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Interview with Jazzy

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Interview With Jazzy Jeff

I missed Jeff while he was in Toronto but caught up with him by phone in Montreal on Friday, April 9th (Good Friday). This is an interview that 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?

I’ve always loved Toronto. I mean, I’ve 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 it’s 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.

It’s 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. I’ve played up there at a bunch of clubs and the crowds are always very receptive. I’ve always felt that Canadian crowds have a lot more music appreciation than the U.S. crowds. It’s funny because a lot of times the Canadian crowds think that they’re not up on music like the U.S. is and I actually think that the Canadian crowds are more advanced that the U.S. is.

I think we have a more refined taste. We don’t 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 don’t 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 it’s all the way across the board, then I’m all for it. I just don’t like when you start to block out certain types of music.

I think it’s 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 weren’t 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, there’s a bunch of them. From the first time that I heard any of the Canadian hip hop, I’ve always felt that it was something that really really should have been played in the U.S. Especially acts like Saukrates and Choclair. You know, listening to the records – I’m 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 it’s 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.

I’m definitely going to pass that on to them.

Please do. I would love to do something with ANY of them.

Did you know that Choclair just won a Juno Award last weekend?

Yeah, I heard about that. I think it’s really dope. I was watching a video that he had on television yesterday. I was like ‘this is really good’. 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 it’s 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., it’s 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. hasn’t gotten on to those guys yet, I’m hoping that they have a chance to see Japan and Australia and New Zealand. Hip hop is appreciated so much in a lot of places 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 helped.

You know what’s crazy? I’ll come to Canada and I’ll turn on MuchMusic and I’m jealous. I’m jealous that you have an equivalent of an MTV that plays Saukrates and K-OS and Choclair. Because our MTV won’t play Tribe Called Quest, they won’t play Slum Village, they won’t play J-Live. So, as much as you may think that you don’t get support, it’s 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 – and we’re 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. I’m not saying that the others are not but we don’t 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, I’m smiling. Man, I’m 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 I’m all set.

We’d be happy to facilitate that for you! I think it’s probably partially 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 Mad Skillz 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. We’re kind of looking like “Wow, they’re thanking us just for coming.” We’re talking about how we don’t want to go home!

In Canada, we’re just good people. We’re pretty loyal. Perhaps there’s a little identity crisis as a country but I’m very proud of our people – who we are and how we roll globally.

It’s very laid back and it’s not as much of the hustle and bustle that you have in the United States. Everything is so heightened in the United States. You’ve 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 and came up here with me – 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 don’t hear anybody yelling or screaming. You don’t get a sense that there’s a lot of tension around - and it’s RUSH hour on a Monday afternoon. I said, ‘You would never get this in the United States.’ He said “Wow, you know what? You’re absolutely right.” He opened his eyes and there was a couple standing on the pavement talking. There were people coming across the street. It’s kind of hard to describe. It’s the energy level where you just felt comfortable. That’s one of the things that I’ve always liked about Canada – it’s comfortable. A million times I’ve come up here and said that I’m moving. I’m going to move up here before it’s all said and done. Especially now that we're driving throughout the country. We drove to Halifax – 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, we’d 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. It’s reminiscent of the golden era that I love which is the Tribe Called Quest. It’s 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 “Who did the beat?” And it was Saukrates. I’m saying he’s doing the beat and he’s rhyming? I’m like, man, I really really like this 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 he’s a Canadian icon for doing that. So, does 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. There’s a group of people that know me from the Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. There are people that know me just from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. There are people that come to the show that say “Wow, that’s the guy that’s on the Fresh Prince” and they have no idea of what I’m doing now. And then there’s people who just know you for today. When you sit back and think – I don’t really care why anybody knows me, as long as you have a good time when you come out. It’s 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 “I loved you on the TV show” and there’s a group of people that don’t even know that you’ve had a life in music before the television show.

The mainstream audience would only know you from that though.

The beauty of that is that you have the people that know you so much from the mainstream yet you’re educating them to a whole new type of music.

You could take the attitude though that ‘oh I’m so through with that – that’s so many years ago’ and you’re not doing that. That’s cool.

It all encompasses you. I’m not made up of just one thing. As much as the television show wasn’t 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. I’m looking at it like these are all layers. I don’t look at it like I’m over and I’m done with all of that stuff. All of that stuff makes you up. I didn’t always feel that way because I don’t think I quite understood. When you’re trying to break into something new, people only want to know you for one thing. That was a very hard thing for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the television show or I didn’t like the Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince time. There was a time that people only liked you for one thing. That had a lot to do with me as a producer. A Touch of Jazz had everything to do with ‘let me come up with a company that I can hide behind and do records and travel’. It was a really big kick for people to come up and say ‘oh my God, I couldn’t believe that you did Jill Scott.’ I like that because however I can get you, I want to get you. It could have been ‘Wow, there’s this really good soul singer out that Jazzy Jeff and his production company produced’. You might not have even made an attempt to listen to it.

In production, you seem to gravitate towards working with soul artists – is that your preference?

I don’t think I necessarily have a preference per se but I grew up in a city of Gamble & Huff. They 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 can’t help but to love soul music. Coming from the early era of hip hop, I went record digging and I looked for samples. A 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 don’t think I would necessarily say it’s my preference. I grew up off of soul, I’m a product of hip hop, I love jazz incredibly, I’m a rock and roll fanatic. So, I don’t like to categorize it. I love music. There’s only two kinds of music to me – that’s good music and bad music.

It makes you mad, it’s confusing. You go to a store to look for a record and you get confused. You don’t know if it’s the rap section, the electronic section, the tribal section or the beat section. What they need to do is just make a record store and put everything in alphabetical order. Put all the A’s together – from the jazz A‘s to the opera A’s – let me just look. You get a group like Jazzanova from the UK that you don’t 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?

That’s the beauty of being a DJ though because you meld all that any way that you want. Unfortunately, the industry does like to categorize. It even breaks down a certain category into different sub-categories.

We went through that a lot when we were doing Jill Scott’s first record. And the beauty of it was – Jill was somebody who said I really don’t care about the radio; I don’t 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 “un-industry”. 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 that’s like ‘let’s just make a 9 minute record, let your body tell you when it’s finished' instead of dictating and cutting it short. Let’s not worry about if it doesn’t get played on the radio. I want to go back to the time when your favourite record wasn’t a record that they played on the radio.

I’m sure that’s why Jill has done as well as she’s done – not only is she multi-talented but she’s not trying to be one particular thing.

Once the industry got a hold of Jill’s record, then it started to become a fad. And that scared me. And I was like ‘Wow. This is something that we did straight from the heart and natural and now I’m getting calls from every artist in the business saying ‘I need some of that Jill Scott stuff’ and I said ‘But that’s hers.”

That’s exactly what Ali (Shaheed) said. He said that everyone’s wanting him to recreate the D’Angelo Brown Sugar vibe. And he said, “That was me and D’Angelo in the room. I can't recreate that and why would you want to?” As an artist with integrity, he couldn’t 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. It’s 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 – I would love to work with Stevie Wonder. I have some … when you said alive or not here … I'd 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 I’m doing some stuff on Herbie Hancock’s new record. I’m trying to do this collaboration with Jill and Sting.

That was one of the most incredible experiences I think I’ve 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. It’s really interesting to hear him talk about Miles Davis and the opportunities that Miles gave. I didn’t 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 him.

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. That’s why I’ve been on the road this much because it’s a one-on-one relationship with you and the crowd and I don’t 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 it’s over and there’s no hope. Every time that I’ve become successful in music has been when I’ve done music from my heart. Every time that I’ve become successful in music, there’s 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 ‘you have a talent’ 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 – 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 Jam Session. 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. That night, Jill, Musiq, Bilal, Floetry, Glenn, City High, J-Live – I can’t even begin to tell you how many people all came on stage and jammed. The crazy thing – it’s a small spot and there wasn’t a lot of people but it was almost like we were jamming for each other. This isn’t about a bunch of fans – it’s about being up here with your peers and just free stylin’. The band plays something and Jill goes up and sings, and Musiq and Bilal sings. Afterwards, the owners of the place were like, “You can come back whenever you want!”. We looked at each other and with honesty said, “We’re not going to do this again. You can’t get this again.” That was one of those things that nobody videotaped, if you were there, you got it. And that’s good enough. You don’t have to keep milking something until it’s 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 the product.

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 “Chameleon”. He was saying “I was a jazz artist that just wanted to make a funk record.” 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 – like this isn’t where I was going. You know what? Maybe you should just do it. Just do it.

I think that’s what it’s all about. It really is about the inspiration. One more question. What do you want people to remember you for?

Well, I’m no more than one person. I am not the guy who goes in the phone booth and he comes out and he’s Jazzy Jeff. Or he goes into another phone booth and he comes out and he’s Jazz and Fresh Prince. Everything that I’ve ever done is me. I don’t know how to be more than one person. That’s 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 don’t eat the healthiest foods. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to love who I am and all my flaws. Because they make up me. So, I don’t want to be perfect, I don’t try to be perfect. I try to correct what I can. More than anything, when I meet you on the street, I’m the same guy. I think it throws people off. I think they look at a lot of the things that I’ve accomplished and think I’m supposed to act somewhat different. I can’t be anything other than Jeff.

I think that what really moves people, is if you are just real to who you are.

Exactly. None of what I’ve done is me. I’m not the records that I’ve sold, I’m not the success that I’ve had. All that is stuff that I’ve accomplished but I didn’t become more important when I sold a bunch of records. I think that’s what happens. Just because you sold a bunch of records, please don’t make me more important. Don’t 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 there’s a side of me that really and truly believes that I haven’t done what I’ve been put here to do yet. I’m not even sure if it has anything to do with music.

I know I’m supposed to be shocked by that but I’m not. No one can put you in a box and who’s to say where our journey will take us right? Whatever God has destined for you, then that opportunity will come.

Exactly.

Well, Jeff thanks for this time and have a great time on the rest of the tour – and come back soon!

Absolutely. Thanks.

-langfield entertainment-

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