As the lovable character Jazz, DJ Jazzy Jeff brought even more levity to the iconic ‘90s sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Aloof, seemingly innocent, and with a firm grasp on comedic timing, Jazz charmed his way into homes across America.
“They gave me lines, I said the lines, and everyone laughed,” Jazzy Jeff recalls. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to ask any questions of why, how, you know, I’m just going to do it, and look at how much joy that brought to people.”
Behind-the-scenes, DJ Jazzy Jeff was a serious artist and pumping out albums with his partner-in-crime, Will Smith. Beginning with 1987’s Rock The House, the duo put out eight albums together, including the 1988 classic, He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper. At the 1989 Grammy Awards, they won the first-ever rap Grammy for one of the album’s singles, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” solidifying their status as hip-hop legends.
Almost 30 years later, Jazzy Jeff is jet-setting across the world. As one of the most respected turntablists and producers in the business, he’s paid his dues and then some. The 53-year-old Philly native just landed in Switzerland after flying 19 hours from Kenya, where he’d performed. It’s immediately clear he’s still riding high from his visit to the African country.
“Africa might have been one of the best experiences I’ve had, and I do a lot of traveling,” he said. “That was my first time ever in Africa, not including South Africa. I’ve been to South Africa numerous times, but I’ve never been to any of the other countries. The level of hospitality and the level of civility of the people in Kenya blew my mind. They are very, very, up on all kinds of music, and that may have been one of the best events that I’ve ever done.”
While in Kenya, Jazzy Jeff learned that people don’t want to hear the traditional African beats they’re used to hearing.
“They get that 365 days a year,” he explained. “The reason why you’re special is they want you to do you. I already had in my mind, like, ‘Okay, I’m going to give them what I normally give everyone where I go and play,’ but when I realized how up they were on music, it really opened me up.
“It was like, ‘Okay, I can really go there.’ They sang along with everything from Michael Jackson to Lisa Stansfield to Mobb Deep. They were all the way down. It was amazing.”
Not even 24 hours earlier, Jazzy Jeff had released M3, the third and final installment in the Magnificent trilogy. It marks his 16th official solo album and caps off a series he started in 2002. It’s also his first proper album in 11 years.
“[Magnificent] was kind of like a tag I’ve had since I started DJing,” he said. “Will and I had a record called the ‘Magnificent Jazzy Jeff,’ so when it came time to do a solo record, it was the first thing that came to everyone’s mind.”
When it came to writing the album, he admits he was a little unsure of where to start.
“The label basically said to make a record of what makes you up as a producer, and I was kind of like, ‘Wow, that’s deep,’” he said. “I’ve produced records for Will, for Jill Scott, for Musiq Soulchild … I do so many different types of music that when someone asked me to do that, it took a second for me to sit down and try to figure out who am I.
“I’m definitely hip-hop, but I’m definitely soul. I’m definitely some house and I’m definitely some disco. It got to a point that it was kind of like, well, if you are all of these things, then be all of these things.”
Naturally, it made sense to do three different albums that allowed him to showcase his eclectic tastes.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” he said. “Once the first one came out, in my brain, I thought I would love to make this a trilogy. I would love to do the Magnificentor, make it basically a series.”
As he sits back and reflects on his storied career, there’s a moment when his feelings of gratitude shine through.
“I don’t care how hard or how stressful this gets, I am in Switzerland with a day off, and I’m playing music for people tomorrow,” he said. “That’s why I’m here.”