Jeff, DJ Jazzy 1965–
DJ Jazzy Jeff 1965–
DJ Jazzy Jeff was half of the popular duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, which was among the first platinum-selling rap acts. Known for its humorous party anthems and good-time lyrics, the duo was arguably rendered obsolete by gangsta rap. While the Fresh Prince (Will Smith) pursued his acting career, Jeff became a successful producer for Kenny Lattimore, Tatyana Ali, MC Lyte, and Darius Rucker, among others. Jeff continued to work with Smith, having produced Smith’s platinum-selling Willenium, but scored big for his production of Jill Scott’s critically acclaimed 2000 release, Who Is Jill Scott?
Born Jeffrey Allan Townes on January 22, 1965, and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jeff started DJing in his family’s southwest Philadelphia basement at the tender age of 10. When he began playing local Philly clubs like Smoke and Fluid, the fledgling DJ became known in local club circles as the “bathroom” DJ— unable to secure his own shows, he was only able to get time on the turntables when his elders took a bathroom break. Jeff began to develop his skills, and is regarded by some as the inventor of the “transformer” scratch— though some credit Cash Money with the honor, and give Jeff credit for being the first to record the technique. He is also said to have come up with the “chirp” scratch, which can be heard on the songs “Magnificent Jazzy Jeff” and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” Rolling Stone critic Alan Light wrote that Jeff’s “turntable wizardry … are among hip-hop’s lost marvels.”
Jeff met rapper Will Smith, a.k.a. the Fresh Prince, at a party in 1985, and the two began working together. “I worked with 2,000 crews before I found this maniac,” Jeff told People in 1988. “There was a click when I worked with him that was missing before.” After Jeff won the prestigious Battle of the Deejays at the 1986 New Music Seminar, the duo secured a record deal with the Word Up label. Jeff and Smith expressed their musically-literate and silly personalities by utilizing a range of samples in their work—from soul legend James Brown to cartoon rabbit Bugs Bunny. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s first major label release, Rock the House, was first released by the small Pop Art record label, but was re-released in 1987 on Word Up.
Rock the House achieved gold status in record sales in 1988. The first single, “Girls Ain’t Nothing but
At a Glance…
Born Jeffrey Allan Townes on January 22, 1965, in Philadelphia, PA.
Career: DJ, producer. Began DJing at age 10; formed DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince with Will Smith, 1985; released Rock the House, 1987; designed the Gemini 2200, or the Jazzy Jeff Signature series mixer; released He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, 1988; released And in this Comer…, 1990; appeared on Fresh Prince of Bel Air and wrote and produced the show’s theme song; founded A Touch of Jazz production company and recording studio, 1990; released Homebase, Jive, 1991; produced string of songs for movie soundtracks; executive produced Smith’s Willenium, 1999; executive produced Jill Scott’s Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sound Volume One, 2000.
Awards: Won Battle of the Deejays, New Music Seminar, 1986; achieved gold status in record sales for Rock the House, 1988; achieved platinum status for He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, 1988; Grammy award for “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” 1988; achieved platinum status for Homebase, 1991; Grammy award for “Summertime,” 1991.
Addresses: Office — A Touch of Jazz Inc., 444 N. Third St. #C9, Philadelphia, PA 19123–4107.
Trouble,” was built around the I Dream of Jeannie television-show theme and was released three weeks before Smith graduated high school. The single made the charts, and became the first in a string of million-selling songs for the duo. While he enjoyed almost instant commercial success with Smith, Jeff also became one of the first DJs to win corporate sponsorship. He designed the first mixer to be made specifically with the scratch DJ in mind, the Gemini 2200, or the Jazzy Jeff Signature series.
The duo began its relationship with the Jive label to record the follow-up, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, which was released in 1988. The album sold over 2.5 million copies and its first single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” became a teen anthem and made it to number 12 on the charts. The duo also became the first rap act to win a Grammy award, which they won for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in 1988. Most of the hip-hop community boycotted the ceremony, however, because the rap award was not scheduled to be televised with the rest of the show. The duo completed a 65-city tour with rappers Run-DMC and, in a stroke of marketing brilliance, became the first pop group to launch a toll-900 telephone number, which had logged over 3 million calls by January of 1989.
Jeff and Smith’s next album, 1989’s And in This Corner, only achieved gold status for record sales, which was less than what they had become accustomed to. In 1990 the duo headlined a month-long tour with artists Biz Markie and Technotronic. After the brief drop in sales, Homebase returned the duo to platinum status. They also nabbed their second Grammy award in 1991 for the anthem “Summertime,” which went to number four on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Rolling Stone critic Alan Light called “Summertime” “the biggest surprise in hip-hop.”
Smith scored his own television show in the early 1990s, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, on which Jeff also had a recurring role. Smith then followed the allure of Hollywood, launching a successful acting career. The duo’s final release, Code Red, was a departure from its witty, fun-loving string of hits. Succumbing somewhat to the explosion of gangsta rap, Code Red had a harder-edged sound. The single “Boom! Shake the Room” became one of the first rap singles to top the British charts.
As Smith pursued his acting career, Jeff set off to start his own production company and recording studio. After years of honing his production skills on his own work, Jeff founded A Touch of Jazz in his hometown of Philadelphia in 1990. Jeff’s accomplishments with his company included producing the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a song which Jeff also wrote, a song on The Simpsons compilation album, and the theme to the television show Between Brothers. Jeff also produced songs on the Wild Wild West, Love Jones, The Wood, and In Too Deep motion picture soundtracks. Jeff has done production work for artists including Kenny Lattimore, Tatyana Ali, MC Lyte, Paula Abdul, and Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish. Jeff and Smith teamed up again in 1997, when Jeff produced three songs on Smith’s first solo album, Big Willie Style. Jeff then assumed executive producer duties on Smith’s second solo album, Willenium, which was released in 1999 and achieved multi-platinum sales status. Jeff also worked with the duo of “Little” Louie Vega and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez, better known as Masters at Work, on 1997’s successful Nuyorican Soul dance album.
In the summer of 2000 young Philadelphian R&B and soul singer Jill Scott released her debut album, Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sound Volume One. Jeff served as executive producer for the fledgling artist, producing most of the album, and his stamp on her work drove sales of the album into the platinum range. Jeff infused Who is Jill Scott? with the legendary “Philly sound,” and Scott earned three Grammy nominations and critical acclaim for the work. A Touch of Jazz also produced Musiq Soulchild’s debut album, Aijuswanaseing.
In a move to bring to light a wider range of undiscovered artists, Jeff secured a major-label partnership with Dreamworks in 2000. Under the new Dreamworks imprint Soljaz, Jeff looked forward to applying his experience in the music business and building his own stable of new artists with the Philly sound. The first Soljaz release was expected to be for Floetry, a group of British performance poets.
With DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
Rock the House, Word Up, 1987.
He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, Jive, 1988.
And in this Corner…, Jive, 1990.
Homebase, Jive, 1991.
Code Red, Jive, 1993.
Greatest Hits, Jive, 1998.
Big Willie Style, Will Smith, 1997.
Willenium, Will Smith, 1999.
Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sound Volume One, Jill Scott, 2000.
Erlewine, Michael, editor, All Music Guide, Miller Freeman Books, 1997.
Larkin, Colin, editor, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK Ltd., 1998.
Billboard, April 14, 1990, p. 31.
Entertainment Weekly, June 20, 1997, p. 9.
People, October 3, 1988, p. 81.
Rolling Stone, April 4, 1991, p. 18; September 19, 1991, p. 77.
http://members.austarmetro.com.au/~matpr/jazzyjeffbio.html (November 7, 2001).
Philadelphia Music Alliance, http://www.phillymusic.org/stars/2000Jazzy.html (November 7, 2001).
Additional information was provided by A Touch of Jazz publicity materials, 2001.
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