DJ Jazzy Jeff: Game Changer Curates Music for Life
Playing before a packed house, the turntablist bobs his head precisely to the rhythm as he cuts and scratches. Over two hours, he loops classic hip hop beats and funk samples under layers of memorable R&B and soul refrains.
“My job is to spread good music and good vibes on people who want to have a good time. It’s the biggest blessing that I had. It’s the biggest curse ‘cause it’s what keeps me up in the middle of the night. My internal DJ is always playing something that you can’t really control,” says Jazzy Jeff.
Roughly 30 minutes prior to showtime, the audience downstairs erupts with euphoria. Jazzy Jeff, chilling on a leather sofa in VIP with a dark Phillies fitted cap cocked to the side, lets his fingers surf across his MacBook keyboard. “Music is in all aspects of my life,” says Jazzy Jeff followed by a slight chuckle.
These days, Jazzy Jeff produces and streams Vinyl Destination, a biweekly web series chronicling his travels spinning records and rocking parties abroad. The smiling, enthusiastic DJ created Vinyl Destination to prove that playing American hip hop in other nations makes people feel good.
“Music is universal. Never in a million years would I think that I would be in Singapore playing a Biggie record. It gets the same love and admiration all over the world. We wanted to show that playing for 50,000 people is not hard to believe,” says Jazzy Jeff.
The West Philadelphia native born Jeffrey Townes made music history in the late 1980s and early 1990s as one-half of the platinum-selling hip hop duo, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. The pair delivered multiple hits including “Parents Just Don’t Understand,”“Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble,” and “Summertime”, which won the first ever Grammy Award in a rap category even though it wasn’t televised.
“We started when we were 18, 19-years-old, and to grow up doing something you love and people still enjoying it is great. We both know the music started all of this. It’s the nucleus,” says Jazzy Jeff.
Upon the duo’s split, DJ Jazzy Jeff went on to form his own music imprint, A Touch of Jazz, which introduced Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild. Following several of the hip hop duo’s contemporaries, his partner-in-rhyme, Will Smith, transitioned into a popular television star on NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and a high-profile Academy Award-nominated actor.
Jazzy Jeff, who had a recurring role as Smith’s best friend on Fresh Prince, says the group’s success made it possible for the both of them to evolve. “It’s professionalism. This was a business we all got into as teenagers to have fun. At some point in time, it clicks that it becomes a job. If you wanna keep it up, the big thing is just growing up in it,” adds Jazzy Jeff rocking from side-to-side with his hands in his pocket.
Jazzy Jeff still releases compilations and mixtapes. His scratches from time to time on releases by hip hop acts. The self-proclaimed elder statesman of hip-hop acknowledges how important he and the Fresh Prince’s music influenced hip hop’s crossover into the mainstream.
Still, Jazzy Jeff refuses to downplay the contributions of younger generations to hip hop culture. “I don’t think it’s fair for me to say what I want to see different. Hip hop belongs to everybody who does it. What really needs to happen is a bridge for the disconnect. You don’t have to like everything that they’re doing, but you definitely have to give them their respect,” says Jazzy Jeff.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.