Jazzy Jeff is probably my favourite DJ of all time — something I was only more sure of after I interviewed him in 2007. He is one of my favourite interviews ever — cordial, gracious, funny. I’ve noticed over many years of interviewing rappers, producers and DJs that, for the most part, the people who have the most reasons to be cocky and boastful (such as Jeff) seldom are, and vice versa. It’s like hungry underground rappers feel they’ve got something to prove while established folks are just comfortable. But I digress.
Jeff was refreshingly down-to-earth, coming across as just a good, normal, honest dude who worked hard and found success doing something he’s passionate about. (Side note: During our interview, I remembered I had “Summertime” as my cellphone ring tone, and, not wanting to weird him out if it rang, stealthily sat on my phone.)
From our interview in April 2007:
Perhaps to most, he is known as Jazz, the streetwise best friend of Will Smith who Uncle Phil routinely tossed out of the mansion on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But to those with hip-hop in their blood, the man born Jeff Townes is the magnificent DJ Jazzy Jeff, a legend who has been holding it down at the wheels of steel for more than two decades. He is the man, who, along with the Fresh Prince, spawned countless rap careers with the 1988 classic, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. He is your favourite DJ’s favorite DJ.
What began as a hobby in his mother’s west Philadelphia basement more than 30 years ago has blossomed into a career of doing what he loves, garnering him unrelenting respect from those who matter and enough awards to collapse a mantle. Jeff’s talent at the turntables has also taken him, quite literally, around the world, with a seemingly endless tour schedule that he himself refers to as “grueling.” In the past year alone, he estimates that he toured the UK six times, Canada three, Asia twice and Australia once.
“It’s grueling and it’s hard, but what’s really cool is to know that you have friends in Hong Kong, and know that you have friends in Shanghai,” says Jeff, on the line from his Philadelphia home. (Just three days prior, he rocked a show in New York with Smith, and in three more days, will be kicking off yet another European tour in Norway.) “That you get off the plane and you can call these guys and they take you to your favorite restaurant over there, and take you shopping…. It’s like, ‘Wow, I got friends in Hong Kong like I got friends in Philly.’ It makes you really understand that as big as the world is, it’s not as big as you think.”
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