Perhaps to most, he is known as Jazz, the "streetwise" best friend of Will Smith who Uncle Phil routinely tossed out of his mansion on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But to those with hip-hop in their blood, the man born Jeff Townes is the magnificent DJ Jazzy Jeff, a legend who has been holding it down at the wheels of steel for more than two decades. He is the man, who, along with the Fresh Prince, spawned countless rap careers with the 1988 classic, He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper. He is your favourite DJ's favorite DJ.
Jeff recently spoke with MVRemix in his first interview since the completion of his latest album, The Return of the Magnificent. The 16-track album features Method Man, CL Smooth, Big Daddy Kane, Peedi Peedi, Kardinal Offishall, Raheem DeVaughn, Rhymefest, and more. It is currently slated for a May release.
MVRemix: First off, congratulations on finishing the album.
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Thank you, thank you, thank you. [Laughs]
MVRemix: When did you start it?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: I actually started pretty much about a year before I finished. What was crazy is I probably did about nine songs in a month, and was on pace to finish in a month-and-a-half. Then me going on the road and traveling as much as I do, and also, this album, using people who have careers and lives, it was a lot harder because then a lot of it became a waiting game on when someone was available, and when I was available, and trying to coordinate the schedule. That's what pretty much took it long.
MVRemix: What is it about this record makes you feel like it's the best you've ever done [as stated in your press release]?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Well you know what's funny? I was telling someone today the big difference in this record is [that] I recently moved, and I recently moved studios, and completely built a studio from scratch. The completion of this record is a lot deeper than just finishing the record, you know? When I look back at the completion of this record, I'm also looking at a room that was nothing when I started this record, so it was almost like, "Wow, you basically started the record, and built the studio, and finished the studio, and got it sounding how you want it, and got a vibe, and got people to come down and just finish it." So it was kind of like a life experience instead of just a record. It was cool, because this was a record that I decided to pick up the phone and call people that I really wanted to work with, and see what happens. I really enjoyed it.
MVRemix: Last year you toured a lot, including four tours in four months. How was that?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Very hard, very hard. I mean, I didn't really think about it when I did it, and it was pretty grueling. It was definitely grueling on the body. I just love it. I love it so much. It's funny, because I kind of said that I can't do that—that was a little too taxing on my body—and I literally did the exact same thing between March and June. [Laughs] So I'm sitting here like, "You did it again!"
MVRemix: Where did you go last year?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Everywhere. I tour the UK a lot, I tour the US consistently. I try to do one or two tours in Canada a year, I try to go to Asia and Australia once a year. Last year was pretty much the first time that I pretty much went to Asia twice, Australia once. I was in the UK about six times, in Canada about three times. You know, it was just, you pretty much go where the demand is. I enjoy it so much that I remember, like, "Wow, playing at that club in Bangkok was really hot. I can't wait to go back." So when they ask you to go back, you end up going without thinking about the 22-hour long flight and the 13-hour time difference and how it shocks your body.
MVRemix: So what is it like being on tour with Jazzy Jeff? I imagine it ain't six dudes in a van driving nine hours a day….
DJ Jazzy Jeff: You know what? The funny thing, sometimes it is. I mean, I like to experience— like, you know what's funny is, when Will and I were touring back in the day, we didn't care about where we were going, we didn't care about the location, the people. We wanted to do the show and go back home. So it's a lot different to go to these places that you've gone now, where you meet people, you understand the culture, you understand the food, you understand the sights, you're taking pictures, you're taking a lot more in. So a lot of the touring, you know, as well as spreading music to people in different places, is also experiencing different cultures, experiencing different music and the way that people live their lives. It gives you a great appreciation for where you're from. And I try to make it as loose and as fun as I possibly can, because I look at it like, my job on tour is to make people have a good time, and the last thing that I can do is make my job so stressful and my job is to make you have a good time. I gotta have a good time, and hopefully that comes through in my spirit to the people that you're playing for.
MVRemix: It definitely seems like a good time.
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Yeah, it is, it is. We have a ball. Trust me, it's grueling and it's hard, but what's really cool is to know that you have friends in Hong Kong, and know that you have friends in Shanghai, that you get off the plane and you can call these guys and they take you to your favorite restaurant over there, and take you shopping. You know, it's different, because it's like, "Wow, I got friends in Hong Kong like I got friends in Philly." It makes you really understand that as big as the world is, it's not as big as you think.
MVRemix: Yeah, in the documentary y'all shot while touring overseas, I saw you talking about that street in Hong Kong that's nothing but sneakers, and I just found out my brother lives five minutes from there.
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Yeah, yeah. And I didn't discover that street until the third time that I was in Hong Kong. So to kind of know that— We used to have people take us there. Now, it's kind of like, as soon as we land and get to the hotel, we go exchange some money and get a train pass and we catch the subway there, because we know how to get there now.
MVRemix: Is Charlie Mack still first out the limo?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: [Laughs] Charlie Mack will always be the first out of the limo. He's just a little bit older and he doesn't go get in too many limos now.
MVRemix: Where do you keep your Grammys?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Ooh. I feel bad, because it's in a box, and it's only in a box because I moved about a year-and-a-half, two years ago and I'm really trying to figure out where…I want to put it.
MVRemix: Where's the box?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: In the closet. As much as I appreciate all the awards and accolades, I have never let that get me to a point like I have to keep that on display and things like that. I gave my mom a bunch of my awards because, my mom, she loves that. She appreciates all the rest of that stuff. It's always kind of been something for me that I felt as soon as you get too wrapped up in what you've done, what you're doing is over. I still have too much more that I want to do to worry about what I've done.