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DJ Jazzy Jeff

By Noel Dix

What are you up to?

Pretty much touring and promoting the new record [Return of the Magnificent]. It's funny because most of my stuff never changes — I'm pretty much on the road 90 percent of the time promoting whatever I have out.

What are your current fixations?

I'm getting into photography and video a lot. I love the fact that you can edit your own footage — it's almost like music to me being able to piece it together in a book or on a DVD. We put pieces of it as podcasts or on iTunes, of experiences on tour because there’s a lot of aspects of being on the road that I think people really find intriguing. You're not necessarily going to walk up to a Burger King in Hong Kong, you know? So like places to eat and shop in Hong Kong for example. I’m a big sneaker fanatic and there are a lot of sneaker places there. I’ve not incorporated [the footage] into my DJ set, but I know it’s coming. I don’t want to say that I’m in the early stages, but even though I’m a tech fanatic there are always some things that I grasp late.

Why do you live where you do?

I’m actually living in Deleware, just 35 minutes of Philadelphia. I don’t want to say that I live there because I wanted some peace and quiet, but I think my life is so hectic that I go from one extreme to another. I go from travelling, airports, customs and thousands of people at parties, to extreme quiet. I wanted to recreate the atmosphere that I had when I first started in my mom’s basement. With no responsibilities, no hassles, no nothing. Somewhere I could just go and work.

Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:

This might sound funny, but Mount Rushmore. I haven’t gone to see it but I’m supposed to take a trip there with my son this summer. I’m really interested in seeing how someone carved something in the side of a mountain! Like, did you shape the nose and then go back 200 yards to see if it's right? I really want to see that in person, at scale, and do some investigation just to see how that was done.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?

Live 8 in Philadelphia [July 2, 2005]. It was already special to be chosen to play one of the biggest shows in the world, but for it to be in your hometown? Just to have a million people in front of you on stage. It was incredible for us to perform “Summertime” and even drop the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and have a million people sing it — I will never, ever forget that. I had a video camera on stage because I wanted to tape the footage but I got so excited that I knocked the camera on the tripod up in the air. I got no footage.

What have been your career highs and lows?

I don’t know if I can necessarily pick a high because there’ve been so many peaks. I think I might still be living my high, just being able to have this longevity and to be able to keep do your thing and still enjoy it 20 years later.

As for the lows, just investigating and finding out really what this music business is about. I hate the business. I absolutely, positively hate the business. I’ve been making the statement that I am no longer in the music business — I just do music.

What’s the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?

The one thing that stands out is that I did a show in Canada and it got really hectic because there were about a thousand people there. After the show the security basically grabbed me and took me off stage and outside because there was so many people kind of cramming. They put me in a car and sent me back to the hotel and there was this journalist that wanted an interview. And because he didn't get the interview — he thought I just ran out of the club — he wrote a really negative review about my show. I'm not even looking at it like I know how good my show was, but you've got a thousand people screaming and yelling — how are you going to write a negative review? It might not have even been five people in the club that were disappointed, and you were just upset because you didn’t get what you wanted. It bothered me because people who weren't at the show read that.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?

I think what I most like about myself is my reasoning. I think I’m very good at looking at a situation and understanding it. I’m the type of person that if I’m speeding and I get pulled over and I get a ticket, I’m not mad because I was speeding. The only thing I can be upset about it the fact that I got caught. I’m not the guy who’s mad at the police officer, it’s like: “You got me.” I almost wanna give him a pound. (laughs) I hate paying taxes but I’m not going to let that bother me. I don’t complain about stuff that’s not in my control. I just bite my lip and write the cheque. It’s also the one thing I don’t like about myself... And it’s crazy because it’s a good one and a bad one. 98 percent of the days that it’s ever happened to me I saw it coming, but I just ignored it. Sometimes I don’t want to believe what I see. If you have a friend and they’re not doing right by you then I’ll always put it off like, “Okay. He’s just having a bad day.” By the end of the day you just sort of have to look at it for what it is.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?

(laughs) It kind of goes back to that last question. And not only do I see it coming, but I’ve had people come to me and say, “You know what? You need to watch that guy because he doesn’t have your best interest at heart.” I should listen.

What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?

Betrayal. I understand that even though lying isn’t good, sometimes you can get backed into a corner and the only way you can get out is if you lie. I don't accept an uninvited lie. Don’t walk into my house and say, “Oh my god, I just slept with Halle Berry.” If I didn’t ask you, don’t invite it to me. So when I say “betrayal” I'm not saying, “Oh, I stole a thousand dollars from you because I was homeless, out on the street and I needed something to eat.” I’m saying things that are just to hurt me or to just benefit yourself.

What do you think of when you think of Canada?

My next home. I’ve been saying that for maybe the past six or seven years. Within the next ten years I’m moving to Canada. I’d love to move out to the West coast, like Vancouver or some of the islands like Whistler or Nanaimo. I love the energy, the weather, the scenery — I really love it out there. I love Canada.

What is your vital daily ritual?

I have different rituals when I’m on the road and when I’m at home. When I’m home I pretty much get up about 8 o’clock and let my dog out. Then I feed him and my cat. And then I take a shower, come downstairs and make breakfast and check my email. And then I go into the studio. I try to keep my studio to when I’m in a very creative mood. I don’t like to set up schedules because I don’t believe creativity can be on a clock. I’ll go in there and listen to some stuff, and sometimes I’m in there for ten minutes and sometimes it’s for ten hours.

What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?

I have very mixed feelings about that, but I understand it 100 percent. I don’t agree with all of it, but there is a big portion that I do. If the music corporations didn’t step in and try to control the music as much as they do we wouldn’t have the piracy. When there was LPs and cassettes and they came out with CDs the music industry freaked out. They thought it would kill the industry and didn’t realise that everyone who had records and cassettes re-bought their entire catalogue on CD. When that dude invented Napster the greed of the industry forced them not to realise that this guy just invented where we’re going to be in the future, and they fought him. You cannot fight a great idea. And what happened is by the time they figured they beat him, he had converted almost everyone to the wave of the future. You also have to look at the fact that we don’t have a radio system that allows you to play all of the music that’s out there and let us decide what we really like and what we don’t. We have a system where people get paid to play certain records and they play them to the point where it’s not that you don’t like them, you accept them. The kids out here aren’t pirating Eminem. They’re not pirating Beyonce. They’re out there investigating all kinds of music. I couldn’t believe it, but 20-year olds at my shows are singing Nirvana. Maybe their moms and their pops were so into Nirvana that the kids said, “Yo, let me investigate and find out who these guys are.” I’ve realised that the musical knowledge and broadness of the kids today are a lot more than what I ever thought. And it’s because they’re online downloading everything. And that always cracks me up how the business thinks, “Oh the new Beyonce came out and they’re downloading it.” They’re not downloading Beyonce. They’re downloading Yes and the Who. The first time I investigated Napster I didn't go after what record was popular, I went for an Isley Brothers record that I couldn’t find! I just think the music industry is not run by music lovers — it’s run by business people. They’re looking it as numbers and, I’m not saying numbers aren’t important, but you also have to look at it from the aspect that people just want to hear good music. That’s why satellite and internet radio is doing what it’s doing. They play ten records on the radio and you expect me to believe when I walk into a Virgin Megastore that of those three million records only ten are good?

What was your most memorable day job?

I worked at a parlour named Steve’s, that made homemade ice cream. They would put ice cream on a marble slab and people would say what kind of mixes they wanted, like M&Ms, and you would toss the ice cream over and put it in a cup. And I used to get a lot of girls like that because it was pretty cool. “What do you want on your ice cream? Nah nah nah, I’ll put it in for free.” Just so you could show them that you can put this ice cream on a slab, mix it around and put it in a cup.

If I wasn’t playing music I would be…

I’d be a chef. I love to cook. I had a girlfriend who said she would never cook for a man. So I figured I need to learn how to cook. And I didn't want to learn how to just make oodles and noodles. I wanted to learn how to cook everything I liked. So I sat in my house with nobody around and learnt a lot of stuff until I got it right.

The legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff has managed to survive a network television show, the first hip-hop Grammy, production for Bart Simpson and record company shadiness by staying true to the game for over 20 years. Jeff comes correct on his Return of the Magnificent record by digging up numerous classic breaks to form slick production around an all-star cast of MCs including Big Daddy Kane, Method Man, Jean Grae and Kardinal Offishall. He even manages to give a nod to better days with a cover design inspired by funk-jazz arranger, Eumir Deodato. “That was an idea that Peter from BBE came up with, and when people saw the Deodato cover they recognised the image from their parent’s collection,” recalls Jeff. “Just trying to do a throwback to a time when album covers meant something, you know? Like the old Ohio Players covers featuring semi-nude women. Those were covers that you’d never forget.” And even though Jeff has been releasing several albums, mixes and rocking shows for years since the Fresh Prince days, he still manages to get asked about his partner in rhyme, Will Smith — a common occurrence Jeff brings up on his new record. “Will gave me the idea and said that I should poke fun,” the producer says of skits involving an obscene amount of people who put him on hold in order to get through to his Oscar-nominated friend. “When I go to a drive-thru people will actually ask, ‘Yo, where’s Will?’ Sometimes those are really funny questions that you could never answer honestly. Like, ‘Yeah, I just talked to him. He’s in the bathroom.’ It’s a two-sided thing because you can act like you don’t get frustrated when someone says, ‘Have you seen Will?’ but then you get pulled over by the cops and it’s like, ‘You know I’m Will’s friend, right?’”

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