A Sit Down With A DJ Jazzy Jeff
Jeff Townes aka Jazzy Jeff's career has seen him comfortably juggle having a high profile within the most popular aspects of hip hop, while being permanently respected and active in the music's underground. Very few people have ever managed that.
Jeff was one of the early DJs in the city that would be influenced by the emerging hip hop culture of the 1980s and he incorporated this style of DJing into his sets, going on to later explore turntablist techniques. Along with DJ Cash Money, Jeff is credited with making the transform scratch famous.
In his time away from producing, he maintained his primary career as a DJ, which sees him travel the globe constantly, journeys which are now documented by a video magazine series called Vinyl Destination.
How old were you when you got your first set of turntables and what inspired you to DJ?
I got my turntables late which I think actually helped. I got them when I was about 18; I started Djing when I was around 10. I was part of a crew and the guy who owned the turntables basically had them at his house, so if you wanted to practice you had to go there, and you were always on someone elses time. It made me practice mentally, and work out routines in my head before I had a chance to actually put em down. I did that for a really really long time. In the group I was the one responsible for buying the records. So someone else had the equipment. The most important thing for a DJ to have is records, in hindsight. So when I decided to go off on my own I had a massive record collection.
Do you have any particular things you like to do?
I absolutely love the food and shopping. The vibe of the city is just electric you feel it walking around.
Who has been your main inspiration?
Back then it would be guys like Grandmaster Flash, because Flash was DJing to get world recognition and now everybody in the world knows who he is, so he showed you could get that kind of recognition. Hes like a brother to me, even still, theres a level of the smoothness of what he does I still get the chills over the way he cuts a record.
"I didnt like the way the industry puts you in a box, the people are most important when it comes to the music. let the people decide."
How difficult is it to mix and blend genres in and out consistently throughout a long set or a long night?
The funny thing is, I dont think its difficult at all. I think its easier when you can take people on those journeys. I grew up that DJs had personalities. I also grew up when you realized that a great DJ played everything.
When I started, there werent house DJs, there werent hip hop DJs, or funk and soul DJs, or jazz DJs If you were a DJ, when you looked in your crate you had hip hop records, you had funk and soul records, you had breaks, you had some disco, you had some house, so you grew up being someone that knew how to mix in and out of these genres. As time went on, then it became the quote-unquote Hip Hop DJ or the House DJ, but I dont know anybody on earth who likes just one type of music. When you can play 5, 6, 10 songs in this genre and then make a turn.
Do you think hip hop and Hollywood make comfortable bedfellows?
Well I think it's a little bit different now because, when you think about it, the new generation of people in Hollywood, everyone including the CEOs, are our generation. They were hip hop fans. They grew up with NWA, Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Kid n Play, Salt N Pepa. That's why I think that when you turn on TV you see so many commercials using classic hip hop records. The demographic they are aimed at can now relate to it.
The workload must have been huge at the time, how did you cope with doing all of that stuff at the same time?
When you are in the middle of it, you never think about it. It was just like, this is great! It was just non-stop. We looked at it like it was just something we had to do. We had really no off-time, from the way that the TV show was shot, and then us going on the road. We had Summertime and The Fresh Prince out at the same time, so it was just non-stop.
Can you describe, from your perspective, the intersection between hip hop and house?
Hip Hop is a lyrical form over any type of music even House. There were tons of Hip Hop/House records a while ago because it all went together. You can hear in a lot of the new music today that trying to happen again everything goes in cycles.
Rappers and producers are finding success at older ages now more than ever before. Do you think the climate is right for a new album after more than 20 years?
The timing is perfect and it was just something that clicked. I think a lot of it is just the understanding of the space. You've got to look at it like, us, Dr. Dre, LL Cool J all came up together, and now everybody's in a different professional space, but your fanbase is still there. We are the first generation that's growing older with hip-hop. So think about it: We didnt know how to handle that. You try to figure out: Is hip-hop the music of the youth? And it's like, yeah, its the music of the youth, when youre young. We didnt have the media outlets that cater to a more adult demographic because we are the first. So now, you got Boom [classic hip-hop radio] stations and Sirius XM's BackSpin and everybody loves that.
What made you want to get back in the studio?
I never left the studio completely for any real length of time. I would go in and work, I just didn't want to release anything. I was very disheartened with the state of the music industry. My love of music has never gone anywhere, I just didn't really like the way the business structure was. I've always wanted the creative control of making the music that you've wanted to do, of putting it out when you wanted to put it out. I love the fact that now you can not only create your own music, but you can do your own artwork and album covers, your liner notes and you can shoot your own videos. It basically gives that creative independence back to the artists. I think that was the thing that really won me over, because that was something that I've always wanted.
What advice would you have for any budding DJs or producers out there?
Find out exactly who you are. Experiment. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to surround yourself with people who will be brutally honest and not just agree with you on everything. Would you like your man to tell you your breath stinks or would you like the pretty girl you hope to marry one day to tell you? Because that first impression may turn her off forever.
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