There 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
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