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Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Venerable DJ Jazzy Jeff Explains Why Your Laptop Won't Make You a Good DJ

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 9:01 AM

DJ Jazzy Jeff
  • DJ Jazzy Jeff
There really isn't much introduction needed for DJ Jazzy Jeff, who since the 1980's has remained one of the biggest names in hip-hop due to his incredible showmanship and continued innovation in the art of DJing. Since his beginnings as a house party DJ, and through his role as one half of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Jeff has become a producer and even a video game character, but he's never lost his love for DJing. If you've ever watched episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or seen his mastery on the turntables, often alongside the late DJ AM, you know that DJ Jazzy Jeff is a performer unparalleled in the world of hip hop. We spoke with him ahead of his show tomorrow night (Friday) at Mighty.

Since you're a DJ with absolute staying power, can you offer any wisdom to DJs coming up these days?

You know what? That's hard. Because it's so different now than it was that the advice I would give DJs 10 years ago almost doesn't apply. The industry has shifted so much and has changed so much. I used to tell DJs 10 years ago that you had to be original. Find what your niche is, and go for the niche, because ... people followed certain DJs because they did something different. If you wanted to hear soul, follow this guy, if you wanted to hear someone that could scratch, you might follow this guy. There was a time when there was a DJ playing, you went to see him for what kind of music he played. But like now everyone is doing so much of the same stuff, I'm almost scared to tell these guys to be different. I've had someone come up to me and [say] 'I'm really good at this, but if I don't play all the Top 40 stuff, no one will hire me or book me.' It's hard to give that advice. If I tell you from my heart, I would say do what's in your heart, do what you do best, and try to be as different as you can.

I also heard that when you played Surrender in Vegas for a DJ AM tribute, the promoter said you played too much hip hop and booted you off the decks. What happened there? There was quite some controversy.

Yeah! I mean I got called out for a DJ AM tribute. When I came out there, I came out there to play a set very reminiscent of what DJ AM would play. And he would always play everything. What I think happened is that the club, as much as they said it was a DJ AM tribute, it wasn't.

That's ridiculous. Then why did they title it as a DJ AM tribute night?

I think they just kind of pawned off the night as a DJ AM tribute. And I was confused. What happened was I started playing across the board, and by the time I found out that they wanted me to stop playing, I was playing the stuff they wanted me to play. After I found out, I was [like] 'Listen, you guys flew me out here put me up in a hotel for playing a DJ AM tribute, but then you get mad when I play the same records DJ AM played?' That's like someone asking you to play a Tupac tribute and you can't play Tupac records. That's where I got confused. I pretty much can play any kind of music anybody wants, but if you ask me to do something specific don't get mad when I do it.

It seems that in the past few years, some of the biggest hits featuring rappers are essentially vocal house tracks. What do you think of this trend and its meaning for hip hop?

I do look at it like it's a trend, like when all down Dirty South records became the trend. And now the trend is the merger of hip hop and house electro music. One of the things that I do like is they are party records. People want to party when they hear those records. I kind of like that because that kind of gets a lot of the nonsense out the clubs, it's not so much those "shoot 'em up" records, it's more of those up-tempo dance records. Just like the down south and other types of trends, it's going to level off.

You were instrumental in the invention of the "transform," a fundamental scratch technique. Given the pace of technological advances in DJing equipment and software today, do you see new DJ as pioneering a new set of fundamental skills, or will the skills developed in the '80s and '90s always remain essential?

I think they're always essential. Those are just the cornerstones of being a well-rounded DJ. Especially today, you get new DJs that don't learn the fundamentals, they just know the records. You learn how to blend records together and arrange the music before you learn how to cut, scratch, transform, flair, do all that stuff. It's a ladder you had to go up. A lot of the new guys just learn how to do what they want to do and not the fundamentals.

Do you see a decline in the DJ battle culture, given the growing number of tools that a performer can now use to "DJ?"

Yeah, you know, to me, if you sucked with records, you're gonna suck with Serato. The only thing a computer enables you to do is carry your records a lot easier. But so many people think that just because they have a computer it's going to DJ for them. It doesn't really work like that. People really need to focus on the fundamentals and then grow. I'm not gonna go and try out for the Los Angeles Lakers if I've never played basketball. I'm gonna practice through high school and college; I'm gonna do what I need to do to get there. A lot of people now get two turntables and a mixer and wanna be Kobe!

Then if you weren't in your current profession, what would you be doing? A NBA player?

Honestly I've never had Plan B. This what I always wanted to do and I wasn't going to stop until I was it.

And you're very successful at that. You're playing here with Skillz on Friday. What does he add to your live shows?

We hooked up around seven, eight years ago. And he's like, 'Hey I've been hearing you've been going all around the world and tearin' it up." And I said, 'Let me know if you want to go!' And now he tours with me. I think it's just a different element. There's not a lot of DJs that carry an MC with them, especially one that is known. We just want go out and try to make people happy. He'll tell people to throw their hands in the air and bust freestyle. Our job is just to make people have a good time.

What will you be doing in S.F. besides performing?

Honestly, San Francisco is probably my favorite city in the world. Every time I come there I go eat at Crustacean, and I hook up with Shortkut and Qbert and we go record and t-shirt shopping on Haight St. 


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