With many hip-hop artists rushing to take over film, television and fashion, it’s nice to know that DJ Jazzy Jeff is a triple threat in his own right. In the distant memory of the ’90s, most remember DJ Jazzy Jeff as Will’s ambivalent friend who was consistently tossed out of the house by Uncle Phil on the television series Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But as half of the multi-platinum duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Jazzy Jeff also provided memorable hip-hop, jazz, soul and funk hybrid backdrops for Will Smith’s pre-teen raps. Together the duo created multiple No. 1 singles that helped catapult rap into the mainstream.
But in the fickle space of mainstream culture, silence often assumes “falling off.” As Will Smith (and other rappers turned actors) began lighting up the entertainment scoreboard with double doubles in (poor) music and (some equally poor) films, the physical tossing of Jazzy Jeff on Fresh Prince became a metaphorical reality of his subsequent removal from mainstream visibility. In the decade he’s been out of the public spotlight, Jazzy Jeff has dropped the sunglasses and substituted the rayon shirts for throwback jerseys, but this is no geek-to-sheik story. He’s remained rooted in the musical styles and communities that propelled him into the industry in the first place.
Refusing to relegate himself to a nostalgic VH-1 special on ex-hip-hop stars, DJ Jazzy Jeff’s Hip-Hop Forever Vol. II showcases the multidimensional deejaying skills and production aesthetics that have come to define him. In 2003, he stayed true to his moniker with his jazz-influenced solo debut The Magnificent, released by Barely Breaking Even Records. He also displayed his deejaying skills during the Jam Master Jay tribute at the BET Awards ceremony, and across the globe, rockin’ parties and shows. Bereft of the excessive bling and other entertainment credentials that fill more rap artist resumes, Forever shows how Jazzy Jeff is more intent on just being “Jazzy.”
Hip-Hop Forever Vol. 2, the deejay’s first official mix, is far from the cheesy NOW compilations that the title evokes. It’s an introspective look at Jazzy Jeff the hip-hop deejay. Instead of pulling together hip-hop’s more memorable jams, Jazzy mixes together 22 vintage and indie cuts, weaving Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation” and Gangstarr’s “Words I Manifest” with J-Live’s “Braggin’ Writes” and Asheru’s “Mood Swings.” The mix acts as a narrative that defines his personal aesthetics. Jazzy creates a seamless musical hybrid buffet that’s carefully attentive to jazz and rare-groove sampled tracks that are fitting for a smoothed-out night of coffee-shop chop.
Without relying on the plugs and personal shoutouts like other mixtapes do, Jazzy’s turntable acrobatics speak enough of his skills. Using an array of scratches, juggling and strobing, Jazzy chops up these already classic beats into a more adventurous listen without compromising flow. Instead of relying on instrumentals to transition, he juggles and extends the intro breaks akin to Grandmaster Flash’s style, creating his own instrumental beats from these tracks. The flanger, echoes, and sweeping phasers are placed strategically on top to create more aggressive and poignant transitions. His creativity is not at the point of superfluity, but it’s enough to know that he ain’t no joke.
Forever re-acquaints us with Jazzy’s trifecta in skills, style and content, showing us that he more than holds his own against other turntablist and deejay heavyweights. The continuity of jazz in hip-hop music displayed in Forever is also a nostalgic stroll in sound that allows us to explore Jazzy’s multidimensional sonic aesthetics and sensibilities. Many might continue to see Jazzy as a mere footnote in Will Smith’s entertainment portfolio, but his work shows that he is a part of hip-hop forever.