Interview: DJ Jazzy Jeff

DJ Jazzy Jeff is one of the world’s premiere DJs, a rare DJ with an extensive back catalogue of chart hits, as well as underground classics.

Whether as a solo artist or collaborating with the likes of Jill Scott, The Roots, KRS One, and (of course) Will Smith, DJ Jazzy Jeff’s skills behind the turntable and in the studio are second to none. As a scene staple, he has judged the Red Bull Thre3style DJ competition multiple times, and he has strived to encourage the next generation of progressive music makers through his Playlist Retreat and A Touch of Jazz production company.

On 21 October, DJ Jazzy Jeff will take to the Amsterdam Dance Event where he plays Sugarfactory, alongside another legend, Kenny Dope. Anticipating the event, Jeff was kind of enough to give us a few minutes to get his impressions on Amsterdam, ‘The Get Down,’ Kenny Dope, and more.

“I wanna take people on a kind of musical journey that you never really know where your going.”

When did you first travel to Amsterdam for a gig? Can you take us back to that moment? How did it go? What were your impressions of the city?
I think the 1st time I came was mid 90s with Will when “Boom Shake the Room” was out. I didn’t get a chance to see much but it was a beautiful city. Then I came in 99 for a DJ gig and fell in love with the city!!

Do you have any particular things you like to do/places you like to go when in Amsterdam?
I absolutely love the food and shopping. The vibe of the city is just electric…you feel it walking around.

At this year’s ADE you will be playing Sugar Factory alongside Kenny Dope, obviously another veteran of DJing. Can you talk a bit about your relationship with Kenny? How do you view him as a DJ and a representative of House Music?
Kenny is an absolute legend…not just in house…but all kinds of music. I’ve known Kenny for over 20 years and continue to be inspired by him. Can’t wait to see him play!!!

Can you describe, from your perspective, the intersection between hip hop and house? Obviously, there are some direct correlations, but do you find their similarities to be as distinct now as in “the early days”?
Hip Hop is a lyrical form over any type of music…even House. There were tons of Hip Hop/House records a while ago because it all went together. You can hear in a lot of the new music today that trying to happen again…everything goes in cycles.

From your early hip-hop days to know, can you describe how your approach to a DJ set has evolved (if it has)? Meaning, have your interests evolved? How do you view the ratio of genres? How do you construct yours sets now vs. then?
My approach has not changed a lot…I have never considered myself a Hip Hop DJ. I play all kinds of music…that’s how I came up. We played whatever made people move so I’ve never go away from that mindset. I wanna take people on a kind of musical journey that you never really know where your going. It’s fun that way!!!

I’m also interested in your web series, Vinyl Destination. What was the initial reasoning behind launching this project? Have you pitched the idea to networks? Any favorite episodes?
I’m blessed to be able to travel all across the globe… But coming home and explaining my travels to friends and family, no one ever seem to understand. We decided to create a web series that would document the travels. Showing all aspects… Not just the good but the bad also. A few networks were interested but they all wanted to make it scripted and I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible. It’s really hard to pick a favorite episode. Naturally some are more action packed than others. But it’s impossible to single out episodes because each one adds to the overall experience.

Speaking of a travel series, how do you view your “acceptance” from International audiences vs. American audiences? How do you see the annual breakdown of your gig, say, US vs. Europe? Have you noticed any change in this over the years?
I may play more international dates than US dates…lol. I love the freedom I get playing abroad. I try to keep my set similar so people get me as a DJ instead of playing to the location.

Where are some of your favorite destinations to play around the world? Does any vibe ever compare to the Philly vibe?
Philly is home but playing in Europe and Asia is special!! Can’t beat the vibes. Lots of real music lovers there.

As you are touring quite often, regardless of where it is, what are your techniques for mindfulness? Do you have any particular activities, places, things you know you can use to “wind down”?
Music is everything to me…so I’ll pick an album and let it take me somewhere!!

Something kinda unrelated but I’m interested to see what your thoughts are on the new show from Nas and Baz Luhrman “The Get Down”. As an old school New Yorker (well, not late 1970s old school, but still…), I find it to be quite nostalgic and a nice representation of the interconnection between hip hop and disco (despite sometimes getting a bit “High School Musical). Have you seen it? How do you view its content and presentation?
I absolutely loved the show..it took me back to that time when music was this big melting pot. It was pretty spot on. To watch the story of how it all came together was amazing! Can’t wait for season 2!!!

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21 October | MN2S Presents: DJ Jazzy Jeff & Kenny Dope | Tickets | Sugarfactory