DJ Jazzy Jeff, born Jeffrey Allen Townes on January 22, 1965, is an American DJ and music producer known for his exceptional skill in turntablism and innovative techniques that have left a lasting impact on the hip-hop scene. He rose to prominence during the late 1980s and early 1990s as one-half of the dynamic hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, alongside the multi-talented Will Smith. The duo was celebrated for their catchy tunes and energetic performances, notably influencing the genre.
Their most famous track, “Summertime,” still resonates with many as an iconic anthem, encapsulating a perfect blend of feel-good vibes and nostalgic memories. Outside of his work with Smith, Jazzy Jeff is also regarded as a trailblazer in developing and popularizing the transformer scratch – a technique widely attributed to him, alongside other notable DJs such as Spinbad and Cash Money.
In recent years, DJ Jazzy Jeff has continued to share his turntable talents through various online live streams – most notably, the Magnificent House Party series, which he started in 2020. As a way of connecting with fans and fellow music enthusiasts during unprecedented times, Jeff’s Magnificent House Party has solidified his reputation as a legendary DJ with an unwavering dedication to his craft and its evolution.
Early Life and Career
Growing Up in West Philadelphia
Born Jeffrey A. Townes on January 15, 1965, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, DJ Jazzy Jeff had an early introduction to music. Raised in West Philadelphia, Jeff was passionate about music and started developing his DJ skills in his parent’s basement. He attended John Bartram High School in Philadelphia, which further fueled his love for hip-hop.
Formation of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
In 1985, DJ Jazzy Jeff attended a house party where he was supposed to perform, but his hype man was missing. This led to an introduction to Will Smith, who later became known as the Fresh Prince. Smith filled in for the missing hype man, and the chemistry between the two was undeniable. This marked the beginning of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince as a hip-hop duo.
Together, they made significant strides in the music industry, selling over 5.5 million albums in the US. Their career started with 1985-1988: Early years and the “Rock the House” era. During this time, Jazzy Jeff also provided uncredited scratching on tracks for Korner Boyz and Cazal Boys, which helped pave the way for future success. The pair continued to perform together, with their most recent reunion performance in September 2019.
Grammy Awards and Recognition
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince won their first Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Rap Performance with the song “Parents Just Don’t Understand”. This success paved the way for further recognition in the hip-hop community.
Hit Albums and Singles
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince released their debut album, Rock the House in 1987, which included “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble,” a hit single that reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Their third album, Homebase (1991), featured the popular single “Summertime,” which peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Another hit song from their discography is “Boom! Shake the Room” from the album Code Red (1993). They also released a “Ring My Bell” version that gained significant attention.
Collaborations with Renowned Artists
Throughout his career, DJ Jazzy Jeff has worked with numerous well-known artists, including Big Daddy Kane, Eminem, Rhymefest, and CL Smooth. He founded his own production company, A Touch of Jazz, which has been instrumental in developing artists like Jill Scott. Jazzy Jeff’s collaborations and influence reach beyond just the hip-hop genre, making him a respected figure in the music industry.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Influences on the Show
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a popular 1990s sitcom, featured Will Smith as a street-smart teenager who moves from West Philadelphia to live with his wealthy relatives in Bel-Air. The show’s premise was inspired by the real-life experiences of DJ Jazzy Jeff, a famous disc jockey and record producer from West Philadelphia, who formed a hip-hop duo with Will Smith known as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.
The duo’s music and style significantly impacted the show, as it showcased the contrast between the street-smart, vibrant personality of the protagonist and the more formal, conservative environment of Bel-Air. The sitcom served as a platform for Will Smith to gain popularity as an actor, eventually leading to his successful career in Hollywood.
During its six-year run, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air left a lasting impact on popular culture. Some key aspects of the show’s cultural impact include:
- Introduction of hip-hop culture: The show helped introduce mainstream audiences to hip-hop culture, including fashion, language, and music. This was primarily due to the collaboration between Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, as they brought their authentic experiences to the screen.
- Iconic theme song: The catchy theme song, performed by Will Smith and produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff, quickly became a memorable tune and is still recognized today. It played a significant role in making the show a memorable pop culture phenomenon.
- Diversity and representation: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air contributed positively to diversity and representation on television by showcasing a predominantly African-American cast and highlighting relevant social issues. The show addressed class disparity, racial prejudice, and the importance of family values.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air demonstrated how music and entertainment could serve as a powerful means of bridging the gap between varying cultural backgrounds, ultimately leaving a lasting legacy in television.
DJ Career and Live Performances
Vinyl Destination Series
DJ Jazzy Jeff, an American hip hop and R&B record producer and turntablist, is well-known for his early career with Will Smith as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. In recent years, he has focused on his Vinyl Destination series, which showcases his DJing skills and captures the essence of DJ culture through various events, tour footage, and interviews.
Notable Shows and Tours
Throughout his 30-year career, DJ Jazzy Jeff has transitioned from DJing to acting, producing, songwriting, and back to DJing. He has performed at numerous high-profile events and concerts:
- Live 8 concert: On July 2, 2005, DJ Jazzy Jeff performed alongside Will Smith at the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia, reuniting their iconic partnership for a memorable performance.
- 211 Concerts: DJ Jazzy Jeff has an impressive concert history that spans over 211 shows, reflecting his dedication to his craft.
- International Performances: Jeff’s non-stop touring schedule has taken him across the globe, solidifying his status as an internationally renowned turntablist.
DJ Jazzy Jeff was also notably one of the first major DJs to transition from analog to digital formats, allowing him to maintain a demanding touring schedule and continue to innovate in DJ culture.
Production Work and Business Ventures
A Touch of Jazz Production Company
In his native Philadelphia, DJ Jazzy Jeff established the A Touch of Jazz production company. With a focus on R&B and neo-soul music, this venture has allowed DJ Jazzy Jeff to demonstrate his outstanding skills as a producer and work with a myriad of talented artists.
Work with Other Artists
DJ Jazzy Jeff’s extensive production portfolio includes collaborations with various well-known talents in the music industry. Some notable projects include:
- He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper: This collaboration with Will Smith as the Fresh Prince garnered immense success and highlights DJ Jazzy Jeff’s prowess as a producer.
- I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson: Another hit song produced in partnership with Will Smith showcases Jazzy Jeff’s ability to create chart-topping tracks.
- Method Man: DJ Jazzy Jeff worked with the renowned rapper on tracks that brought forth their combined talents.
- Straight Outta Compton Soundtrack: Contributing to the critically acclaimed film’s soundtrack, DJ Jazzy Jeff lent his production expertise to enhance the overall impact of the movie.
- The Magnificent: DJ Jazzy Jeff released this solo album that further solidified his position as a respected producer in the music industry.
By working with these prominent artists and contributing to various high-profile projects, DJ Jazzy Jeff has showcased his undeniable skills as a producer while simultaneously expanding his network and influence in the music world.
Personal Life and Philanthropy
Family and Health
Jeffrey Allen Townes, known professionally as DJ Jazzy Jeff, was born on January 22, 1965, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is married to Lynette Jackson, a seasoned author and lifestyle blogger. The couple celebrated their 10-year anniversary on June 12, 2023.
In 2020, DJ Jazzy Jeff experienced health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He reported symptoms similar to those of the flu but was not immediately tested for the virus. Townes later shared his experience with the public to raise awareness and encourage precautionary measures.
DJ Jazzy Jeff has been involved in various charitable initiatives throughout his career. Although specifics on his philanthropic endeavors are sparse, his commitment to helping others has been evident in the way he has used his platform and talent. By sharing his COVID-19 story, Townes used his voice to promote health and safety during the pandemic.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Will Smith still friends with Jazzy Jeff?
Yes, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff remain good friends to this day. The duo has collaborated on many projects and continues to maintain a strong bond, both personally and professionally.
When did DJ Jazzy Jeff start?
DJ Jazzy Jeff began his career in the early 1980s, gaining popularity as a DJ and eventually forming the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince with Will Smith in 1985.
How much is Jazzy Jeff’s net worth?
DJ Jazzy Jeff’s net worth is estimated to be around $8.5 million. His earnings come from his work as a DJ, producer, as well as various collaborations and performances.
What was DJ Jazzy Jeff’s reaction to the slap?
DJ Jazzy Jeff has not publicly addressed the slap incident involving Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars. It is important to note that DJ Jazzy Jeff was not involved or present at the event.
Which famous songs did DJ Jazzy Jeff produce?
DJ Jazzy Jeff is well-known for producing several iconic tracks, including the classic hit “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Other notable productions include Jill Scott’s “A Long Walk” and The Roots’ “The Next Movement.”
Are DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince still performing together?
Though DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith (The Fresh Prince) do not regularly perform together as a duo, they have reunited on stage for several special occasions. For example, they performed at Mixtape Live, an old-school rap concert, where DJ Jazzy Jeff spun classics for 50 of hip-hop’s greatest emcees on June 17, 2023.
From the archives: Interview with DJ Jazzy Jeff
Depending on which era you came up in you either remember DJ Jazzy Jeff as the New Music Seminar champ that teamed with the Fresh Prince to make some fun hip hop back in the late 80’s, the guy Uncle Phil kept throwing out of the house on “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” or one of, if not, the driving force(s) behind the Neo Soul movement that introduced us to Jill Scott. Regardless, anyway you want to call it just remember to put legend in the title.
What’s happening with you these days?
I’m just traveling and making music man. That’s the easiest way to describe it. I’m on my way to Canada tomorrow. I go to Toronto then to Dearborn, Michigan on Friday, then Ottawa Saturday and back to Toronto Sunday.
You’ve been doing a good job keeping out of the spotlight. A lot of people don’t know you’re behind a lot of Neo Soul music from Jill Scott to Bilal. What’s the reaction that people have when they find out how much you’re involved in?
A lot of people are shocked. I think the ones that are shocked are the ones that don’t look at you like you can do more than one thing. That’s probably the main reason why I’ve done it the way that I have. Its really hard for people to accept you doing different types of things. All of that stuff makes me up. Then I’ve always been low key and a lot of the stuff I do in music are for music lovers not necessarily to have your name plastered all over the place. I do it for the reasons that make me happy. Its not so much for the accolades, I definitely appreciate all the accolades, but I’ve never been that type of dude that I want to do something for everybody and then run around and tell everybody I did that.
How wack of a term is Neo Soul?
People have to give everything a label now. I think that was just the label that they came up with and its funny because its new soul but its like what we did with Jill Scott is no different than what they did with Minnie Rippelton. The only thing that is different is the time, so its like what are you gonna call it when it comes up twenty years from now Neo Neo soul? Soul was new when Minnie Rippleton did it. Everybody just needs to put a title on it, but I never concern myself with titles. I just look at it like the more people you can get to understand that there is a soulful type of music out there whatever you call it is fine as long as you go and get it.
What is it about Philly that has some of the best R&B coming out of it?
I think we have history here. I grew up listening to Gamble and Huff. I had the privilege of those rare occasions when Gamble would get on the radio and deejay. Later on getting to know him and him becoming a big influence it was music. Before hiphop there was R&B soul, there were classics like Earth, Wind & Fire or Confunction. I went to block parties before hiphop and we danced off of Earth Wind and Fire, Confunction and Mass Production and Brass Construction so we all had a backbone in real music. What we’re doing now is mixing what I grew up off of with the emotion that hiphop gives you. All we doing is putting the same chorus structure that Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye gave us to a banging as beat.
What’s your favorite classic Philly song like out of the Ojays or Mcfadden and Whitehead that whole crew?
You can’t really say that you just put that tag on Gamble and Huff. Gamble and Huff ran it. They did so much stuff. Gamble and Huff did the Jacksons, ‘Let me Show You the Way to Go’ which was one of my favorite joints. People don’t understand if you listen to that that’s Philly soul. You got the ‘MFSB,’ ‘Love is the Message,’ which was a huge classic disco dance hit and a lot of people don’t know that the roots of house music come from Philly International. That whole four on the floor that was the birth of house before they called it house.
Speaking of the Jacksons I heard you did some work with Michael. Did you go to Neverland and climb trees with him?
Nah, haha. Actually I was only in the studio with him one day and the cat who did the track down here just finished it out. Mike was cool. You gotta get over the fact that that’s Michael Jackson. My whole thing is I’m like damn this is the dude that did ‘Billy Jean’ and ‘Beat It’ and you are just in awe that its Michael Jackson and he is a legend. You kinda wish he could have stayed the same dude that he was but it doesn’t stop the respect level.
What was that whole day like when Mike came through?
I was cool I met Mike a couple times before. One time Will and I were at Arsenio Hall and he just showed up and that kinda bugs you out like damn that’s Michael Jackson. Actually Will kinda caught me out there one day when we were in the studio. My assistant called and said, ‘Will Michael Jackson is on the phone.’ I didn’t pay any attention to it and he just gets on the phone and he’s like hey man what’s going on I’m just chilling and he is talking so I just go about my business. So he’s like me and Jeff are in here just working on this record and he’s like yea hold on and he just hands me the phone and says Michael Jackson. I’m thinking this is like Michael Jackson from Def Jam or something and so I pick up the phone and he’s like ‘Hey How are you doing?’ and I just pause and it was funny because Will did it on purpose and just sat behind me laughing. He’s like ‘So what are you working on’ and I’m like I can’t even talk to you man haha. I get off the phone and I’m like how you just gonna throw me on the phone with Michael Jackson with no warning. So I wasn’t so much in awe when he came into the studio. I think I was more bugged out when we gave him the track and I got a call back from John Mclain from Dreamworks and was like Mike is in love with the track. You hear that like yea right and he kinda knew I was gonna be like that so what he said was Mike is in love with the track hold on and he clicks over and plays me the message that Mike left him. He was like yo tell Jazzy that track inspired me, I really love it and make me some more stuff like that. I was like hold on I need you to play that again and I went and got everyone in the studio because you can’t take that message back to somebody and expect them to believe you. I got everybody in the room and he played it and everybody was like wow. So I think I was more bugged out that we did something that Michael Jackson really loved and he didn’t change anything in the song. He left everything from the vocal arrangements on down.
We spoke with Masta Ace and he said being at your studio was one of the main reasons he decided to put out Disposable Arts.
He came down and I was like Ace you’re really dope. You’re playing me stuff you did years ago and its incredible so what are you doing. I think what happened was he came down and it was the energy and the way we were doing stuff down here. He told me that when he came down it really inspired him to jump back in because he got really disenchanted with the industry too. I was happy because I hate when really talented people get into a position when they don’t want to do it anymore. I know a lot of people that just get so frustrated with the business and the bullshit side of the business that they just want to shut down, but you can’t do that. I do it for music first. I was doing this with a job, this was my hobby and my hobby turned into a job. It’s cool to do something you really love and make some money off of it so it really bothered me when you get really talented people that are so tired of all of the stuff that doesn’t really mean anything that they just want to shut down. Its cool if the energy we got down here inspired him because that’s what you want. I need that from other people sometimes.
How would you describe the atmosphere down at A Touch of Jazz and how do you maintain that fun and creativity?
I always wanted to have a place that you can be creatively free where you weren’t working on a time schedule. I wanted it to be something where you can come in twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. It’s not open to the public so its very producer friendly for the cats that are down here. You’re given a situation where you can do whatever. I think that creative freedom helps people tap into stuff that they normally wouldn’t. A lot of producers are insecure about trying new things and when you make an environment where trying new things is accepted then it’s good. That’s what the whole thing is. Maintaining that is very hard because once you have any level of success, it gets very hectic. Then its not so much about the environment, it turns into how can we keep it successful. That’s the thing that always messes stuff up. I think a lot of my better days in music had more to do with before we were successful.
At one point there were a lot of producers that left your camp over some disputes. Can you go into any detail on what exactly caused those guys to move on?
What people don’t understand is that I’m cool with all of the guys. I ended up giving Vidal and Dre their old room back about two weeks ago. Its funny because its kind of the same thing I went through when Will went to California. Cats would come up to me like yo so how you feel that Will left you? I’m like damn nigga we weren’t married?
Its kinda the same thing with the producers. The only difference was that this was the most successful batch of producers that I had. I’ve had four batches of producers. James Poyser and Vikter Duplaix of Axis Entertainment were in a group of producers that I had. I’ve had a bunch of guys that have gone on to be really successful. A Touch of Jazz is almost like a college. I was smart enough to know that there is nobody I’m ever going to work with that’s not going to want to have their own shit one day. How many niggas grow up wanting to be background singers? You’re a background singer until you get your time to lead. So basically with A Touch of Jazz you get new guys that come in and you teach them and once they become successful it’s a natural progression. You can look at it like all of the guys I’ve ever had at A Touch of Jazz are like my kids. I love them guys to death. Every last one of them comes down here and plays me the records that they work on and asks advice and me vice versa. Its almost like a teacher student thing where the student leaves, goes out on their own, and the student sometimes comes back to be a teacher at the school. With all the success we had it becomes money issues. It becomes one of those situations where guys want to make a lot more money. I’ve always had the same philosophies at A Touch of Jazz and I wanted to keep my philosophies and a lot of the guys wanted me to change it. I’d rather charge five dollars and make you buy five things then charge you twenty dollars and you get one. We became so hot that you had guys that wanted to make fifty grand a track and it was kinda like as much as you may be worth fifty grand a track that’s not the way that I’m trying to take it. I’d rather have a lot of good music out then one good song. You get guys like Rodney Jerkins and you never really saw Rodney do five or six songs on someone’s album. Rodney did the single, the hot joint but because he was getting so much money you couldn’t pay him to do five songs. I look at it as opportunity. If I have five songs on your album I got five chances to have your favorite song. It just became an issue that a lot of guys really wanted to make money and we parted very good. In all actuality I let them out of their agreement because this isn’t the type of job you hold somebody to when they don’t want to be there. You’re not gonna be any benefit to me or me to you if you’re making fucked up music because you’re disgruntled. When you get to the point that you’re like I need to spread my wings and go my own way you have no gripes from me. A Touch of Jazz is based on my experience in being in the music industry. I got a million and one fucked up experiences and I wanted to turn it around. Contracts is bullshit but like a marriage when we realize this shit ain’t cool let’s break this contract and you go your way and I go mine. I don’t care if you become the hottest producer in the world under me you say you want to roll I gotta let you go. It’s just crazy that you started getting people like oh man all the producers are leaving but it was like all the producers graduated and its time for the freshman class to come in.
What do you hope that they learn when they leave?
I try to teach people how to make records. How to make records doesn’t have shit to do with making a beat. Its producer etiquette. You have to know how to talk to people. As a producer what you are is a coach and you have to figure out the best way to get your team to perform. There are gonna be some cats that are gonna be like listen I’m a god fearing man and I need to go to church, the coach needs to go to church with that player. Then there are some cats that are like listen dog I need to go to the strip club, the coach needs to go to the strip club because at the end of the day whatever it takes to get the best out of this person is what you have to do and that’s what I try to teach a lot of them guys. You have to become a people person. We get cats that come in and you play playstation with them or take them to get a cheese steak and take them to the club. You do everything to make them relaxed and comfortable so when you get into the studio you can just knock the work out. This is a fun job, but you have to make sure they are enjoying what they are doing because that’s when you are going to get the best performance. Carv came down last week and gave me a copy of the new Musiq album and people don’t understand how that makes me feel. This is one of my kids who’s successfully on his third Musiq album and is knocking it out and doing his thing. Vidal and Dre got the first single on Ruben, Vidal and Dre got the second Alicia Keyes single. What you have to understand is that anybody that has ever had any affiliation with A Touch of Jazz I am indirectly connected with them no matter what. That second Alicia Keyes single is mine because my kid made it. None of the credit goes to me and I don’t want it the credit to go to me its them but I’m like the proud parent watching their kid make it to the pros.
What’s the situation with Floetry because I heard they are no longer working with you.
I didn’t really know them very well. It was a situation that someone brought them to A Touch of Jazz and in a matter of seven days we recorded ten songs with them. It was really good chemistry and we ended up taking it to Dreamworks, they turned around and said we really love this and we want to give you a label deal and we formed this label deal with Floetry being the first artist. When I took it to Dreamworks it was done and it took a year and a half for Floetry to come out. I think what happened with Floetry is that they got in the middle of me and the producers going through our back and forth trying to work stuff out. Me and the producers were together for nine years so when you got nine years with somebody you have history and you can afford to go back and forth. When you bring somebody new in its like you’re not really involved in this beef. You don’t even need to make a comment about this beef because this beef has history. If you don’t give a fuck about somebody its easy just to walk away but we had times where we would all sit in a room and be crying trying to figure out how we are gonna work this out because we spent so much time together. These guys were 15 and 16 years old when they came down here. So what I think happened was Floetry kinda included themselves in the beef and said stuff. You never got anything from the producers. Anything that came out into the public about what was going on came from an outside source or something that somebody from Floetry said. It never came from the producers because it got to the point where the producers were stepping to them like that shit ain’t really cool, this is a situation we are trying to figure out how we’re gonna do it and it doesn’t have nothing to do with nobody. It just got to the point where I was so disgruntled with the entire situation with them taking a long time to put the record out that I just got out of the label deal. One of the lessons that I learned was that A Touch of Jazz was built off of us finding someone that no one knew, doing something really good and making the world love it our way. That’s what we did with Jill and my biggest mistake was once you gave the world Jill everybody tried to come to A Touch of Jazz and instead of me turning around saying I’m gonna do it again you start to work with all of these established people. We were anti industry did some shit the industry loved and then became industry. The Jill, the Musiq, the Floetry was probably the time I had the least amount of fun. I loved making the Jill record that was the best time in the world. I loved the release and success of the Jill record, but when all of the accolades started to come in it was kinda like argh.. First of all I don’t like phony people. We were trying to get work before Jill came out and I can play you stuff we did five years before Jill and we were on that live instrumentation, soulful, and I had people like ahh man I’m not feeling the shit you need a sample. It got to the point where it was like nobody likes our shit. Then once we got on of course it was a lot of those same people that were coming at you like ‘What up Dawg? When you gonna do something?’ and I’m like I understand how the game goes and I understand until somebody says your hot nobody is gonna take a chance on you. There are very few people in this industry that are willing to take that chance. It ain’t like someone took the chance on us we took the chance on ourselves. Once it started to get phony you were like ahh man and Jill is a very real person so she started picking it up. Then you got people calling like I need one of them Jill Scott records and I’m like that was made for Jill Scott I can’t give you a Jill Scott record I can give you a you record. I didn’t want to become the cookie cutter but that’s what the industry is based on. So one of the lessons that I learned is that you can’t play your game and be in the industry. You have to pick and choose if your going to do one or the other. You have to decide if your going to stick to your integrity and do your music or play that game.
How did you convince the people who came to you wanting a Jill sound that it isn’t exactly for them and maybe something else would be better?
You don’t say anything. You take them to the studio and custom make something that’s specifically for them. I would never acknowledge it. You just kinda go come on in the studio we’ll make you something hot. We’re gonna hear who you are, what you do, what’s your range and then tailor make something for you. To me that’s what a producer is supposed to do. I also am able to read between the lines that a lot of times people can’t convey to you that they want you to make them either a hit record or a good record. It was subtleties that I don’t think people understood. Jill Scott had no hits on her album. Jill had all good songs. Jill Scott didn’t have a runaway smash hit, she had twelve good songs not the three good ones and all the rest album fillers because there were no album fillers. A good album will go a lot longer than a great song. I got tired of people of buying records and you hear one or two songs and then you’re not feeling the rest. Its kinda like let’s try to make something where if you don’t like it its not a bad song. So it got hard when you had people who were like we want to give you the first single because we weren’t in the single making business. We were in the good record making business. I wasn’t trying to compete with Rodney or Timbaland or any of those guys they got that. They have that ability to go and make that one song that’s going to drive this record, I felt more comfortable making that record you just loved. I don’t want to make the popular song I want to make your favorite. You go back in the day your favorite Luther Vandross song wasn’t the popular one.
People are just looking for that money making thing.
And that’s what I’m talking about the music industry has absolutely nothing to do with music now. The music industry is the stock market and 50 Cent is the hottest stock right now. That’s no diss to 50 because I think he is doing what he should be doing. He’s like I got the hottest stock and I’m gonna charge you as much as I can for my stock and I’m going to throw it around because my stock ain’t gonna be hot forever.
There is a certain thing about being prophetic in your music and then it’s a point where you start talking about marking niggas for no reason whatsoever. It just gets to the point where it’s like ok that’s enough. Besides the news that’s just filling peoples heads up with stereotypes. What do you think about the violence in music?
I ain’t down with censoring. I’m for being free, but I have a sixteen year old son where now the tables have turned. Its kinda like this is some crazy shit because you buy albums now and all you got is dude done killed fourteen people on his record and sold twenty pounds of coke and this one done killed twelve and its kinda like I don’t know too many murderers that are making records. I don’t know too many kingpin drug dealers making records and its like ok you have this level of storytelling but now not everybody understands that its storytelling. I’m trying to get it through my kids head that if you want that car you have to work for it. Its crazy because everybody aspires to be Puffy, but don’t realize what Puff did to get where he is at. Puff was the intern and took out the trash and worked his way up. That’s where it throws me off. It’s a lot of different kinds of hiphop and what the media pushes and what makes money is anything with any level of controversy. Its just as many niggas talking good shit as the ones talking bad shit, but you don’t hear the good shit record because that don’t sell. What sells is 50 getting shot, beef and drama. The crazy thing is that’s the last step before they spit you out. They gonna milk it for all the money they can until something really bad happens and then they shut this shit down and move on.
Just like Ice Cube said, ‘They’ll have a new nigga next year.’
You know what I’ll tell you another thing I’ve been telling a lot of people. People don’t realize that we are the first generation that are growing old with hiphop. At your fiftieth birthday party think about what you’re gonna have them play. Think about your mom and pops, they are still grooving off of their oldies. Our oldies are gonna be Run DMC, Tribe Called Quest, Biggie, Tupac, all the rest of that shit. That tells me we still love hiphop, we will still buy hiphop, but there is nobody that makes hiphop for us. Ain’t nobody making 30+ hiphop records. It ain’t like we won’t buy that shit. Let me tell you something like I said my son is sixteen he wasn’t mad when Tribe Called Quest broke up we were. My son wasn’t happy when Pete Rock and CL said they were gonna do another album I was. What I’m learning to respect is that when we were growing up we had hiphop our parents had R&B, right now we got our hiphop and they got theirs. So its dope because when you sit and think about it my kid don’t like the Roots, the Roots are some adult shit. Nobody thought about that. I talk to cats in their thirties and they are trying to figure out how do they like hiphop at thirty. There is a side of you like is it still cool to like hiphop and I’m like yea it’s cool? I was on the radio here one morning and I did an old school set and I had a party that night. I went on the radio that morning and did that old school set and it was ridiculous how many people came through that night that were thirty plus. They were like oh my god you played ‘Nobody Beats the Biz,’ you played ‘Nice & Smooth’ etc. because that’s what we grew up off of. It’s not like we can’t have the club that plays just that or the shows. Its not like if Doug E. Fresh, Big Daddy Kane, Whodini and KRS went on tour we won’t go to see it. But what I’ve been looking at is what is marketed to an upper twenties to mid thirty year old cat. We ain’t even got clothes. What kinda clothes is a thirty-six year old man supposed to wear. Either you go old school and wear some Floresheim shit or you wearing jeans.
Hahaha! On the whole clothes thing why do you think once people do something in hiphop like wear a jersey or put on a doorag it becomes associated with something negative. I was on campus and this French girl came to me like why do black guys wear shit on their head?
Have you seen Bowling for Columbine?
You need to go watch that and that what will answer the question you were about to ask. It’s all media. That movie fucked my head up so much. Think about it the United States lives off of us being in fear. There is a snowstorm coming and what do you do you run to the store spend all your money because you think you are gonna be in the house forever. That’s the set up. You want to know why people in France are looking like why do they wear shit on their head it’s because that’s all the media shows. I went to South Africa twice last year it’s the most beautiful country I ever been in my life. Its almost like if they only showed the worst section of Compton on TV that’s what you think it is. You think everybody in Africa is dark skin, but that’s what they show you. All of this shit is media. They very conveniently will show you some dude they pulled over, the cops handcuffing him and make sure [the camera] shoots him with a throwback jersey on and an eight ball hat backwards because he represents bad. That’s the scam. They can make you think and believe anything they want.
I read a lot of your interviews and you spoke a lot on your DJ history doing house parties and shows in Philly was their any specific party you did where you like damn I’m the man now?
Nah not for me and I consciously didn’t want that to happen because I never wanted to be on my own jock because that’s the first way you can lose everything. I always want to be the underdog and show what I can do and get that kind of respect. I loved what I did. I wasn’t a battle dj, I ain’t want to try and be the best dj in the world. I knew I was good and I knew other cats who were good and it was kinda like hey let’s rock the party. I think keeping that mentality was what kinda helped throughout the years. Philly has always been a DJ town where the emcees hyped up the DJ and we would come up with routines and I think it was something different that everybody else was doing so when we kinda got a chance to go out and show people it was like them cats in Philly is doing something a little bit different.
I read somewhere you guys had the original script to House Party and you turned it down in order to not get sued or something. I wasn’t quite sure about that whole thing can you explain that again.
When we did ‘Nightmare On My Street’ New Line Cinema sued the daylights out of us, but they liked the record and they thought Will and I were talented from ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand.’ So part of the settlement was that we had to pay them some money, but they offered us two scripts to do two movies and if we didn’t want to do them then that was the end of the deal. Back then we were like all we gotta do is say no to the two scripts and we out. The first script was House Party because if you think about the premise of House Party one dude was a Dj and the other was a rapper so House Party was set up for Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. We weren’t thinking about doing movies back then. They were like what do you think about this and we were like oh we don’t like it and what about this oh we don’t like it ha we out. Then we were like oh shit Kid N Play blew up off of that. That was the whole situation it was part of a settlement with New Line. It was one of those things where they were like you guys took our concept and we’re mad, but we ain’t stupid enough to not know you guys aren’t talented. So we’re mad but we want to try and make this relationship work. It was cool because Will ended up doing some stuff with New Line later on and everything kinda worked out.
I’ve heard you tell the story a couple times about how you and Will met at a party and he got on the mic because your mc didn’t show up and the rest is history. Here’s the part I’m wondering about how did you break it to the dude that missed the gig that he was done?
I took both of them on a couple of shows and Will was just so much better than the other dude that it wasn’t a thing that I had to tell him that he wasn’t there no more he just stopped coming.
Back in these days at the height of the Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince era you guys had a lot of dough what’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done with your money just for no reason?
Took cats on a shopping spree. We had a lot of money and we weren’t selfish. We were from the hood and it was simple shit. If I can take five of my boys into a Foot Locker and say get whatever you want at the end of the day it will come up to be about one or two grand its kinda like shit I got five hundred thousand dollars in the bank. All you’re doing is making your boys happy and what you start to realize is that you have a lot of people who are just around you for that purpose. Its crazy being 19 years old and you got a million dollars, but who did I know that was 19 years old that had a million dollars to ask what to do with it. I couldn’t ask my mom because she never had a million dollar so she is just giving you the best educated guess. So you fuck up a lot of money and then on top of that black pride will mess you up bad. If I bring you in the studio and I know you don’t know a lot about studio shit and I’m like I’m running everything through my master link, then I’m gonna make it go analog through this board, then I’m gonna compress it and run it through a distressor you’re looking at me like I don’t know what the fuck he just said. But if you nod your head to me the first thing I’m thinking is that nigga don’t know what I’m talking about and he just nodding his head so I know I got him. That’s exactly what they did to us. They sat us in front of a lawyer and were like we are gonna try and get you into a such and such and then hopefully your royalty rates will be around 4% and then we can split the publishing down the middle and me and Will are like ok and he’s like I got em. Then he is like I got an accountant friend that I want you to meet and he puts you onto his boy. You the young black boy making a lot of money because if I got you then let me put you onto my accountant friend that’s gonna help you manage your money that you not gonna give a fuck about. If you have too much pride to say I don’t understand what you’re talking about when it comes down to your contract then you gonna have too much pride to say I don’t understand when it comes down to your taxes. That’s how a lot of young brothers especially in the entertainment industry get gagged. They are afraid to say I don’t understand, but the older that I got that shit became my favorite phrase. Call me stupid or whatever but Will and I probably lost millions of dollars just because we didn’t say I don’t understand. It was crazy to finally break away and get with a new accountant and all of a sudden I start getting all these residual checks and I’m hyped like I got $25,000 for such and such like it’s the first time that I got this not realizing I’ve been getting these shits for eight years I just never seen them.
Damn people will try and get you any way they can out here.
Yea man and I’ve just never been one of them dudes like you gotta pay your dues. A cat saying you gotta pay your dues is someone who wants you to go to the same situation they went through because their mad. I don’t want my son to pay his dues, if I can tell him something that’s going to protect his life then I’m going to tell him right off the bat. I don’t want him to go out there and get his ass whipped just as a lesson. If I can stop the lesson then I want to stop it. But dudes is always like ahh man you gotta pay your dues. You notice only black people say that.
Haha that’s true.
We got a whole bunch of shit that we say and do just to keep ourselves down.
Speaking of that all of the males in my family that reside in Philly are Masons and that came to mind when you said paying dues. Its supposed to be a support system for black people to move up but instead you got people dipping in taking money or people like my cousin who works real hard for the lodge yet they just keep saying you gotta pay your dues or you gonna get kicked out.
I’ve always been an individual dude and that’s not to say organizations aren’t good but what I realized is fifty percent of men and women get divorced and if its hard for two people to be on the same page how are twenty people going to be. I’ve always been one of those people where I respect others opinions. The morals that I have are different than my girls so I cant tell her that hers are wrong. Hers are right for her and mines are right for me. What I think happens is that you get so many people that try to instill their will onto everybody. The way I do shit is right for me and I never believe that there is a such thing as right and wrong globally. Its right and wrong individually. What’s right for you ain’t right for me. But you get people that really fight that’s why you cant have a discussion on religion or politics because everybody has their own shit. What’s crazy is that a lot of our choices in religion have to do with our parents choices in religion. If I grew up as a skinhead I might hate black people, but my mom who brought me into this world told me it was wrong. And it took me a minute to realize my mom was wrong on a lot of shit. I just had to get old enough and evaluate how my mom did things and figure out if its right for me. So I’ve always been one of them cats who is like let me figure out where my shit is. I make mistakes, I made a ton of business mistakes, but they were my mistakes.
I definitely agree with you especially the whole mom thing because one time I said to my mom you think you’re always right and she was like yea I am and I was like I can’t believe she actually told me that because if that was anyone else you’d be like are you crazy?
My mom still thinks she knows who I need to be with. My mom will tell me how come you didn’t stay with such and such and I’m like well mom I didn’t like her. And its like is it more important for me to be happy with who I want to be happy with or who you want to be happy with.
It gets to a point where you have to get out from under your parents wing because you have to learn to make your own choices. There are a lot of things that my mother said that I was like damn she was right, but then it should have been me who made that choice.
Yea it’s your choice. What I’m trying to do with my kid is I realize you have a certain amount of time to instill views, values, and morals and after that its for him to say I’m gonna use some of this shit and some of it I’m not. So you just try in that early period in life to show em as much as you can. My pops passed away when I was ten from cancer and nobody ever told me my pop had cancer. It bugged me out because I’m in the living room right after he passed away and my brother came out and said we all knew dad was gonna die. That fucked me up and I never said shit to my moms till two years ago and I told her that was wrong. It was wrong for you to think I didn’t have enough intelligence to know something was wrong with my pops. But I understand my mom did a hell of a job raising me, but she not gonna do everything right. We all make mistakes and I understand because right now im making mistakes with my kid.
Back in the day around ’89 I remember you guys catching a lot of flack for winning the first grammy for rap and a lot of people were saying you guys didn’t represent the hiphop that was out at the time and the grammy’s really have no street cred on top of that. With that said what do you think was the importance of accepting that award in the midst of those negative aspects and what did it mean for you guys to win a grammy?
Kenny Gamble told me when you are making history or setting trails you don’t know when you are doing it. Cats got mad at Run DMC when they did a rock record. We get mad when we don’t understand. Will and I didn’t change who we were. We did what we did and it blew up and we got nominated for a grammy and we won. The thing that I laugh about is Will got flack for being a hiphop artist doing a tv show and we got flack for selling records and crossing over. Jay-z made his living doing that. Its like the same things we caught flack for is mandatory for you to be successful today. The only thing that we did was open doors for Eve to sell millions of records and go and do a tv show or for Ice Cube, who wanted to make records and act and then go into directing. It was the shit because there was a side of me that was like they don’t care what we’re doing so for them to even acknowledge we are out here [is important] because all we’re trying to do is get acceptance. Talking to old school cats like Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel and how they would say when we did shows we danced and dressed up and did everything because they dissed us so hard we had to show our worth and why we should be here. So with the acceptance you don’t turn that away. We got flack from the guys that were our peers not from the older guys because the older guys were like we fought like hell for acceptance and now they want to accept you don’t turn it down. They aren’t gonna accept you all the way.
You mentioned the tv show so we gotta get some questions on that. What did you think the first time you heard you guys were gonna be on a tv show?
I remember when they called Will out. We were on tour in Detroit and Will said I just got a call they want me to audition for this tv show and he jumped on a plane flew to LA and flew back the next morning. He was like yo man all these executives from NBC and Quincy Jones was there, we did it at Quincy’s crib and everyone liked it and they want to give me my own tv show. I was like wow that’s dope, but I don’t think it hit me until he recorded the pilot and we went over his house and he showed it. You think tv show I’m thinking this is a nigga with a camcorder.
Then I saw it and I was like oh shit? This is like Happy Days, this is some big shit and he did good. I wasn’t surprised at how well Will did ever because there is nothing that surprises me with him. Then he was like hey man they want you to do a couple spots on there and I was like nah I ain’t with that. Finally he convinced me like come on man just do it and if you like it then cool. You never really paid any attention to it because we went from performing in front of 30,000 people to 100 in a studio audience, so you don’t think there are gonna be six million people that watch you every week. You just know about the people in the audience. But it was very different because you walk down the street and you got a eighty year old white lady saying your Jazz off the Fresh Prince. They never said your Jazzy Jeff off of Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, so it gave me an understanding that tv is a different animal.
How did they come up with the idea to throw you out the house every time and what did you land on a trampoline or something?
Nah it was a mat and I did it the first episode and they liked it then they did it again and all of a sudden they were like people like that we want to keep doing it. It was funny but that’s how the show was. They’d try stuff get a response, try it again and again it just keeps going. I was really shocked when it came to a situation where I might have been like the third most popular character on the show. I’m in denial. I said I was gonna do this and leave it alone and now you trying to tell me i’m getting fan mail. I’m not understanding that. I’m not looking at it like I’m acting. You give ne a script I read it and everybody laughs. I don’t understand it, but hey I’m going to do it plus the money was good.
What’s fine ass Hilary doing now?
I talked to her one time after we left the show. I know she got married but it was cool because those people became family.
So how much did you prepare for the acting since you didn’t take it seriously.
I didn’t prepare at all and its crazy because I got so many offers to do movies and I was terrified. More than anything music was so much of my life I needed to make sure the music thing wasn’t going to work before I tried something else. I hit a crossroads where it was like music is my love and your music is doing ok, but what about this acting thing. That was one of the first lessons I learned about happiness. Sometimes what is most financially lucrative may not be what makes you happy. Success doesn’t always have to mean money and it took me a minute to understand that. I turned down a lot of money because it wasn’t something I was gonna be happy doing.
What were some of the ideas fools were coming with like let’s make a whole series of you flying out of different houses?
None of them ever went as far as development. I was more so I’m not with that. They wanted me to do one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, they wanted me to do this Toy Soldiers movie, there were a couple movies they wanted me to do. I didn’t even get to the point of reading the script. They would call and ask if I was interested and I would kinda play it off and not call them back.
You mentioned the old white ladies coming up and recognizing you. What’s the most unusual or craziest encounter you’ve had based on your tv celebrity status?
This lady might have been 65 or 70 years old and she came up to me and I’m real friendly. She came up like oh my god Jazz how are you doing and I’m like hey how are you doing? Then she is like aww you’re a cute little something and I’m like oh thank you and she kept saying you need to meet my granddaughter and I’m going along with her like yea. Then her granddaughter came up and she was trying to introduce me to her and I took a picture with her granddaughter and she is like get her number, get her number. Now we’re starting to get a little awkward and what happened was she came up to and grab me by my cheek and stuck her tongue out and was gonna try and tongue me.
The old lady or the granddaughter?
The old lady
I put my hand up in front of my mouth and pushed her face away and her granddaughter grabbed her embarrassed just shook her head and walked her away. I was walking down the street shaking. I was like oh my god this 70 year old lady tried to tongue me down.
What’s your perspective on the Sixers?
If we can get over these injuries we gonna be all right but that’s been our shit the last four years. Everybody is hurt. Allen ain’t playing tonight, Derrick Coleman, ain’t playing, Marc Jackson etc. but for us to be leading the division with all the injuries I think with allen healthy and Glenn Robinson back and Marc Jackson we can win the east. Ain’t nobody beating the Lakers though. They need to break the west up.
Eagles might get a Superbowl.
I hope so. We always click at the beginning of the season and sputter at the end. I’m happy that we sucked ass at the beginning and we clicking at the end. We give up shit on the run, but we don’t give up touchdowns. Who do you prepare for on the Eagles you got three running backs that will do you, you got Donovan that will do you, Donovan passing to nine receivers you don’t know who to prepare for.
Is there any chance for another Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince album again?
We’ve been talking about it. I’m supposed to be spending New Years with him. First of all Will’s the biggest movie star in the world then he’s got three kids so everything is different. Its not that he doesn’t want to do it or we don’t want to do it its just the timing and the scheduling. I’m touring like crazy, in the studio like crazy and he’s doing movies so if we could just find the time and block out a month and just go do it I would love to do it.
Be honest with this one. I’m sure Will previews a lot of his new music with you. Do you ever hear some of his stuff and be like that’s kinda wack dude maybe you shouldn’t do that because a lot of Will’s music is questionable lately.
I have enough respect that I’m not saying that’s wack I’m just knowing I wouldn’t do that. That’s the level of respect where I can’t say that it’s wrong because it may work for you. When he did ‘Men in Black’ I did not like ‘Men in Black.’ ‘Men in Black’ was a huge record. It grew on me, but I didn’t like it when he first did it. But we did records I loved that nobody else liked so maybe that was a bad call on my part. Will is very talented and when he focuses on what he wants to do he does it. I’ve watched him get into movie roles where he became that person. When he did Ali he made me uncomfortable. He would call me and talk like Ali the whole time. He gets into character. I laughed the first fifteen minutes and then after that it was like yo nigga you got to stop. So I know how much he puts into what he does when he wants to do it so I guess its kinda hard when he is working on movies to get into that mind set of music. I’m in the music mind set twenty-four seven so it’s a little easier for me than it is for him.
Who are some people out right now who you feel are pushing the creative limits?
Outkast is the shit. I like them because they march to their own beat. They have never done anything that you expected them to do. They are very good at being themselves and I love that and respect that.
Who are the current members of ATOJ and how does someone get down with the team?
Right now we got this kid named Damon and his father is Michael Henderson and this guy Peanut whose dad is one of the original Ohio Players so I got a lot of offspring from old soul down here now. You got the hiphop dudes Kev Brown, Ken Wood, and Dave Gaines. There’s no prerequisite its just kinda like if you have the love for music and this is something you are willing to do and willing to put in the time you come down and holla. A lot of times you get people who are really good and can find a place down here that just don’t have the patience.
Do you accept demos?
All of the people that I’ve ever had or worked with came from somebody. I don’t like taking demo tapes. That has never helped me. I always said talented people breed talented people. If you know someone who can rhyme I guarantee they know ten other people who can rhyme. If Jill comes to me and says this guy can sing his ass off its like ok where’s he at.
Last question before we go into the bullets what do you guys have in store for 2004.
More than anything ATOJ is gonna become fully internet based. I don’t want to be dependent on a record company to say I believe your shit is good let me put it out for people to buy it. What we’re gonna start doing is making our own records and putting them on the website. You’ll be able to preview some of the songs and if you like it then you can buy it. I think thats where the music industry is going just being more self sufficient. Im just tired of depending on an industry thats extremely unstable. I got an mc Chef Word and his album should be out early spring, I got a soulful arftist V that we do all kinds of stuff from soul house to r&b. he has a really big record out that myself and kenny dope put out under the name Soul Fusion called I got rhythm. We have a young lady Tanten thats like a young Mary and we’re finishing up her album. All of the ducks are lined up its justr a matter of going into the studio making sure they’re projects are done right and moving onto the next one.
The Bullets section: (Philly Special)
There is a new mayor in Philly he’s a sorcerer and his laws are really strict. He sees you walking down the street and he don’t like it, he’s gonna charge you and the penalty is either you fight Joe Frazier in his prime for ten minutes or drink a bucket of donkey urine. Which would you choose?
You said a bucket man I’m gonna have to just run from Joe Frazier.
Best subs Broad Street or Market Place?
Which would you rather do camp out in a sleeping bag in south Philly or get locked up in a small room with Bernard Hopkins for eight minutes and give him insults.
I’m sleeping in the bag in South Philly.
Who’s most likely to scare the shit out of you an ex-marine or Beanie Siegel?
Probably an ex-marine because I don’t think Beanie can do too much shit anymore.
Best place for tattoos South Street or Chinatown
I’m 27 and I just finished school this year and I need a baby mama who would make a better baby mama for me Eve or Jill Scott?
Favorite Tennis Top Tens or Jack Pascell?
I’m on 11th and Olney and somebody threatens to take my umbrella because they think it looks better with their outfit and they threaten to jack me up. Who do I call for back up Musiq or Bilal?
I’m somewhere on Chestnut sitting on the curb washing my shoelaces with bleach and baby milk and all of a sudden I feel somebody beat me in the back of my neck with a fishing rod. I pass out and when I wake up the police said their were only two people around Wendy Williams and Allen Iverson. Who beat me?
Who would win in a brawl between the O’Jays and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes?
The O’Jays, they’re backstabbers
Final question. The government wants to send you on a spy mission and you have a choice of two disguises a high top gumby or a lime green Michael Jackson thriller jacket, which would you wear?
The high top gumby because I could put a hat on.
Date: January 10, 2004