IN DEPTH: Jazzy Jeff
Jazzy Jeff, the celebrated American DJ and hip-hop icon, brings his legendary house party to Electric Brixton tonight and announces a special DJ set by left-field pop princess of the moment, Nao.
Having built a reputation as one of the best parties around, Jazzy Jeff’s house party has tantalised crowds with surprise special guests and an electric atmosphere in recent years, and this promises to be one of his biggest yet, as part of his official London residency at Electric Brixton.
Jessica Daly caught up with Jazzy Jeff to chat about his music career which crafted him into one of the best DJs in the world.
My older brother played in Funk bands and my dad used to MC for some Jazz artists so there was music in the house. From the radio, to my dad playing his Jazz records or my brother rehearsing with his band in the basement, music was everywhere.
I didn’t really want to be in a band, I was a little different. No one really understood the DJ thing, instead of playing an instrument, I just wanted to play music for people to enjoy.
I was between 6 – 10 when I started mixing my brothers vinyl. I owe my brother a lot of credit because at an early age gave me the ability to do what I do.
He showed me how to take care of records, how to put them on and take them off and how not to put my fingerprints all over them.
I felt really grown and learnt the important basics of DJing because he allowed me to do that and that young age. It was almost like a lesson in responsibility like, I let you play with my records as long as you take care of them.
Being brought up in Philly in the inner city, band and djs would bring their sound system outside and in the summer everyone would party. We were just trying to make everyone dance and whoever did it the best got the chance to do it again on the weekend afterwards.
Getting known in your neighbourhood it was a lot of fun because we didn’t know what it could turn into, we had no expectations for these parties to turn into what we have now.
Back then there was a lot of funk and soul groups like Brass Construction, Parliament-Funkadelic. This was pre hip hop so you just played the stuff that the older DJs and guys in the neighbourhood played, some rock records that really moved people too but for the most part though it was classic funk and soul.
WILL & JEFF
When me and Will met, I’d established my name as a DJ and I got a call like hey, we need you to come play at this birthday party. There was a guy who was pretty much my MC but back then there was no cell phones or pagers or to get in contact with somebody if they weren’t in the house.
I tried to call him but he wasn’t home so I was like okay I guess imma gonna have to do this without him. I come to find out that the party was next to Wills house, I knew of Will, we jut didn’t know each other.
He came in, saw me and started looking for the guy who normally MCs with me, ‘ICE’ and he was like hey where’s ice? I told him I couldn’t get hold of him so he said ‘hey, so do you mind if I rock with you’ and he got up on the MIC.
Then it was a really natural chemistry, it was almost like we had been together forever. We had a really good time, laughed and joked.
Not only did we share the love of music but he was funny and I was funny and we enjoyed each others company. To the point when the night was over I was like ‘hey what you doing tomorrow night?’ and that was it.
JEFF WILL AMIR JAYDEN
Will used to battle a lot of people, they were mainly local Philly names but I don’t think he battled anyone like Lord Finesse.
He would just pull up and come in on the cypher, it would be funny because he would be so unassuming and would destroy everybody he battled.
Will was battling even after we got together, that didn’t change his competitive nature. Even though we were making records he was still someone that was like, I don’t care who you are, let’s go.
Amir my son and Jayden have gone in the studio together before and maybe we’ll see something from them in the future, it needs to be a natural process though.
You never know you might see us all in there together, that would be dope!
1986 WORD UP
There wasn’t a lot of hip hop groups back then so when me n Will got together we made the demo ‘Girls Aint Nothing But Trouble’.
At that point in time the only thing I thought about is that I’m gonna be able to tell my kids that I made a record. I didn’t think it was going to be a career or be anything other than just making a record.
We put the record out and two weeks later we were on TOTP In London. It was like, “What am I doing in London? How did this happen?”
Everything happened so fast, Will was getting ready to go to school and in a blink of an eye we were on a television show, we’re on tour and had to go and make an album.
We were just excited that somebody wanted us and we’d have a chance to show what we can do.
If it wasn’t for Jive & Word Up, we wouldn’t be where we are now so it was great in regards to the success step up, but being signed to a record label is bitter sweet. The music business is very tough and definitely not fair in the perspective of the artist.
Will has always had his eyes et on acting and doing movies and I had my eyes set on making the music for the movies so we just outgrew Jive.
As I’ve gotten older I don’t really like to take credit for stuff like the transformer scratch. When you’re a DJ, you’re out and hearing so many people play different records, I think that you’re so influenced by so much around you.
In your brain you’re saying if I took that and flipped it and did this, then it can make something incredible. It’s everything around us and was just me hearing something that just made me think, I’ll put the rhythm to that, I’ll flip this around and see what happens!
BOYCOTTING THE GRAMMYS
Hip hop back then was very similar to the UK grime scene, hip hop wasn’t respected outside of the genre. Hip hop artists knew and appreciated it but every other genre of music was ‘this isn’t real, this isn’t gonna last, no one cares.’
Meanwhile this was the biggest selling music genre of that era, it got to a point where we felt really so strongly and we had to defend it by boycotting the Grammys. You don’t want someone to discredit what you do.
It wasn’t like we really knew what we were doing, we were just standing up for something that we believed in. You look now, you can’t go anywhere in the world without hearing a hip hop reference of some sort so I guess we were right haha!
WINNNG A GRAMMY
We won a Grammy not long after and even then, the respect for hip hop as a genre didn’t change until way after that.
I think when people start to realise just how much of a financial impact the hip hop culture was, that’s when people started to take it seriously.
The DJ scene was exactly the same, it wasn’t until the electronic dance music got really big and someone found out that somebody like Tiesto made 60 mil from DJing, the business world woke up and took it seriously.
Unfortunately, it’s not about the art that makes the rest of the world believe in it, it’s really about the finance.
Being one of the first to work with Eminem before ‘The Real Slim Shady’. I didn’t realise that he was going to be as big as he is but he was one of the most incredible artists I’d ever heard.
You knew that all that needs to happen was people needed to see and hear. He is incredible, I’d never heard anything like him.
I used to do a lot of crate digging with Dilla, I think my favourite memories with Dilla are just being out of touch and not knowing what I was looking for and to have someone stand right there next to you and say I got you, oh man, what an amazing time.
All day he would go through records and ask you, do you know what this is, have you heard these drums? He’d play it and blow your mind. That level of discovery was crazy, it was an absolute level of joy I’ll never forget.
My favourite sneakers of all time might have to be the Air Jordan Concords. The problem is, they’re not comfortable. They’re my favourite but only for about an hour!
In total I think I have probably 700 / 800 pairs of sneakers, I’m a recovering addict.
See Jazzy Jeff in a city near you. TONIGHT IT’S LONDON. Click HERE for Tickets!
Interview by Jess Daly