Interview With Jazzy Jeff
I missed speaking with Jeff in person while he was in Toronto recently but
caught up with him by phone in Montreal
Friday, April 9th (Good Friday).
In this interview, Jeff speaks on the music industry, success, real music
and thinking outside of the box.
Also, how much a fan of Canada this talented and global artist is.
How was it being back in Toronto?
Iíve always loved Toronto. I mean, Iíve always loved Canada from
the first time that I came up here and started playing again. You
always get a bunch of love in Toronto and itís really cool when you can go
to a place and you start to get acquainted with some of the local people.
Then you get a sense of the city and you feel that you know your way around
a little bit and you feel a little bit more at home.
Itís to the point that I know some of the same Custom agents going through
Customs just getting in the country! Coming up there has always been a
lot of love. Iíve played up
there at a bunch of clubs and the crowds are always very receptive.
Iíve always felt that Canadian crowds have a lot more music appreciation
than the U.S. crowds. Itís funny because a lot of times the Canadian
crowds think that theyíre not up on music like the U.S. is and I actually
think that the Canadian crowds are more advanced than the U.S. is.
I think we have a more refined taste. We donít have the history,
especially in hip hop that America does though.
You have a greater appreciation though. I like some of the stuff
that they play on the radio today. I just donít think that that should
be just it. I like when you can go to a club and you can play
Tribe Called Quest or
Pete Rock but you can also play a
Neptunes song and a
Young Gunz song. If itís all
the way across the board, then Iím all for it. I just donít like when
you start to block out certain types of music.
I think itís important in anything to remember your history and to pay
respect to those that started the whole thing.
Especially with hip hop because hip hop is always recycled. A lot of
these records that people are doing over now are old hip hop classics.
You need to understand that
these records werenít made today. In the early days of hip hop when
you would sample some other record, it kind of gave you an appreciation for
the original record that you sampled.
Who are some of your favourite Canadian hip hop artists?
I love Saukrates,
Choclair. I love
K-OS. I mean, thereís a bunch
of them. From the first time that I heard any of the Canadian hip hop,
Iíve always felt that it was something that really really should have been
played in the U.S. Especially acts like
and Choclair. You know,
listening to the records Ė Iím a huge fan of those guys. Also,
Kardinal Offishall. I was so
happy when Glenn Lewis used
Kardinal on his song. I was like I really hope this song blows up.
To me, Kardinal was very very close to just taking off worldwide. I
think itís still there. I bought pretty much every record that
Saukrates and Choclair have made. Kardinal was a regular in my set.
So, I have a lot of love for the Canadian hip hop.
Iím definitely going to pass that on to them.
Please do. I would love to do something with ANY
Did you know that Choclair just won a Juno Award last weekend?
Yeah, I heard about that. I think itís really dope. I was
watching a video that he had on television yesterday. I was like Ďthis
is really goodí. I really hope that he has the ability to travel
around the world, to go to Europe and go to Japan and come to the U.S.
I think itís very important when you have artists that are that talented
that they get the chance to show the rest of the world. As much as I
love the U.S., itís not
all about the U.S. You can really do very well without
really having anything to do with the U.S. So, if the U.S. hasnít
gotten on to those guys yet, Iím hoping that they have a chance to see Japan
and Australia and New Zealand. Hip hop is appreciated so much in a lot
and they will be loved there.
The climate is changing here but especially for hip hop, its really
tough. With K-OS winning a Source Award for Best International, that
You know whatís crazy? Iíll come to Canada and Iíll turn on
jealous. Iím jealous that you have an equivalent of an MTV that plays
Saukrates and K-OS and Choclair. Because our MTV wonít play
Tribe Called Quest, they wonít play
Slum Village, they wonít play
J-Live. So, as much as you may
think that you donít get support, itís crazy that you guys support your
artists more than we support ours.
I have never heard that before
from an American.
Because what it comes down to is Ė and weíre not talking about the Jay-Zs
and the Neptunes. Choclair reminds of me our
Dilated Peoples. Real hip hop with
real beats and real rhymes. Iím not saying that the others are not but
we donít support the artists like Choclair in the United States. So,
when I come up here and I turn on MuchMusic and I see his video on, Iím
smiling. Man, Iím ready to make a record and just send it up here
because if this kind of music has a shot to be on mainstream television in
Canada, then Iím all set.
Weíd be happy to facilitate that for you! I think itís probably
your love for hip hop and your love for Canadian hip hop why your fan base
is so large and diverse up here.
Throughout this tour, I brought Madd
with me which threw everybody off
because it was kind of a big surprise. Him and I are the same person
and it was amazing for us to go to these spots in Canada and people come up
to us and say thank you. Weíre kind of looking like ďWow, theyíre
thanking us just for coming.Ē Weíre talking about how we donít want to
In Canada, weíre just good people. Weíre pretty loyal. Perhaps
thereís a little identity crisis
as a country
but Iím very proud of our people Ė who we are and how we roll globally.
Itís very laid back and itís not as much of the hustle and bustle that you
have in the United States. Everything is so heightened in the United
States. Youíve got to rush to do this
- rush to do that.
When we were in Toronto, we went to the Eaton Centre and we came outside and
were waiting for our ride to come. It was a Monday at 5:00 pm
rush hour. One of the guys who handles our merchandise
came up here with me Ė it was his first time going out of the U.S. I
told him to close his eyes. He closed his eyes and I said I just want
you to try to feel the energy around you. He sat there for a second.
You donít hear anybody yelling or screaming. You donít get a sense
a lot of tension
- and itís RUSH hour on a Monday afternoon. I said, ĎYou would never
get this in the United States.í He said ďWow, you know what?
Youíre absolutely right.Ē He opened his eyes and there was a
couple standing on the pavement talking. There were people coming
across the street. Itís kind of hard to describe. Itís the
energy level where you just felt comfortable. Thatís one of the things
that Iíve always liked about Canada Ė itís comfortable. A million
times Iíve come up here and said that Iím moving. Iím going to move up
here before itís all said and done. Especially
now that we're
driving throughout the country. We drove to Halifax Ė the streams, the
lakes, the houses on the lakes. And we were saying we really need to
come back up here in the summer.
The summer is craaaazy up here.
If we could get a place to stay right on the lake and just BBQ and cool
out for a week and a half, weíd be up here in a second.
Do you notice any difference in Canadian music, specifically hip hop?
I think that Canadian hip hop is a lot more organic. Itís
reminiscent of the golden era that I love which is the Tribe Called Quest.
Itís a lot more emotion. Saukrates might have been one of my favourite
hip hop producers for a long time. I can call up a bunch of records
that he did that I was like ďWho did the beat?Ē And it was Saukrates.
Iím saying heís doing the beat and heís rhyming? Iím
like, man, I really really like
stuff. The feel of it was really dope.
Those guys all came up with Maestro. Do you remember him?
Absolutely! I remember him from back in the day.
He was our pioneer and broke through a lot of music barriers and heís a
Canadian icon for doing that.
the mainstream still associate you solely with Fresh Prince and your
character Jazzy Jeff? If so, how do you feel about that?
You know what I love? Not just in Canada but around the world.
People know me from so many different things. Thereís a group of
people that know me from the Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. There
are people that know me
from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. There are people that come to the
show that say ďWow, thatís the guy thatís on the Fresh PrinceĒ and they have
no idea of what Iím doing now. And then thereís people who just know
you for today. When you sit back and think Ė I donít really care why
anybody knows me, as long as you have a good time when you come out.
Itís almost more of a benefit to me because I have a lot of different
reasons for you to know me. People come up and say ďI loved you on the
thereís a group of people that donít even know that youíve had a life in
music before the television show.
The mainstream audience
only know you from that though.
The beauty of that is that you have the people that know you so much from
youíre educating them to a whole new type of music.
You could take the attitude though that Ďoh Iím so through with that Ė
thatís so many years agoí and youíre not doing that. Thatís cool.
It all encompasses you. Iím not made up of just one thing. As much
as the television show wasnít my main focus - that did a lot for me.
And that was a very fun time for me. Just like Jazzy Jeff and the
Fresh Prince. Iím looking at it like these are all layers. I
donít look at it like Iím over and Iím done with all of that stuff.
All of that stuff makes you up. I didnít always feel that way because
I donít think I quite understood. When youíre trying to break into
something new, people only want to know you for one thing.
was a very hard thing for me. It wasnít that I didnít like the
television show or I didnít like the Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince time.
was a time that people only liked you for one thing.
had a lot to do with me as a producer. A Touch of Jazz had everything
to do with Ďlet me come up with a company that I can hide behind and do
records and travelí. It was a really big kick for people to come up
and say Ďoh my God, I couldnít believe that you did Jill
Scott.í I like that because however I can get you, I want to get you.
It could have been ĎWow, thereís this really good soul singer out that Jazzy
Jeff and his production company producedí. You might not have even
made an attempt to listen to it.
In production, you seem to gravitate towards working with soul artists Ė
is that your preference?
I donít think I necessarily have a preference per se but I grew up in a
city of Gamble
did records and played them on the radio before anyone else in the world got
them. So, having that around you and having those mentors living in
the same city, you canít help but to love soul music. Coming from the
early era of hip hop,
I went record digging and I looked for samples.
lot of those samples were old soul records so it gives you an appreciation
for a lot of records. A lot of my musical knowledge came from being a
DJ and buying records and realizing who played this stuff and why it was
done like that. So, I donít think I would necessarily say itís my
preference. I grew up off of soul, Iím a product of hip hop, I love
jazz incredibly, Iím a rock and roll fanatic. So, I donít like to
categorize it. I love music. Thereís only two kinds of music to
me Ė thatís good music and bad music.
It makes you mad, itís confusing. You go to a store to look for
a record and you get confused. You donít know if itís the rap section,
the electronic section, the tribal section or the beat section. What
need to do is just make a record store and put everything in alphabetical
order. Put all the Aís together Ė from the jazz AĎs to the opera Aís Ė
let me just look. You get a group like Jazzanova from the UK that you
donít know if this is soul or electronic or house. What happens when
you do a record and you have a soul record, electronic record and a house
record on it?
Where do you categorize it?
Thatís the beauty of being a DJ though because you meld all that
any way that you want. Unfortunately, the industry does like
categorize. It even breaks down a certain category into different
We went through that a lot when we were doing Jill Scottís first record.
And the beauty of it was Ė
was somebody who said I really donít care about the radio; I donít care
about the industry. Jill actually got me back to where I wanted to be.
We went in to make a record that was very ďun-industryĒ. The industry
dictates that you must make a record 3 minutes and 40 seconds in order for
it to get radio play. But, my favourite Luther Vandross song was 9
minutes! And thatís like Ďletís just make a 9 minute record, let your
body tell you when itís
instead of dictating and cutting it short. Letís not worry about if
it doesnít get played on the radio. I want to go back to the time when
your favourite record wasnít a record that they played on the radio.
Iím sure thatís why Jill has done as well as sheís done Ė not only
is she multi-talented but sheís not trying to be one particular thing.
Once the industry got a hold of Jillís record, then it started to become a
fad. And that scared me. And I was like ĎWow. This is
something that we did straight from the heart and natural and now Iím
getting calls from every artist in the business saying ĎI need some of that
Jill Scott stuffí and I said ĎBut thatís hers.Ē
Thatís exactly what Ali
said. He said that everyoneís wanting him to recreate the DíAngelo
Brown Sugar vibe. And he said, ďThat was me and DíAngelo in the room.
recreate that and why would you want to?Ē As an artist with integrity,
he couldnít allow himself to.
Nine times out of 10, it starts with the industry corrupting the artist.
If you are a talented artist about the music, I think they would
all agree with that statement. Itís very calculated unfortunately.
A couple more questions - if you could work with any artist (living or
past), who would they be?
Wow. I would probably have to say Ė I would love to work with
Stevie Wonder. I have some Ö
when you said alive or not here Ö
love to work with
Curtis Mayfield. I would love
to work with Bonnie Raitt, which
everybody finds surprising. I would love to work with
Sting. I may have that
opportunity because Iím doing some stuff on Herbie Hancockís new record.
Iím trying to do this collaboration with Jill and Sting.
That was one of the most incredible experiences I think Iíve ever had
doing music was spending 4 or 5 days with
Herbie Hancock. He came down to the studio. The jam
sessions with Herbie were just as good as the conversation. He sat
down and gave me a lot of advice. He told a lot of stories. Itís
really interesting to hear him talk about Miles Davis and the opportunities
that Miles gave. I didnít realize how many young musicians that Miles
Davis put on. I think one of the things that I got out of his visit
was he made me understand where I am right now in music just by venting to
About a year and a half or two years ago, I fell out of love with
music. I went back to what made me love music the way that I do - two
turntables and playing records for people. Thatís why Iíve been on the
road this much because itís a one-on-one relationship with you and the crowd
and I donít compromise and play in places that I have to play just one type
of music. I want to play whatever I want. I want to take people
on a musical journey because that energy is only making me excited to go
back into the studio where I can reacquaint my love of music again.
You start to think that itís over and thereís no hope. Every time that
Iíve become successful in music has been when Iíve done music from my heart.
Every time that Iíve become successful in music, thereís a billion people
that come around you to try to tell you how you could become more successful
when you never did this to be successful in the beginning. So, they
take you down a wrong path. The way I look at it is that every kid
that plays basketball does not want to be a ball player. People look
at it like Ďyou have a talentí and they think that you just want to blow up
on your talent or just make a ton of money from your talent.
Sometimes, maybe just me within my talent is where my happiness lies.
I just went through the same thing and I was feeling bogged down
by the industry Ė I just wrote about it this week. I was losing my
passion to the point where I was questioning how far I wanted to take this.
So, I went back to the spot where I knew all the artists that inspired me
with their singing and musicianship. And I think that I got my spirit
back. It was very moving.
We threw a party in Philadelphia at the
5 Spot where everybody comes and performs. It was really
impromptu. A Touch of Jazz presents a
Downstairs it was three sets of turntables and I invited a bunch of DJs just
to come down and play a big jam session. Upstairs, we brought out the
instruments, a Rhodes, drums, bass, guitar and invited a bunch of people.
Jill, Musiq, Bilal, Floetry, Glenn, City High,
J-Live Ė I canít even begin to tell you how many people all came
on stage and jammed. The crazy thing Ė itís a small spot
and there wasnít a lot of people but it was almost like we were jamming for
each other. This isnít about a bunch of fans Ė itís about being up
here with your peers and just free styliní. The band plays something
and Jill goes up and sings, and Musiq and Bilal sings. Afterwards, the
owners of the place were like, ďYou can come back whenever you want!Ē.
We looked at each other and with honesty said, ďWeíre not going to do this
again. You canít get this again.Ē That was one of those things
that nobody videotaped, if you were there, you got it. And thatís good
enough. You donít have to keep milking something until itís dry.
Every once in awhile, you have to do that or else you do lose it.
The business will eat you alive if you let it. It will discourage you
and you start being a product yourself rather than being inspired to put out
It was crazy to listen to Herbie Hancock talk and he said that you have
to learn to play outside of your comfort zone and live outside of the box.
What I loved was when he did ďChameleonĒ.
was saying ďI was a jazz artist that just wanted to make a funk record.Ē
I went in and I did it. It was kind of a funk/jazz record but instead
of stopping myself and saying this is kind of a jazz record, he said I just
let it be what it was and everybody loved it. Some of those things
that he was saying was some of the greatest advice that anyone could ever
give me. Sometimes you start making a record and it goes in a
different direction than where you wanted it to go. Sometimes you want
to stop yourself Ė like this isnít where I was going. You know what?
Maybe you should just do it. Just do it.
I think thatís what itís all about. It really is about the
inspiration. One more question. What do you want people to
remember you for?
Well, Iím no more than one person. I am not the guy who goes in the
phone booth and he comes out and heís Jazzy Jeff. Or he goes into
another phone booth and he comes out and heís Jazz and Fresh Prince.
Everything that Iíve ever done is me. I donít know how to be more than
one person. Thatís the most confusing thing in the world to me.
As an artist, it must drive you crazy. I love Kool-Aid, I go and buy
my own groceries. I pick my own lemons. I donít eat the
healthiest foods. I think as Iíve gotten older, Iíve grown to love who
I am and all my flaws. Because they make up me. So, I donít want
to be perfect, I donít try to be perfect. I try to correct what I can.
More than anything, when I meet you on the street, Iím the same guy. I
think it throws people off. I think they look at a lot of the things
that Iíve accomplished and think Iím supposed to act somewhat different.
I canít be anything other than Jeff.
I think that what really moves people, is if you are just real to who you
Exactly. None of what Iíve done is me. Iím not the records that
Iíve sold, Iím not the success that Iíve had. All that is stuff that
Iíve accomplished but I didnít become more important when I sold a bunch of
records. I think thatís what happens. Just because you sold a
bunch of records, please donít make me more important. Donít make it
be that I can turn my nose up at people because all of that can end
tomorrow. I have to be like that because thereís a side of me
that really and truly believes that I havenít done what Iíve been put here
to do yet. Iím not even sure if it has anything to do with music.
I know Iím supposed to be shocked by that but Iím not. No
one can put you in a box and whoís to say where our journey will take us
right? Whatever God has destined for you, then that opportunity will
Well, Jeff thanks for this time and have a great time on the rest
of the tour Ė and come back soon!
Jeff is a skilled, warm, funny and passionate artist Ė keep watching his
movements. Special thanks to Irize, Jeffís manager for hooking up this
interview. Special thanks to Irize, Jeffís manager for hooking up this