INTERVIEW | DJ JAZZY JEFF “I HAD MANY OFFERS AFTER THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR BUT I WANTED TO FOCUS ON MUSIC.” (@djjazzyjeff215)

dj jazzy jeffThere are only a few artists that man­age to be revered by both hip hop con­nois­seurs and the mass audi­ence alike. One of the musi­cians to have the mer­it to be in this exclus­ive club is the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff.

The Phil­adelphia nat­ive broke through in the late 1980s by hook­ing up with the soon to be Hol­ly­wood super­star, Will Smith to form DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. The duo won their first Grammy Award exactly thirty years ago in 1989 with their per­form­ance of the single Par­ents Just Don’t Under­stand, which helped off­set a massively col­our­ful career for the pair.

Fol­low­ing his strong jour­ney with­in the music and enter­tain­ment scene, Jazzy Jeff now returns to the United King­dom next month on April 12th for DJ Jazzy Jeff’s House Party, fea­tur­ing UK’s own, NAO at Elec­tric, Brix­ton.

I Am Hip Hop had the massive hon­our of hav­ing a chat with the icon ahead of his return to this side of the pond. Jeff is no stranger to the UK music scene, cre­at­ing a pres­ence across the coun­try with his music and per­form­ances over the years.

“Hip hop scenes in any coun­try all have their own style, in the UK, I have love for Skep­ta, Stormzy and all those guys”, Jeff shared.

“Whenev­er I play UK music on my list, the crowd always goes crazy. People are always sur­prised, think­ing ‘How does he know?’”.

For many young Brits in the early 1990s, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was their ini­tial gate­way to the hip hop uni­verse. Music, lin­guist­ics, fash­ion, art, and social issues that many young­sters were not pre­vi­ously exposed to were now part of their life.

Des­pite only being sup­port­ing char­ac­ter as Will’s best friend, Jazz became one of the most recog­nis­able per­son­al­it­ies in sit­com his­tory. The DJ was ini­tially reluct­ant to take on this even­tu­ally sym­bol­ic role, but even­tu­ally took it on to merely sup­port his com­rade fol­low­ing Will’s per­sua­sion.

“Act­ing was not some­thing I even wanted to con­sider, I couldn’t see myself act­ing at all. It was Will who con­vinced me, he was my friend, it was his jour­ney

“Will said, ‘Think about it this way, you only have two epis­odes to do, so if you don’t like it, you only have two to do and if you do like it, you have two to look for­ward to!’”.

It seems that Jeff enjoyed those ini­tial two epis­odes as he ended up becom­ing a recur­ring char­ac­ter on the show over six sea­sons. With the suc­cess of the show and the pop­ular­ity of the char­ac­ter, it would have seemed nat­ur­al that we would have seen more appear­ances from Jeff on our screens, how­ever The Fresh Prince of Bel Air would be one of the last time we would see him in an act­ing role.

Jeff explained to us that he actu­ally had many oppor­tun­it­ies to con­tin­ue in this industry but his heart was always with­in the music as act­ing was Will’s pas­sion but mak­ing music was his pas­sion. He advised for aspir­ing tal­ents to make sure to fol­low what they really love rather than being dis­trac­ted.

“I had many offers after that, how­ever I turned them all down as I really wanted to focus on my music. I will be doing the same thing as I have been doing for the past 30 years.

“I make people happy with my DJing in the club, I come home to my fam­ily and I go into the stu­dio to make music that I love. Fear usu­ally comes from the unknown,  It’s like Albert Ein­stein, he always wore the same shirt every day.”

We have fond memor­ies of Jazz being thrown out of the Bel Air man­sion by Uncle Phil on a daily basis and Jeff also has many warm thoughts about the late James Avery, the act­or who played Philip Banks, who passed away in 2013.

“James was like an Uncle even on the set. He gave me so much advise and he was so well trav­elled. He toured around Amer­ica and vis­ited all the land­marks across the coun­try.

“He advised me to about the import­ance of trav­el­ling and recom­men­ded to take note of places we liked on our travels. To this day I have a list of places such as res­taur­ants that I vis­ited such as Lon­don or Japan!”

Jeff’s gif­ted skills as a DJ has seen him reach new heights with the turntables and he is viewed as a pion­eer with­in the hip hop com­munity, world­wide. He has exper­i­mented with dif­fer­ent tech­niques and sounds, includ­ing trade­mark moves such as the ‘Trans­former Scratch’ and the ‘Super Mario Scratch’. The DJ explained how he came up with these fresh ideas.

“I always make music because of what I am inspired from, I love Super Mario so I thought to try new things with that. These turntables weren’t made what we wanted to do with them so it was up to us to try some­thing new.”

This innov­at­ive approach has led Jeff to a renais­sance with­in his career, with the artist being approached for spe­cial­ised work with­in pro­duc­tion stu­di­os. Jeff was con­sul­ted to lay his one of a kind scratches for the Hol­ly­wood block­buster, Straight Out­ta Compton, for which he received the enquir­ing phone call from pro­du­cer Dr. Dre dir­ectly.

“I’ve known Dr. Dre for many years and he called me and asked me spe­cific­ally to add the scratch­ing for the movie. He wanted to have someone who was really there at the time and said he knew I was one of those.”

You could tell from his tone of voice that Jeff still has an incred­ible love for mak­ing music. Even though he has broken unfore­seen ground with­in the enter­tain­ment industry as a whole for over three dec­ades, he shows no signs of stop­ping.

“I nev­er like to think about the leg­acy that I’ve left as when it comes to that, it means I have to start think­ing about when to stop.”

Tick­ets are on sale now for DJ Jazzy Jeff’s House Party at Elec­tric Brix­ton on Fri­day 12th April. 

Keep up with DJ Jazzy Jeff on Ins­tagram

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.

About Sumit Singh

Sumit Singh
Sumit is a historian from Croydon, South London. He specialises in music, art, culture and mango lassi.