Seasoned hip-hop fans of a certain age will remember Jazzy Jeff as part of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, a rap duo that began in the late ’80s before Will Smith went solo and became a movie star.
The pair had massive hits, performing on the Grammys when rap was still considered a tolerable fad. Their songs weren’t the most politically charged, but in an era where Public Enemy was on the radio, they kept their heads above water by offering fun, lighthearted tracks.
The two understood their place and never attempted to provoke political discourse in ways, for example, Boogie Down Productions did. But songs like “Summertime” or “Parents Just Don’t Understand” were fun and memorable, proving that they did what’s perhaps the hardest thing for any pop artist to do—be consistently catchy.
He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper was the twosome’s first record, debuting in 1988. It was an outing of simple beats and even simpler rhymes about girls, parents, sports fantasies and relatable, everyday misadventures. It’s a time Jeff remembers well, as he prepares to bring his renowned DJ chops March 7 to San Jose’s Myth nightclub.
“It’s all about the love and still having fun,” Jeff says. “I started off as a DJ, then became a recording artist and producer. Then I owned my own label and even acted a bit. And now, in 2014, it goes full circle and I’m back to being a DJ [laughs]. I wouldn’t have it any other way. “
These days Will Smith is hardly considered a “Fresh Prince” or any semblance of a rapper, yet Jeff is still widely regarded as a top-notch DJ, traveling the world and rocking shows in a variety of formats. Like most DJs, he was inspired by older DJs, guys who controlled the entire party on musical whims while you stood and watched.
“I always just wanted to be that guy,” Jeff says. “I remember being at a club in Philly and just sitting and staring at the DJ and watching him control hundreds of people just with his tunes. It kept going all night depending on how he strung the records together. He was just controlling the mood and making people happy and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
To this day, Jeff gets the same pangs of excitement.
“I still get that same feeling as if I was that kid at the block party who played those tunes and made people happy,” he says. “I’m older now and completely understand what I am doing. The love goes nowhere, it’s the skill that’s grown. Now I can go to Japan or Australia and rock crowds because I know my job. It’s not hard for me to stay relevant because I’m talking to DJs all week. My friends are DJs. We swap music and ideas and remixes. It’s not hard to stay relevant if it’s something that you love.”
Indeed, the Bay Area’s large DJ contingency shows a lot of respect for Jeff. In an era when everyone is a DJ, it’s easy to weed out the wack from the gods. Though Jeff himself is world renowned, he’s nothing but humble, showing respect to local legends whom he now considers buddies—even calling the Bay Area a “second home.”
In the Bay Area, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone with Technics who does not know who Q-Bert or Shortkut are, both hailing from the legendary Invisbl Skratch Piklz. And Jazzy Jeff is one of their biggest fans. “Me and Shortkut have played in Singapore and Manila together,” says Jeff.
“I’ve played at Mighty for like four or five hours from funk, to rap, to house,” he says. “I love those cats in the Bay because y’all are so musical with your talent. I just get a lot of inspiration from peers.
“Q-Bert is like the Jimi Hendrix of the turntable. I joke with Shortkut and call him a Swiss Army Knife because whatever you want, he’ll provide. I mean, when I’m in the Bay, I’ll go to Thud Rumble Headquarters or I’ll go to Q-Bert’s house. Me and Shortkut will go get Dungeness crab at a local spot. I have my ritual of where I go to eat, who I go to see and all that. I love the Bay and can’t wait to be there again. It’s funny because I’ve done so many things in the music industry but in the end, I’m a DJ again. Not much I can ask for.”
DJ Jazzy Jeff
Fri, March 7
Myth, San Jose
Opening sets by DJ Goldenchyld and G Wrex of The Bangerz