Chad Kiser talks to DJ Jazzy Jeff for an in-depth conversation about summertime mixes, new moves with Will Smith and even working with Dr. Dre.
By Chad Kiser
(AllHipHop Features) Musical icon, producer extraordinaire, and Philadelphia native DJ Jazzy Jeff first steeped on the scene in the late 1980’s when he hooked up with Will Smith, a brash and exuberant emcee known as The Fresh Prince (who would also become one oh Hollywood’s biggest stars) to form the hip-hop duo of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. The pair would go on to release hip-hop’s first Grammy Award-winning song, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in 1989, which catapulted their careers to another level neither could have predicted.
Over the next 30 years, DJ Jazzy Jeff would conquer the world of entertainment in numerous ways. Whether he was introducing the transformer scratch to the world, playing Will Smith’s comic foil during episodes from the long-running television show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, or producing the summertime jam of all summertime jams ever with DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” record, Jeff Townes has become an indisputable legend.
DJ Jazzy Jeff recently released his 11th Summertime mixtape with MICK, Summertime 2020, in association with The quintessential California Rosé, Summer Water, and is accessible now exclusively through the Summer Water website
In this AllHipHop exclusive interview with Chad Kiser, DJ Jazzy Jeff discusses his 11th Summertime mixtape with MICK, Summertime 2020, working with Will Smith on songs like “Brand New Funk” and “Summertime”, getting Mike Tyson and Don King in the “I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson” video, working with Dr. Dre on the 2015 “Straight Outta Compton” film and so much more!
AllHipHop: Firstly, we’re glad to see you’ve recovered well from the Corona Virus. How are you feeling?
Jazzy Jeff: I’m great! I was one of the early people to catch it in March, and I got sick so early that they didn’t even really know what it was. It was the sickest that I have ever been in my life. It’s thanks to my wife that I’m here today. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so vocal about people wearing masks and practicing social distancing because I understand how real it is. As sick as I was, it trips me out how people think that this is not real.
AllHipHop: Well let’s hop right into the latest, “Summertime Mixtape 2020”, with MICK — Tell me about putting this together, and partnering with Summer Water?
Jazzy Jeff: The funny thing is that we almost didn’t do it. We were blessed eleven years ago when Mick came to me and said, “Hey, I got an idea. Why don’t we put out a summertime mixtape?” I said, “Cool. Let’s grab some summertime songs!” We wanted to make it about the summer vibes and being outside. We didn’t want to put any new music on it. We just wanted to create a vibe, so we did it. It was so well received, that it wasn’t until April of the next year that we started getting tweets about summertime 2 that the idea of a second volume was even considered. To look up and realize that we have done 10 summers with these mixtapes and it had become such a staple with so many people has been amazing.
Ten is a really good number to end on. You don’t want to end on 11 or 14, so I was like we need gotta do 10, or we need to keep going. In my brain I was like 10 is good, we should stop here. Mick started calling me and was like, “listen, I know were going to stop at 10, but I think in light of where we are in the world and everything that is going on I think people need this more than ever”. I couldn’t debate that at all. SO instead of saying this was summertime 11, it’s summertime 2020.
Summer Water was the perfect sponsor for this because you have a drink called Summer Water and our mixtape is called Summertime, so it all just kind of flowed in. Sometimes things just kind of click together that you don’t expect to click together like that, and this is probably the most perfect match of any mixtape we’ve done.
AllHipHop: Being the 11th Volume of the Summertime mixtape series, what keeps you and MICK coming back for more?
Jazzy Jeff: When we did the first one, it was just cool to put it out there. People in the States loved it, played it at the barbecues, and if I’m not mistaken XM Satellite debuted it and played. It was just a really good summer vibe. I didn’t expect that as we went into December and January, that the people in the southern hemisphere were going to start rocking it because it was going into their summer. So that was crazy int hat it was basically covering two different zones in opposite seasons. We wouldn’t have continued if people weren’t asking for it.
From the second one on, Michael Rappaport has been a guy that would tweet, “where’s the summertime mixtape”. It has gotten to the point that it’s not officially summer until we drop a mixtape. There were a couple times we dropped it the first day of summer, or on the Fourth of July, but when we missed the first day of summer people were like, ‘you better drop this on the 4 of July!’ You can’t complain about that because if people didn’t enjoy it, they wouldn’t ask for it.
AllHipHop: How did you and MICK initially meet and conceive what has now become this worldwide phenomenon that is the Summertime Mixtape series?
Jazzy Jeff: It’s funny, and weird at the same time, that Mick was a really big DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince fan. I met him through his mixtapes from way back in the day and I became a fan of his. I was able to do a couple of shows with him and we exchanged numbers, and we began to talk to the point that when Will would have birthday parties and things like that, and I happened to be on tour or booked elsewhere, Mick would go and do those parties. It was trippy for him that these we were his heroes growing up, and then he’s now doing Will’s mom’s birthday party performing “Brand New Funk” with Will. We just established a friendship, and then out of the blue he presents this idea for the summertime mixtape. He was the mixtape guy, I wasn’t. When he approached me about doing this mixtape, my brain started going to “Hot Fun In The Summertime” by Sly & The Family Stone, “Summer Madness”, and “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” and so many other ideas that I was like, “Let’s do it!”
AllHipHop: I love the artwork for the project! How did that concept together, and who’s the mastermind behind the visual?
Jazzy Jeff: Mick has always been the guy for the artwork. I would always do the mix, and Mick would handle all of the backend because he was the mixtape tape guy. He would always find these people who did amazing artwork. I don’t remember which year it was, but one of the covers was Mick and myself, my twins, and his son. It wasn’t that long ago that you could conceive doing something like this without a big corporation, but with the explosion of social media Mick is able to reach out to people, find artists, and collect stuff that we can put this together and we’re not even in the same room. One of the shirts we did this year had all the summertime artworks combined and looking at that is like wow and how crazy this has all been over the years of doing these mixtapes.
AllHipHop: Getting into DJ’ing and producing, who were and have been your greatest inspirations and influences?
Jazzy Jeff: I would have to say Kenny Gamble of Gamble & Huff who has been and is a big brother to me. It’s kind of like growing up in Detroit during the Motown era and watching the impact of Berry Gordy and Motown. I grew up in Philadelphia during the Philadelphia International era and watched the impact of Gamble & Huff. Getting to the point where Will and I started putting out records, Kenny Gamble immediately reached out and we established a friendship where he would mentor me with some of the greatest advice I’ve ever received. Life advice and career advice has come from him, so it’s been a blessing to have a guy like that around me.
AllHipHop: Longevity, what do you feel has been the ultimate key to your success for over 30 years? And, of course, what continues to inspire you to continue?
Jazzy Jeff: Not thinking about longevity, first, because I think that as soon as you start paying attention to what’s going on that’s a signal of the end. That’s just my opinion. I don’t relish in things that I have done; I’m always trying to look forward. I think you have to find the reason you started doing it in the first place, especially something like this. This started as a hobby that turned into a job, that turned into a career. A lot of people have a job that they think is a career, and a lot of people that have a career and treat it like a job. I’ve always chosen to do what I love over what pays you the most or grants you the most success. With success come a lot of other stuff that will drift you off your path if you let it. I remember doing an interview at the studio I had in Philly when we had just put out the Jill Scott record, and the Musiq Soulchild record. This interviewer called me and asked me to name 3 of the top moments of my career, and without hesitation I started naming the party in the park at this place, the party in the park at that place, and so on. The interviewer was amazed that those things I named had nothing to do with my success. It was also an a-ha moment for me because to me it was just something I enjoyed doing, and the success was just an added thing on to it. I’m doing this because I love it.
AllHipHop: Let’s take it back to the early days for a minute, to the first DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince record in 1987, with “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble” where you sampled T-Ski Valley’s “Catch the Beat” for the song. Talk to me about producing this record for you and the Fresh Prince, which put you guys on the map.
Jazzy Jeff: It’s not that we didn’t know what were doing, but we just didn’t care. We didn’t care about the success or the money, we were just in the studio creating something. A lot of people don’t understand what it means to create something. To me, creating is like giving birth. Here it is I’m banging on these drum pads, looking for these samples, doing these scratches, and he’s coming up with concepts, and writing the lines. We record it, put it out, and people love it. That’s like a kid! “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ but Trouble” is a 30-year-old kid! We weren’t thinking about what’s this kid going to be like when it grows up, it was about making the dopest kid that we can. Making your first album you have a lifetime to do so, but you only have the time from your first album to your second album to make that second one.
AllHipHop: 1988 you guys took a huge step for award with putting together what ultimately became the Grammy Award-winning song “Parents Just Don’t Understand” off the He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper album. How did you build that record with Peter Frampton’s “Won’t You Be My Friend” and John Davis’ “I Can’t Stop” samples?
Jazzy Jeff: It might have been two years ago that anyone realized that that was a Peter Frampton sample. I used to look on the sites and pay attention, and there were very few people who came to me and said, ‘hey, here’s that “Parent’s Just Don’t Understand” sample.’ We made that album in London, a nd I was making beats in the hotel room, and then we were going straight to the studio and laying them down. There was no expectation or anything. The love and the passion for creating something is what really drove us. Will is a very creative person, which everyone can tell with his journey into acting. We would put that same level of creativity into our music. I would make the music, and Will would tell me what the music was saying to him, this is what the music is telling him to write. We would write about what was going on in our lives. “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble” was a story with Will being chased out of the house by some girls father. “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, we had performed at one of the awards shows and came home thinking we were big shit! I walked in my house and my mom told me to go up street and get a loaf of bread and a half gallon of milk. Will and I just kind of shot a look to each other like, ‘Wow, we just came back from London doing it big.’ And it was just like parents just don’t understand became a song. So many of those songs were created because of conversations we had and looking at the things that were happening in our lives.
AllHipHop: That songwriting process, and what you’re saying about how the music dictated what was being written is evident with songs like “Nightmare on My Street” and “Summertime”. You couldn’t write anything else except what those songs were.
Jazzy Jeff: A lot of the times it was the music, but one thing he would always say is that writing the song wasn’t the hardest thing for him. I was coming up with the concept that was the hard part. He came up with the concept for “Summertime” before the music was done because that was more so the first year, he was in L.A. doing “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” show. Being from the east coast, he didn’t get those seasons that we grew up with. It was 90 degrees on Christmas out there. So when he started calling me in April and May asking me what’s going on out here and I’m like, “Man, it just hit 70 degrees out here and everybody’s at the Plateau, I’m washing my car, drove down South Street and got a cheesesteak..” I’m giving him the play-by-play of what the weather breaking on the east coast is, and he’s missing it because it’s 90 degrees every day in L.A. That was the nostalgia that made him write that because anybody from the east coast knows you have four different emotions every year. Going into the fall season it’s reflective, going into winter you have a scowl on your face because you have to face these elements, when spring comes your eyebrows go back up because I haven’t seen you all winter, and the summer hits and it’s a good time.
A song like “Nightmare on My Street” came about because I made a groove and he would tell me that this is a story beat, it’s kind of dark. As he started saying the nightmare stuff, I began adding more of the nightmarish elements. It’s kind of like a tennis match where I’m hitting something to him, and he’s something back to me to where we get something.
AllHipHop: “Brand New Funk” was a great song that displayed Will Smith’s lyrical prowess on the microphone. Tell me about putting that record together, which is still a fan favorite to this day.
Jazzy Jeff: I remember doing that at the hotel room in London, chopped up the sample, made the beat, came up with the cuts, Will wrote it, we went to the studio and recorded it in a day, and it was a wrap. We were thinking that song was the first single, but the record company said that “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was going to be the first single. They were right. We were able to do the “Brand New Funk” live video while we were on tour because people really enjoyed that live.
I think Will wanted to do more of those types of records, but because we had kind of established the story-telling from “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble” and “Parents Just Don’t Understand” that we were kind of encouraged me with the record company to make sure that we always had those records. I think you’ll find a “Brand New Funk” type record on every album we’ve done, but it was just overshadowed by whatever the story-telling record was that we did. Being one of the first groups to have pop success and crossover appeal, you didn’t realize how much the record companies leaned on that.
People don’t realize that Will used to ride around in a truck, find MC’s, and pick battles. Will’s pedigree is of a battle rapper. He was very intelligent, very lyrical, but also very funny because he realized how he could beat everybody was through humor. That’s; where you get the humor aspect in all these songs he does. That’s always been Will.
AllHipHop: And In This Corner…, the 1989 record that had the memorable “I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson” song and video. I always thought it was amazing that you guys had Don King and Mike Tyson in the video. What was that like filming that music video?
Jazzy Jeff: Early on when we did shows in New York, Mike Tyson would be there, so we knew him early in his career from him coming to the shows at the Latin Quarter and places like that. Once again, we came with this concept of “I think I Can Beat Mike Tyson” because we would joke about how people would give their opinion on how they could beat Tyson. We thought it would be funny take on doing it, and then it was like let’s reach out to Mike about the video.
A lot of people wanted Mike in their video, but he would never show up. At that point in time Mike was doing whatever he wanted to do. We shot the video in Ohio where Mike was living at the time to try and make it easier. And I remember thinking how we had all this film crew here, and Mike might not show up for this. We almost had a contingency plan for it if he didn’t show up. But here comes Mike, and he shows up. He pulls up and says, “Hey, jump in the car, I want to show you something.” We jumped in the car with Mike and were gone for about 3 hours. The crew didn’t know what to do, but what are you going to tell Mike Tyson?
He was getting his house built and he wanted to show us his house. We’re in the car riding around the Amish country of Ohio with Mike Tyson, while this film crew is waiting. But he came back, but the gloves on, Don King showed up, and we did the video. The only thing that sucked about it was right when that song dropped, he lost to Buster Douglas. It was awkward!
AllHipHop: Speaking of Mike Tyson, what are your thoughts on “Iron” Mike making a comeback?
Jazzy Jeff: Once Mike started training and taking it seriously, I thought it was amazing. I think you’re going to see vintage Mike Tyson for 3 rounds. This isn’t built for the long haul, but I think we’re going to have 3 of the most exciting throwback Mike Tyson rounds. Somebody with Mike’s ferocity might be able to beat the champ in 3 rounds.
Now, don’t get it twisted, Roy Jones, is Roy Jones. I’m a boxing fan, and one thing I know is that Roy Jones’ chin wasn’t Mike Tyson’s chin, and Roy Jones’ punch wasn’t Mike Tyson’s punch. I just want everybody to be safe.
AllHipHop: In addition to your Grammy success, you and the Fresh Prince achieved icon status with the release of “Summertime”, which obviously gets continues to get heavy rotations in cars, during BBQ’s and so forth. What has that song meant to you in your career, and are you still surprised at how long that song has stayed ever-present?
Jazzy Jeff: Every summer I wait for that song to go away. And it’s not wishing it away, it’s just that you’re not used to things staying around like that. To think that you’ve been a part of a television show that has stayed on the air through two or three different generations and that you’ve made a summertime record over 30 years ago that every time the weather breaks they play this record, most artists hope to have that one thing that stands the test of time. To be a part of a couple, trust me, you sit and think about how trippy this really is.
It was Will missing Philadelphia, the weather changing so much that he was inspired to write something like that, tapping into a classic like “Summer Madness”, or the song comes out a year earlier or later and may not have had the same impact. I think it was just the perfect storm that you’re a part of. And every year you’re looking for someone to come out with the new summertime song, and there’s been a million summertime songs since then, but people keep coming back to your song is just amazing.
AllHipHop: You have been a part of several historical and classic moments in hip-hop and entertainment in general from receiving the first Grammy for hip-hop, releasing the timeless and never gets old “Summertime”, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air television series, to now dropping the 11th release of the popular Summertime mixtape. Looking back, what are your thoughts on the impacts of these incredible moments, and do you feel DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince get the respect they deserve for their contributions to hip-hop?
Jazzy Jeff: What’s interesting is I think there’s a point in time where you might feel slighted or overlooked, but then you realize that’s relative to the individual. People have favorites. You could win a Grammy, but if your favorite artist was Kid ‘N Play then you’re going to say Kid ‘N Play should have won that. There’s nothing I can do to change your mind because it’s your personal opinion. I think what really helped me was that I was an early adopter of social media. Social media gave a peek into what people thought and what they said, sometimes to a detriment, but I realized I couldn’t get wrapped up in this because people are doing things for likes. Once you realize that, it’s like a sign. I’m doing this for me. If you make a meal and try to please ten people with a meal, you’ll probably fail on all 10. But if you make a meal you want to make, you’ll probably get of them. I Started doing this with my lens and shooting out, and I just need to stay there.
We went through a lot early on in our careers with things like people saying we were from the suburbs. And I’m looking around where I grew up and it was so far from the suburbs, but it came from Will not cussing in his raps. What we put in our music had nothing to do with what our life growing up was or what we saw. We just chose to do something different. Serena and Venus Williams are from Compton and they play tennis. So, that doesn’t serve as a reflection of what your life is. You just get to a point over time that things just stop bothering you. So, what if you’re not on somebody’s top 100 list because there’s some people on those lists that you don’t even know what they’ve really done.
AllHipHop: Tell me about working on the Straight Outta Compton film and being specifically asked by Dr. Dre to do so. What’s the story behind your involvement there?
Jazzy Jeff: Dr. Dre and I have always been cool. I got a call from someone who was saying Dr. Dre was trying to get in touch with me. I was like whatever. Then another person reached out saying they were Dr. Dre’s assistant and that was wanting to speak with me. I left it alone again, but then I had an old manager of mine reach out to me and telling me Dre was trying to reach me. I thought it might be real now, and about 5 minutes later he called. We talked for a few minutes just saying hello and things like that, and then he starts saying how it took him a long time to sign off on the NWA movie, and now that he has signed off he was looking for someone to do the DJ work that understands that time period. He said I was the first person that came to mind.
Without him saying a lot, I knew I had to be in 1989 and do these scratches like I would have in that time frame. The first batch that I sent back, he hit me and was like, “You gotta make me look good, put your foot in it a little bit more.” I didn’t want to go too far too soon, but I went back and re-did it. When I was doing “Weak at The Knees”, I was reciting Ice Cube’s lyrics in my head to know when to drop the music out and put the scratches in. When I sent that, he lost his mind because this is basically how they did it live. After I went to the premiere in Philly, I hit him to tell him it was amazing. He called me back in like two seconds and told me, “You got it, it took me there. I appreciate it.” Dr. Dre is another one of the ones who has been a round doing this for a long time like myself, and when we talk you can tell he has the appreciation for the journey. Even to this day, Will and I will shoot each other this look of ‘do you believe this shit’?
AllHipHop: There’s been a lot of talk recently about people’s Top 5 rappers recently. Who’s in DJ Jazzy Jeff’s Top 5?
Jazzy Jeff: I usually don’t do lists like this because I feel like I’m picking my favorite kids, and I realize that it’s a matter of personal opinion. But LL Cool J, KRS-One, Rakim, Biggie, and Kendrick Lamar are all in my Top 5. My criteria isn’t based on longevity, lyrics or things like that. I’m a music head, so I’m also listening to the music as well. I have been a part of so many debates about me saying Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” is the greatest Hip-Hop album I’ve ever heard. I enjoy these debates, but I don’t take them too serious because we’re also crossing time eras and generations. That’s why you can’t compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan because everything was different then and different now. We can speculate, but we’ll never know. People have their favorites in the debates, and changing their mind isn’t going to happen. It’s no clearer than the 2Pac and Biggie debate. I know people who didn’t grow up on Pac, and Biggie was everything. And there’s others who 2Pac was everything to them, but Big was just cool. But it’s not that serious to me.
AllHipHop: Wrapping up, we’ve also seen Will Smith being in the studio in the last year or so, and you and he did quarantine concert. So, when can we expect another DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince collaboration record again?
Jazzy Jeff: We have definitely been talking about it. It really sucks where we are because it’s the 30 anniversary of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and we had a lot of plans like planning a tour, going in the studio to do another record, and other things on the table. But then the pandemic hot and the world is a much different place right now. I’m pretty sure that it will come back around, but right now people are just trying to figure out what the future will look like. I don’t think things will go back to the way it was, but we’ll need to see what this new landscape of life and entertainment will look like. Once that gets clear, I expect Will and I to jump right back in to where we were.