I spoke with DJ Jazzy Jeff recently for a local story and our conversation ran a bit long– after all, dude has been in the game very long and remains remarkably personable to boot. With the Bay Area as a frequent tour stop (he calls it a ‘second home’) we conversed a bit on some history and his career as a DJ/producer. Below are snippets from our talk on some of the more poignant moments of his ongoing DJ career. -DM
On Meeting Will Smith: “He was in a crew and I was in a crew too and we knew of eachother. We never officially met. I got a last minute DJ gig and had to go without an MC, which is fine. I was gonna rock the spot anyways, but it just so happened to be on Will’s block. He came down and we gave each other daps and just formally met. He was like ‘Where’s Ice’, which was the name of my MC. I told him Ice couldn’t make it and Will was like ‘Mind if I rock with you?’. So then I gave him the mic and it was magic. We were in sync right away from a musical perspective. As dudes, we hit it off too, just laughing and joking all night. I picked up the phone the next night and asked if he wanted to do another gig with me and that was that. It wasn’t too cool for MC Ice who essentially became unemployed [laughs]. But man, it worked out great.”
Why He Started DJing: “More than anything, I loved being the guy who was in charge of playing music at the local parties. You did it because it made you feel good and I liked being the guy responsible for making people dance. So you go from playing a party on your street, to a party on the block, then you’re playing clubs in Philly. That’s pretty much how it started.”
On His First Time in the Studio: “When you make records, especially rap records back then, you never think they’ll hit iconic status one day. You sort of just go in, have a good time in the studio, and try to be as creative as you can. You have to think it’s just for five people rather than 5 million. I feel that outlook keeps it fun. There’s no pressure. You just wanna make good songs for your friends. It was literally just going into the studio or even my mom’s basement, and Will’s rapping and I’m playing my beats and adding cuts, and it’s all cool by the time we hit the studio.”
On Record Collecting: “I will never stop digging. Its one of those things where I laugh and say thank I have so many records already. I have so much music, man. On my computer, in my garage, everywhere. But you know, you can’t walk pass a record store without going in and buying just one, or two, or ten. And it’s like that everywhere in the world I go to ‘til this day.”
Bay Area DJs and What He Does When He’s Here: “Q-Bert is like the Jimi Hendrix of the turntable. I joke with Shortkut and call him a Swiss Army Knife because whatever you want, he’ll provide. I mean, when I’m in the Bay, I’ll go to Thud Rumble Headquarters or I’ll go to Q-Bert’s house. Me and Shortkut will go get Dungeness crab at a local spot. I have my ritual of where I go to eat, who I go to see and all that. I love the Bay and can’t wait to be there again. It really feels like a second home to me there.”
On Sudden Stardom: “It’s crazy because literally ten months after we cut the first record, we’re on the stage at the Grammys. And all of it came from us just having fun. We went thru a period where it was too serious, which I’m sure most artists go thru. I compare my music and art to basketball; you go out to play ball after school to have fun. And if yo’re good at it, you’l play for your school, then maybe your highschool, then maybe college, then if you’re really good, you go pro. But the day it became no longer fun, your game changes.”
DJing Versus Producing: “To me, DJing is producing on the fly. It’s my job to produce the night. As a producer, you have more time to put things together. It’s piecing things together, which is taking nothing and making something out of it. I can just start playing and programming stuff and piece together a puzzle and it’s one of the moist gratifying things you can do.”
For Fans Who’ve Been Listening Since the ’80s: “I just have a huge, high level of love and appreciation. I love what I do so much and am blessed to still do what I do. There so much drama and I’ve always been lucky to still have all this joy. I’m not young anymore but still travel and do what I love. I’ve covered almost every base one would cover in the music industry and to come full circle and still do what I started out doing as a kid is incomparable. I will always DJ and do music. I might not always be involved in the industry side of things, but I get to cut the middleman and just give music directly to the people now. Then I’m off to the next venue. Not much I can ask for.”
Filed under: Interviews | Tags: Big Daddy Kane, biz markie, juice crew, Kool G Rap, wax poetics
* Published concurrently on www.waxpoetics.com
* ‘G Rap’ Image By Kori Thompson
G Rap’s early career was a minefield of shifty fictions anchored in large by a dizzying cadence and attention to detail. And while these early years were fleeting, they, like any true pioneers’ work, set the framework for younger cats to explore. Wu-Tang, Jay-Z, Nas, and Biggie were all spawned from G Rap, later citing his delivery and Mafioso street narratives as immensely impactful and of influence.
I spoke in depth with G Rap for Wax Poetics issue 58, touching on ballyhooed history and other watershed moments during his immensely rich upstart. But there’s so much more to his story, so many colorful characters that came and went in an era where Biz Markie had entirely long beatboxing routines and Big Daddy Kane rapped while doing vigorous dance numbers— all of it under the guidance of rap’s first super producer, the venerable Marley Marl. It was a showcase of fun and well roundedness that underscored the Juice Crew’s heyday.
To this day, the trajectory of his career and its catalogue has been a point of reference for so many, and here’s the rest of our interview, bookended by opulent moments of his storied rise. Says G rap: “I just had crazy confidence in myself. I knew that skill-wise, especially back then, I was an elite. I was untouchable.”
Even though most fixate on those first early records of yours, you’ve had a lot of artistic output since. What are you up to these days?
I’m working on a screenplay. I’m transitioning from rapper back to just writer and am working on concepts for short films. Some of the themes are taken from my old albums. I’m gonna start shooting short films of all these song concepts I’ve had through the years. I can’t wait to get in the field and just put art out there again.
Perhaps one of your well known is “Road To The Riches”. The video itself is remarkable. Talk about working with director Fab Five Freddy.
I was no older than twenty at that point even though I looked thirteen [laughs]. It was directed by [Fab Five] Freddy who I think did an excellent job. He’s from that element, he’s from the streets. He’s definitely a fan of hip-hop and captured what we were going for.
That song was taken from my real life experiences. I wasn’t literally sweeping floors for dimes but if you consider the minimum wage then, I was basically working for dimes [laughs]. It was just my life and things that were going on around me. I mentioned John Gotti because it was the topic of the times. Any part of the violence that I wrote about were things I saw, even if I didn’t directly participate in all of it. I mean, right before the video shoot, this Jamaican cat I knew shot this dude in my neighborhood. Later, the dude ended up killing the Jamaican cat. These were real life things and experiences that I took in.
Let’s talk about the Juice Crew explore that history a bit. How was it working with Marley Marl? He was already known and you were actually the newcomer to the crew.
He’s that dude! Needless to say, he’s one of the first, most innovative producers in the game. Marley was the first one where people knew him equally as much as the vocalist. His name stood out as much as Kane or Biz. It was like he set the format without rapping on anything. Everything he did was behind the scenes. He was in a skit and a video, which was cool since he was already so big and should’ve made himself more identifiable. Then (Dr.) Dre and RZA kind of became what Marley laid out— the dude in the studio that made everything happen and known to the listener.
How close were you guys as a unit? Did Marley keep things tight or were you really more or less affiliates? Continue reading