Jazzy Jeff

One of the biggest DJs in the world back rocking the UK. Dan Prince speaks to the main man

Hey Jeff, welcome back to DMCWORLD, where in the world are you right now?
“Hi Dan. I’m at home in Philadelphia getting ready for a big tour that kicks off next week.”

Tell us about the tour…
“Well I’m heading off all over the place, kicking off in London at Doctors Orders at Scala, then heading off to Russia and the Middle East. Crazy times again…”

I’ve been watching some of your Vinyl Destination videos on your web site, you have quite a posse traveling with you!
“Ha ha, not really. I have my road manager, my MC Skills, a tech guy and recently a camera guy who has been filming me on the road all around the world.”

Yeah, the clips have been really well shot…
“Thank you, I just thought it would be really interesting for people out there to see what life on the road is like for a DJ. You can check out the cool places we are lucky enough to play at, the tiredness, when things go wrong, the places we eat at, the madness behind the scenes.”

So no Miami WMC for you this year?
“No I had some offers but I’m going to be away for three weeks and I wanted to spend some quality time with my family, get my music ready and get focused on the places we are hitting.”

You mentioned you’ll be hitting Doctors Orders in London, you must have a lot of friends over there as you have been playing over here for so long?
“I do and that is one of the things that makes traveling that little bit easier. You get to know your way around a city, you can call people when you land and you feel more comfortable away from home.”

You once said that DJing in competitions is something that’s not only based on skill, it’s based on luck too. What did you mean by that…?
“The thing is about being in a battle is that you need lady luck on your side. A DJ doesn’t have control over a stiff mixer or a turntable playing up, it’s the same if you turn up at a concert and there is a power cut or the sound goes off. Nobody blames the venue, they blame the artist. I have seen so many DJs who have lost a competition when a needle has jumped or he has missed a move by the width of a piece of hair, it’s that close a call.”

Your DJing career began at an early age, 10 to be precise in your home city Philadelphia after becoming fascinated by a certain Disco Doc spinning at the block parties. Why did you think it was the coolest job in the world?
“Anyone that can control a room full of people by playing records is cool with me. A DJ can make people hyper by playing some crazy shit, then can calm people down with some smooth stuff …when I saw Doc do that I just thought it was the best thing in the world. And the best thing about Doc was that he DJ’d in this entrance porch and you couldn’t see his face, just a stack of speakers and this massive wall of sound coming out. To me, he was like the Wizard Of Oz, a DJ surrounded by mystery…”

Hip Hop records weren’t around back then, you were spinning soul and funk records. What were the artists you were spinning?
Oh man, Earth Wind & Fire, James Brown, Sly Stone – whatever was popular at the time. Once in a while I’d play a rock record and when hip hop came along you didn’t stop and start your play list from scratch, you just added these new sounds into the mix.”

Your first DJ tag was the ‘Bathroom DJ’ – what’s the story there?
“I was the youngest kid on the block and had to wait my turn at the parties to DJ. So I paid my dues, I carried their records, got them drinks, watched them wire up speakers and mixers and waited patiently. During the night they’d need to go to the toilet and would ask me to stand in for five minutes telling me, ‘Jeff, just watch the records, don’t bump into the turntable and if the record is about to finish, fade in another record’. That’s how I got my nickname The Bathroom DJ.”

So how did you lose that tag?
“Eventually someone asked me to play at one of his parties the hole night after seeing the tunes I would select to fade in, and that was it. I was off.”

DMC are of course the company responsible for the World DJ Championships. It’s our 30th Anniversary this year, how important have they been to the art of turntablism?
“Oh my god. Just incredible. You were the company that first saw turntablism as an art form and put it out on display. Back in the day contestants in battles were purely mixers, I can remember being in New York taking on disco mixers and these guys would be getting angry as I was adding all these scratching routines. They were getting upset as they had no wow factor. From there and DMC coming along it all took off, DMC gave a stage to the likes of Q-bert, DJ Noise and Craze. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for DMC…”

You initially found it difficult to battle as you respected other DJs too much… did you lack that killer instinct?
“No, I had that killer instinct, but for me it wasn’t about finishing first or second. I didn’t have to show that I was better than the guy I was competing against, I had to show the fans how good I was and entertain them. That’s my job.”

But surely there was a little bit of the showing off element involved in there?
“Absolutely. The turntablism world is different from other DJ circles out there, if I can show one of my peers how dope I am and gain some respect from them then that’s great. That’s why us guys are so tight.”

You admit you never really knew how good you we were. You stopped your great friend Will Smith calling you the world’s greatest DJ, now three decades later have you any idea just what an incredible DJ you are?
“Ha ha yes I do! No I’m joking Dan. I have to be honest I don’t really think about it.”

I’m not having that dude, you must know how loved you are around the world?
“What I do know is that I have a level of impact out there and that my level of motivation is still gathering pace as I have realised that I have now worked through two generations and have to be more focused now more than ever as I have to gain the respect of the new people on the dancefloor. I am still a student and I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who will offer you good, honest advice. That Dan is the key to longevity in my opinion.”

What are your thoughts on the current EDM scene taking over your home country and these teenage DJs earning $100,000 a gig?
“Well first of all I don’t diss anyone for their hustle or their job. Secondly I wouldn’t call these guys a proper DJ. And thirdly, no DJ would ever turn down that sort of money whatever the show. But like it or not these EDM guys have made sure that everyone in the world knows what a DJ is. There are a lot of different DJs out there; there’s the guy who pre records his set, the DJ who uses a laptop whilst DJing, the CD dude, the club mixer and the vinyl lover. It’s all great for our culture and you get the good and the bad in any genre.”

Do you think this is just a fad?
“For sure, hip hop was huge like this once upon a time, then soulful house came along and now it’s EDM. From my point of view, I just have to be careful where I play.”

So you wouldn’t turn off the radio if an EDM tune came on?
“Ha ha, Dan an EDM record wouldn’t come on the radio on the channels I listen to. Look, a DJ is on the planet to entertain. Why would I get mad at one of these guys? I don’t hate a DJ who plays Country & Western, that’s their choice. People are getting mad and dissing these people because of the money they are earning, if I meet one of these DJs I’ll reach my fist out to them and tell them ‘hey you figured that scene out and good for you. But I can do some serious shit you can’t do’.”

Tell us about NMS in 1986 and your encounter with DJ Cheese…
“I was super young and just really excited to be in the competition. I just wanted to reach out and acknowledge Cheese and his skills, just like boxers do with their gloves before a fight. But he wasn’t feeling it and walked away from me. But the crazy thing is to this day, I don’t know if I would have beaten him if that hadn’t of happened. It gave me an edge and added more fuel to the fire.”

The USA have been responsible for some of DMCs finest world champs, Roc Raida, DJ Craze and Shiftee amongst others. Do you still keep an eye on what’s happening?
“Absolutely. Just to see how it changes, how the technology advances and the whole globalisation of the scene of which DMC has been instrumental in. You know, I meet so many young DJs who have been self taught by your DMC Finals videos. It’s amazing to think that a whole generation of turntablists have learnt their art simply by using the pause, rewind and slow motion buttons learning tricks, techniques and even facial expressions.”

Where you nervous when it became apparent that vinyl was on its way out?
“Oh yeah. I will always give props to guys like Serato and I don’t miss the days of lugging ten boxes of records around airports wondering whether the airlines will lose my tunes. I will always love my old music and vinyl but things always change.”

What are the next studio plans you are working on at the moment.
“I’ve been doing some work with Doseage which I’m really happy with and also doing some music with my thirteen year old son AMIRacle, a young man who is turning into a very talented artist and has a great future ahead of him. I find it really important to keep bringing my music to the people out there who can’t get to my gigs around the world.”

And finally, I interviewed the producer MK the other day. He too is a great friend of Will Smith and admits he enjoys nothing more than letting himself into Will’s kitchen via the back door and helping himself to the food in his fridge. Does Will still let you do that?
“Ha ha. Yes he does.”