DJ Jazzy Jeff admits to being stopped often, to dismissive fans asking, Jeff, what are you up these days? While hes chosen a different light than his former MC partner Will Smith, Philadelphias beloved DJ has been successfully keeping Hip-Hop very much alive, worldwide. The former champion of the turntables has blossomed to a producer deeply responsible for the thriving sound of music in several genres. As the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed The Magnificent, DJ Jazzy Jeffs Return to the Magnificent is another strong album carving Hip-Hop immortality out of a mere Touch of Jazz.
A new house, a new studio, constant touring and production, the better question might be What isnt Jazzy Jeff up to these days? The Philadelphia pioneer reflects on his Hollywood homeboy, his new vision, Slim Shady and the cheese-steaks from the 215 that wont keep you so slim. Keep your handshakes to yourself as you get to know one of the quieter icons within rap.
AllHipHop.com: What bothers you more walking down the street when people ask you where Will Smith is or when people try to do the handshake with you?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: [Laughs] Probably the handshake. I dont get mad at the Will questions. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince started all of this. There would be no Men in Black, Independence Day, Made in America, Ali, there would be no Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, no Floetry, no A Touch of Jazz none of this, if it wasnt for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. I have to have enough respect to know that I have to answer whatever question comes from that cause that is the origin of all of this stuff.
AllHipHop.com: How do you look back at the character you played on the show? How much of you is that?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I tell people Im not an actor, I wasnt an actor; I didnt have any aspirations in being an actor. This was one of those situations where they wrote me lines, and I said em. I said em like Im from West Philadelphia; Im sayin em the only way I know how to say em. What happened was, it blew my mind that Id say em, and people would laugh. Im like, Do they really think this s**t is funny, or are they just laughin cause thats what youre supposed to do on television? It took a minute before I realized that theyre really laughing. I used to say, Dont write me anything else. If you write me somethin serious, I dont think Ill be able to pull that one off.
Yeah, it was me. Of course Im not as much as a no-brainer as the character of Jazz. I think a big thing of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was that this was me and Wills character.
AllHipHop.com: With the first Magnificent, it got some excellent reviews for its groundbreaking production. With The Return of the Magnificent, you flipped a lot of familiar breaks and samples. Given the organic direction of the first, thats kind of unusual. How conscious was that decision?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I think it was kind of a throwback thing. Im real good friends with Kenny Dope, and it was funny, because before Jay Dee passed away, we had all talked about just going back and grabbing all the old popular breakbeats and just flippin em again. It was definitely a conscious thing just with the nostalgia of Hip-Hop. Also, it was me wanting to grab some of the people that I [worked with]: CL [Smooth], Big Daddy Kane and the rest of them, I knew it would be a good match because it follows the theme of Hip-Hops past.
AllHipHop.com: Theres some very conceptual records on here. Go See The Doctor 2k7 with Twone Gabz and Run That Back with Eshon Burgundy and Black Ice are examples. Being that you produced this record, how active were you in developing those concepts?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I dont ever like comin in the studio and just working. A lot of it is just conversations. We might talk about, Man, Im tired of this bulls**t it always starts from some sort of a conversation that somehow turns into a song. Thats when you tap into the best stuff. A lot of these guys that came down like Kane or Method Man or Kardinal Offishall, we didnt even work the first day. From X-Box to just sittin and talkin to listenin to stuff and Oh, you remember? Those conversations make great songs. Run That Back was Black Ice and Eshon Burgundy talking about growing up in Philly, and how it was and how it is today. I like to do it consciously, but I want [artists] to create the song subconsciously.
AllHipHop.com: Brand New Funk 2k7 is getting a lot of love on the Internet and on radio. When QBs Finest redid The Bridge, a lot of people thought it was a mess. When EPMD did You Gots to Chill 97. Fans take it seriously. Were you concerned with damaging the legacy of a classic by redoing that joint?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: If I felt it was gonna be a risk, I would have never did it. That I was something that Ive had quite a few people want to do. In redoing it, as much as its a remake, I made it exactly like the original. Same format, same structure, same scratches. What I wanted to do was update it. I dont think anybody would have did it as well as Peedi did. Peedi listened to the original, Peedi followed Will [Smiths] format, and then added his own twist. When I heard Peedi redo the Slick Rick record [Mona Lisa], I knew Peedi knew how to pay homage to the originals. The beauty of it is if I would have did it and it didnt come out right, I wouldnt have put it out.
A lot of times Im drivin and the 12 oclock lunch mix comes on, and theyll play the original [DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince] Brand New Funk, and people always say, Aw, that was my song! This sounds good today. So why not beef up the drums a little bit and fix everything that you would fix if you did it today and flip it?
AllHipHop.com: Supposedly, you recorded a track with Eminem called When To Stand Up, and I never knew this. Why did this record never surface?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: What was the title? You know whats funny? Let me tell you I did this track with Eminem; we never gave it a title. The only person that had a copy was him and myself. I gave it out to a couple people because I did this for the first [album] I was about to do. It was really, really funny that I was in a record store in Japan and I actually bought the record. Im one of those people that Im not mad at that. Thats actually flattering to me.
AllHipHop.com: Did politics hold that record back, or you werent feeling it or what?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: My first record deal was with Sony. I sat down and did a mixtape called The Vibe Im On and I did it specifically for Sony to pass around, to let them know this is the vibe Im on. These are the type of records Im gonna do. I did something with Common, I did something with Channel Live, I did something with Shorty No Mass, I did something with Eminem, I did something with Masta Ace; I was comin on the vibe. When I started to play them some of the stuff, they were like, Ehhh, you gonna do something with Will? I dont want to be made to feel like I have to do something with Will for commercial credibility.
Me and Will will always do something together. But I dont want you to think the record hes doing with Will is hands-down gonna be the first single, because you dont even know if thats the best record on the album. I was trying to get away from the politics. What happened was they dismissed me, Just keep cuttin some more [records]. This was before Eminem blew up. So seven months later, I get a call [saying], Oh my God, this Eminem record is fabulous; were ready to put it out. Why couldnt you hear this as a great record before you knew who he was? I actually asked out of the deal. I waited another five years before I put The Magnificent out.
For ten years, I made records some of em the way I wanted to, a lot of them the way the record companies or the industry dictated. I stopped because I didnt want to do that anymore. I want to make records like I want to make; I want to make records for people who like what I do. I never put it out.
AllHipHop.com: Youve got interludes on The Return of the Magnificent where youre trying to reach Will Smith and everybody is giving you the runaround. Is that staged, and if so, why would you do that?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I wanted to make all the interludes on the album relevant to something in my life. So [the theme of the album is] let me have to go to Atlanta to pick up my son to get me in the car to go from song-to-song. So many people ask you Wheres Will? and I dont necessarily know what Wills doing right at this moment, and I know those are things people ask because theyre fans and theyre curious.
I thought it would be really funny to have me getting stopped by the cops. So I thought itd be funny to use my association to Will and the show to get out of a ticket. What would really be funny is if [Will ignored the call]. One thing about Will and I is, we can do that all day long, unrehearsed. That has been a big part of our success, were very much on the same wavelength. I literally put the mic in the phone, I called him, he answered the phone [and the joke] was one-take. It was funny because the guy who was taping it I had to edit his laughs out. He couldnt believe we did that unrehearsed.
AllHipHop.com: I mentioned you in an editorial I wrote about Little Brother breaking up. It was 2003, you opened for them at TLA in Philly. I saw you jump up and down like a kid when they performed. You, ?uestlove and Pete Rock were instrumental in their debuts success. As a producer and DJ, how did 9th Wonder leaving the group sit with you?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: It crushed me. When Little Brother came out and I first met them, I sat all of them down and told them, Dont let the industry, dont let your friends, dont let the outside influence get in the way of what you guys are doing. You guys are important. Little Brother to me, was our new Tribe Called Quest; they were our new group. It wasnt about what hit producers you had on the album, you were a self-contained unit. There was a producer/DJ and two MCs. I loved the fact that everything you heard from Little Brother was them. Thats Gang Starr, thats Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and what other groups do we have anymore? That was a breath of fresh air to me. When I got the call like, Were gonna go our separate ways, it was a punch in the stomach. It was the same punch when Tribe and Pete CL went their ways. Im fighting to hold onto some of the realness in Hip-Hop, and you gave me hope, and you just punched me in the stomach. At the end of the day, I dont care why my sister and her husband got a divorce, I just didnt want them to get a divorce.
AllHipHop.com: Where is the best cheese-steak in Philly?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Wow! Everybody always tries to name the spots that people. Ishkabibbles is a great cheese-steak, but its also one of those well-known spots. The best spots are probably the spots in your neighborhood. Ill tell people go on 57th and Spruce. Go to the neighborhood joint where the guys got the grill behind there and they sell potato chips and penny candy and all the rest of that. You cant go to Jims, you cant go to Pats; you gotta go to where they give it to you, and the bottom of the bag is greasy.
Understand, I grew up in West Philly. What makes a cheese-steak authentic is the roll. All of the cheese-steak rolls come from one bakery Amorsos. I grew up five blocks from the Amorsos bakery. I used to walk to school and smell the bread bakin.