DJ Jazzy Jeff is universally regarded as one of the greatest DJs of all time. After years of honing his skills at block parties in his hometown of Philadelphia, he eventually linked with Will Smith and formed DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. They went on to become the first hip-hop act to receive a Grammy Award in 1989.
As an executive, Jeff launched A Touch of Jazz Productions in Philadelphia where he played a pivotal role in the rise of “neo-soul” He was instrumental in the careers of Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Floetry, Glenn Lewis, as well as acclaimed producers Carvin Haggins, Ivan Barias, Andre Harris, Vidal Davis, Darren Henson, and Keith Pelzer.
Currently, Jeff can be seen on the 1s and 2s on YouTube and Instagram Live each Wednesday at 12 pm EST and Saturdays at 3 pm EST on The Magnificent House Party.
EBONY sat down with DJ Jazzy Jeff at Draft King's The Compound and we spoke about curating the Hip Hop Mixtape Live Concert, how rap music has influenced professional sports, his partnership with Command Central powered by Raptive, and his feelings about the new Jazz on Peacock’s hit series, Bel-Air.
EBONY: When did you know that hip hop was going to be what you wanted to pursue?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I grew up around a lot of music. My father was an MC for Count Basie and my brother played bass for The Intruders. I loved the music that I grew up with. James Brown, Mass Productions, and all the rest that’s still relevant. But when Hip hop came along, I was like, “That’s my music.”
Due in large part to your reputation across the globe, the city of Philadelphia is known for producing some of the greatest DJs. Why is Philly the home of so many DJs?
I think I could liken it to basketball. I think the reason why Joel Embiid is so good is you have to have tough skin to play in Philly. So that goes with artists and the DJs as well. When Will and I started in Philly doing house parties in the wind ballroom, and when we went to New York, it seemed easy. We were in Philly trying to stop fights by entertaining people so you have to have tough skin. I think that it bred a lot of great DJs, producers, and artists. It's one of those things like, “Man, if I could survive the house party circuit in Philly, I can go anywhere in this world.”
After 50 years, Hip hop is stronger than ever. Why do you think that hip-hop has been able to thrive for so long?
Hip-hop started as the music of the youth. This is one of the reasons why I fought the notion that hip-hop was a temporary thing 30 years ago because if this is the way that young people express themselves, until they run out of inner-city youth, this will always be here. I think the beauty of it now is those kids that were young 40 years ago are celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop so it’s a generational thing. Now you have your mama's hip-hop, your hip-hop, and then you're going to have your kids' hip-hop. Because this is the music that was generated by the youth is why it's still here and is thriving.
The NBA playoffs are happening right now. What do you think about hip-hop’s influence on the NBA?
I think it's amazing. In Philly, Allen Iverson helped to make that connection with his style off the court and his game on the court. Now we have DJs spinning at NBA games. Rap music is played in the middle of a play, during timeouts, and commercials. I was at s Sixers game and every time they started something I heard at the beginning of “Summertime,” I was just like, “This is where we’re at now.” I love it.
As a producer, you helped launch so many careers. Of all the programs you could have endorsed, what was special about your partnership with Command Central?
I’ve always taken a role of a teacher even before I knew it. Whenever I find out something great, I gotta get on the phone and call somebody and share. Like, “Oh my god, I just figured out how to do this.” Even with A Touch of Jazz studio, I taught the producers how to use the gear, how to get their sound right, and how to be responsible for themselves. I started to realize that a lot of the production courses, and a lot of the DJ courses that were out there, always start from level five. I think it needs to start from a more basic level. Once again, if you equate this to basketball, DJ Jazzy Jeff’s program with Command Central is like having a court in your backyard where you just go out and start shooting jump shots. Eventually, you realize that you're good. The next thing you know, you try out for a team and then the next you know, you're playing for your high school. Everybody's curious about how to make music. How curious are you? Are you curious enough to try this to realize, “Oh sh**, I think this might be for me?”
How are up-and-coming producers and creators going to benefit from the program?
I think just understanding the fundamentals of picking your drums and learning how you want your song to feel, and how you want the melody to sound. Once you understand that, you can carve out those emotions in the music, you can do whatever you want to do. That's when you start to think about it and then you execute it. So Command Central gives the user a sketchpad to see if this is something they want to get into it. Some people make beats for their friends as a hobby. Some people make beats because they trying to get Nas or Jay-Z on it. I think this program is an entrance into production that will let the user learn how far they want to take it.
Out of all the events that celebrate hip-hop’s 50th anniversary, you are a part of one of the most unique with the Hip Hop Mixtape Live Concert. When did you come up with the idea for the show?
Charlie Mac and I had a conversation a couple of years ago, and I gave him a concept that I wanted to do a live mixtape. I wanted to curate a show that was like a mixtape that never stops. I might play three records and on the fourth record, a rapper comes out and performs the song. Then you might play two more, and then two people come out to perform. I want it to be where you cannot take your eyes off the stage because you don't know if Jeff is playing the record, or somebody is coming out to perform it. So Charlie took it and ran with it, He said,” Listen, I got Doug E. Fresh to host it, and here's the list of the acts I'm putting together the mixtape.” When Charlie came back with that lineup, I was just like, "Man, you have to explain to me how in the hell did you get all these people?" So it’s going to be something that I don't think people have ever seen on a stage. This is about to be one of the most amazing things that we've ever seen.
How are you going to determine what will be the last song?
I don't know [laughs]. It’s my job to put it together as a mixtape. I'm not approaching it like a show so by the time we get to the last song, it’s not going to matter. Also, there's no headliner. We're going to beat you down with music by the time we get to the last song [laughs].
Lastly, after being on one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, how does it feel to see how the new Jazz is being portrayed in the Bel-Air series?
I finally got Hillary [laughs]. Maybe not in my lifetime but in their lifetime. That made me happy [laughs]. But I Iove it. I love the new iteration of the show. I love how they took the playfulness of our show and added real subject matters to it. I think is great. It's trippy because I’m sitting there looking and they just called him Jazz but that's not me. I love it.