25, 2007

DJ Jazzy Jeff interview


Though it will never see the light of day on XXL-Mag.com where it was supposed to show up (there were conflicting problems about how Jazzy Jeff was going to be featured in the magazine in about a month, and the website doesn't put people on the website and in the magazine at the same time), here's the Jazzy Jeff interview I conducted in full. Hope you enjoy.


In a day and time when a rapper’s production can make or break a career, the man behind the mixing boards has now become the quintessential component to creating classic records. In turn, this has often left the party-starting DJ of yesteryear sadly out of the mix, as computers have quickly taken over. But, as with all things, there are exceptions, and DJ Jazzy Jeff has always been one of them. Originally spinning records in his mom’s basement just for the fun of it, the Philadelphia native made a name for himself in the 80s pairing up with Will Smith and forming the instantly recognizable duo, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. A comical and fun group that used their quirkiness to climb the charts, benchmark records like the multi-platinum selling, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, scored big time with hits like the MTV friendly, Parents Just Don’t Understand. It also garnered them a Grammy, making them rap’s first group to do so. Jeff is also recognizable as the sunglasses wearing slacker always getting tossed out the mansion on the popular 90s sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a feat that even he admits took a toll on his body. But the duo’s music began to trickle to a standstill when Will became a movie star, which left Jazzy Jeff to his own creative inventions, leading him to create the critically lauded The Magnificent in 2002, and his most recent release, The Return of the Magnificent just this year. XXLMag.com talks with Jazzy Jeff about his new album, his life with Will, and getting tossed out by Uncle Phil.

By: Rich Knight

XXL-Mag.com: You got a lot of big names on this album like Method Man and Big Daddy Kane. How did you go about reaching out to those people?

Jazzy Jeff: You know what, I just wrote a list of everybody I wanted to work with, you know. It was a long list, and I said, you know what, pick up the phone and call them. The only thing that they could tell you was no. Fortunately, no one told me no. So I was extremely ecstatic about that.

XXL-Mag.com: And so do you have any memorable moments in the studio with your guests?

Jazzy Jeff: Well, you know, it’s not what I would say were memorable moments. You know what it was, it was just really cool just going in the studio, because everybody’s collaboration started out with conversation, you know. We sat, we talked, and I’m somebody who’s not about just going in the studio and just starting something. It was kind of like, we sat down and we talked about things. We talked about the current state of music, [and] what we would like to see. We talked about reminiscing back in the day, and it was so, you know, down to political issues, and that pretty much was how you opened the door and got to the point where you were comfortable. You know, even down to making them something to eat. Anything but talk about music.

XXL-Mag.com: You talk about making something to eat. I know you love cooking. I guess my question is, what did you make them to eat?

Jazzy Jeff: I love to cook. So you know, that came from whatever somebody needed. If you didn’t eat meat, it was like, okay, let me make you some fish, or some salmon, you know. If you ate meat, let me make you a steak. A lot of it was just being comfortable.

XXL-Mag.com: Your last album was a bit more underground than this one. Was there any reason you purposely made it more…approachable?

Jazzy Jeff: You know what? I think more than anything it would have to be the people that I used that kinda made it like that. It wasn’t really a conscious effort. I was kind of trying to be on the exact same thing I was on The Magnificent. I wanted to show a little growth. I wanted to show a little bit more of maturity than on the last album, but I didn’t want to change the overall feel that much. You know, I wanted people to kind of say, “Hey, well, that’s kinda cool, I like how he did that,” but I wasn’t trying to make the Black album.

XXL-Mag.com: I read on your website that you wanted to make this album like it was your last. Have you ever thought of making a new album like it was your first?

Jazzy Jeff: Well, you know what’s funny? I’m kinda thinking that that’s very similar. I said that I try to approach every album as if it’s my last because I use that as motivation. But you know what’s funny? This album, the whole theme of this album was that I want to go back into my mom’s basement. I want this to be 2007, my mom’s basement. To the point that this album didn’t start with the first record, this album pretty much started because I had closed down the studio I had had for 15 years, and I had moved from the location that I was working at for 18 years, and I pretty much moved into a new house, and built this studio to be 2007 my mom’s basement. So, it’s kinda funny you said that because this album is absolutely done to be like my first. Like, when I didn’t have any concern of selling records. When I didn’t have any concern of notoriety or who was going to like it. When I was in my mom’s basement, I just wanted to make music, you know, because I love it. And that’s pretty much the main focus for this album. Like, let me go back to my mom’s basements before I had bills, and stress, and stuff like that.

XXL-Mag.com: Hip-hop nowadays seems almost like a young man’s game. How does it feel to be a veteran in this whole thing?

Jazzy Jeff: Well, you know what; I think hip-hop only seems like a young man’s game because, well, we’re the only generation to grow old with it. You know, no one thinks that R&B is a young man’s game because we’ve gone through multiple generation’s of R&B. This is the first generation of hip-hop that’s in their 40s and in their 50s, and everybody’s still trying to figure out what we’re supposed to do [with it]. Are we supposed to like it? Are we supposed to say, damn, I’m too old for it? And I really believe that what we’re doing is trying to find our way. Because I don’t believe that hip-hop is a young person’s market place. I think that we just have to accept that it calls for you to be 40 something years old in the hip-hop age.

XXL-Mag.com: Yeah, I hear you.

Jazzy Jeff: I think what happens a lot that makes us not accept it is the commercial side of hip-hop. Like, I was just telling somebody that my mom and older brother and sister grew up with the Temptations. They LOVE the Temptations and they’re [the Temptations] still making records—for them! With hip-hop, it’s a little bit different because everybody’s like…Well, I was watching an award show [one day], and when I was watching it, The Fugees came on. I jumped up, and was like, “Oh, my God! This is it, this is it!” But when I came down, my son was looking at me like I was a fool. And it hit me, I love The Fugees, I love A Tribe Called Quest. I love De La Soul, but where are you going to hear that? Like, why would the Fugeees come out with a record when they have no place where people can hear it? And I don’t mean to jump off track, but it brings the point that now we have all these adult contemporary stations in the country that play Steveie Wonder. They even play New Edition, but when this was going on, “Around the Way Girl” was on the charts at the same time, so why don’t they play that? It’s a different standard with hip-hop. People are in their 40s and 50s, so how are you going to play half of what I grew up with? And I’m like; you have classic rock stations that play classic rock. In fact, classic rock is the reason groups like the Police are back together on tour. So why don’t they have a hip-hop station? Where are they? Are you trying to tell me if you put Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Kid n Play, De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane, Salt & Pepper, you tell me people won’t go see that?

XXL-Mag.com: That’s a good question. You know what. I think it’s because…because…you know what, I don’t know why they don’t do that.

Jazzy Jeff: You know what I think? I think it’s because, it’s like I said [before]. This is a new thing [and] we don’t know what to do with it. This is the first generation that’s going into hip-hop, and we’re still trying to figure out, do I like this? Do I want to keep this? Should I accept this? Or should I just let it go?

XXL-Mag.com: If hip-hop was Jambalaya, what elements of it currently would you discard, and what elements would you keep?

Jazzy Jeff: You know what’s funny? I don’t think, in just trying not to be hypocritical, I don’t think that I would discard anything. What I’m mad about, is what’s NOT in there. My biggest issue is that I grew up in an era of hip-hop where if you wanted your pro-black, you had your Public Enemy, you had your X-Clan, you had Brand Nubian. If you wanted party and fun, you had Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, you had Salt and Pepper and Kid n Play. If you wanted your gangster shit, you had your NWA. If you wanted your native tongue, you had your Jungle Brothers, your De La Soul, and your Tribe Called Quest. You pretty much could pick whatever you wanted. Right now, we have one thing. If you ain’t a pimp, if you ain’t a ho, if you ain’t ballin’ in the clubs, that’s all we’ve got. Where is hip-hop’s diversity? My issue is, I ain’t mad that we have our walking it out or anything like that, but where’s everything else? My thing is, I wouldn’t take anything out, but I’d add a WHOLE lot more stuff in.

XXL-Mag.com: How is Will doing?

Jazzy Jeff: He’s good.

XXL-Mag.com: Do you guys think you might make a record again?

Jazzy Jeff: We’ve been talking about making a record; we’ve been talking about going on tour. It’s just about making a schedule. Like, Will is pretty much one of the biggest movie stars in the world. It’s really different because, you know, it’s hard for him to just say I’m going to take off two years, and focus on just going on the road, or just going into the studio and making a record. Every time I talk to Will, he really wants to do it. We are just trying to make the right time to do it. We talked about possibly going on the road sometime this year and doing some stuff. So you know what, one thing is going to have to lead to another. But you know, his heart is there, he wants to do it. You know, it’s kinda like [if] the President of the United States was a big hop-hop fan, then it’s time to go on tour.

XXL-MAG.com: Back when you guys were making records together, did it ever bother you that he was the face of the group?

Jazzy Jeff: Naaaaw. Noooo. I mean, I am not into that at all. I think that the success of Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince came from that we were an incredible balance, because sometimes, Will had a tendency to go too far, and sometimes, I had a tendency to be too laid back. And I think, as much as I pulled him back, that was the same amount that he was pulling me out. And I think that chemistry was a great balance of the group. You know, because I’ve never been the guy who’s like, “Oh, man, I want everybody to know who I am,” Because I’m somebody who’s like…I still like going to the mall. I mean, there’s a lot of times that I felt really sorry because Will is in one of those positions where he can’t do annnnything. I think a lot of people need to understand that when they say, “Oh my God, I wish I was rich, I wish I was famous, and I wish everybody knew me.” Will can’t take his son to an amusement park. There’s a lot of little stuff; that, you know, where I’m like, damn, I don’t know what I would do if that was taken away from me.

XXL-Mag.com: You guys were huge. What was going through your mind when you picked up your first Grammy?

Jazzy Jeff: Well, you know, I tell people, the Grammy’s are a little bit different because we boycotted the first Grammy because, you know, it was kind of bittersweet. This is the biggest acknowledgement you can get it in music, but wow, you’re not even good enough for them to televise it on TV. They’ll televise, like, six classical categories, and a country western category, but they won’t show one [hip-hop category], and in that point in time, hip-hop was probably the number three music in the world. That was like a slap in the face.

XXL-Mag.com: And now it’s totally different.

Jazzy Jeff: Now, it’s dominating. But, you know, it’s bittersweet. [They were acting like] We’re not important enough to show [on TV]. You know, you were kind of like, damn. You’re calling your friends, and you’re like, man, I won, and they’re asking, “Where can I see it on TV?” And then you say, naw, they boycotted it, and then they’re like, “Aw, man, you didn’t win.” So, don’t ruin my joy.

XXL-Mag.com: Is there anything new coming out the pipeline for A Touch of Jazz records?

Jazzy Jeff: I kind of just play it by ear. You know, with me traveling, and what I’m doing right now supporting this record, I’m very excited to kind of go back into the studio and work on some new stuff. So, hopefully [I’ll be doing that] by the end of the year. You know, because the biggest dilemma I’m having right now is that I’ve been away, and being on the road for close to 200 dates out of the year, and touring, and being in the studio. I mean, they haven’t come out with the cloning machine yet, so you’re just trying to come out with a way to do both, because I think I love both equally. So that really creates a dilemma.

XXL-Mag.com: You’re very experimental, is there a genre of music that you haven’t ventured into yet but would like to?

Jazzy Jeff: Aw, man, I think I would like to, you know…I like to explore anything, I love to cross genres. I love House music, you know, just because, I just feel that House music is where our original R&B and Soul has gone. The only difference is that the floor to floor beat, but if you go to especially soulful House music, that’s where the lyrics are. That’s where the chord changes are, that’s where the melody changes are, and I love rock. I love the enthusiasm of rock, you know. I’m a huge jazz fanatic, the spontaneity of jazz. It seems in jazz you can do anything you want as long as the music is there. But you know, I’m that hip-hop head. I love the beat. You know, so I’m like, let’s throw some jazz in a banging ass beat. Let’s throw some cuts in a rock record, you know. It’s amazing that every rock group now has a DJ, which is cool.

XXL-Mag.com: You basically started the transforming and chirping technique. Are there any other techniques that you started but haven’t gotten credited for?

Jazzy Jeff: Well, you know what’s funny? I don’t even look at the whole “created” thing like I created the transformer scratch. Because you know, I mean, what I think is that I’m the person who widely publicized it; I’m the person who put it on the record. But you know, DJing to me is a lot like basketball. Somebody at some point and time thought, it might be great to dribble the ball between my legs, and from that came the cross over. And from that came the such and such. It’s kind of like the same thing. Like Grand Master Theodore came up with the scratch, so, somebody else added this to it, and somebody added to that and elevated it. So, I’ve never been the credit hound, of like, I invented this, I invented that. When people today…it just blows my mind that people think I had any kind of impact on the DJ culture. For DJ’s to come up to me today and say, “Wow, I basically do what I do today because of you,” that throws me for a loop. You know, because I basically do it and I’ve done it because I love it. It’s not like I did it because I wanted to be the best. I went and got a job and put turntables on layaway, which is something kids today know nothing about. I mean, I’d DJ your party for free. So it had nothing to do with me trying to be famous, or me trying to make money. Like I said, this to me was basketball. It was something I’d just do for fun.

XXL-Mag.com: What’s the most memorable moment in your career?

Jazzy Jeff: Um…wow…You know what; I would have to say, Live 8. Because, to be able to do a show, [which is] pretty much the biggest show in the world in your home town? That was incredible to me. To go out and do ‘Summertime,’ and to even go and do the theme to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and to hear a million people in front of you. Man, I can’t even BEGIN to tell you what that felt like. Like, I had a camera on stage, and I had captured it, and I got so excited that I knocked the video camera in the air and I got a whole video of the sky. I was so excited that I couldn’t take it down. I was like, wow, this is amazing.

XXL-Mag.com: Okay, last question. When you were thrown out of the mansion on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, was that really you or…

Jazzy Jeff: Absolutely, over and over and over. You know, and it started out as [something where the producers were like] we’re going to do it, and we did it, and people liked it. And it became a trademark, but, that was…Well, one shot might have been 30 takes. People don’t realize it, but it was a lot of hot baths. Even though you landed on the mat, I am not built to do that. I am not the stunt man. That definitely took its toll.

2 comments:

Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

Rich Knight said...

Rock on, Biby, rock on