Celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop’s birth is more than just a victory lap. In such a short time, it has taken the world by its hands and transformed nearly renaissance-like. One of the hip-hop’s original craftsmen, DJ Jazzy Jeff, put his mold into the genre that still has his imprints today. In the early stages, he was dropping classics with Will Smith, aka the Fresh Prince, and became the living definition of cool as Jazz in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
In 1989, Jeff and Smith won the first ever rap Grammy for “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” What’s even more iconic is that the duo boycotted the show because the award presentation was not being televised. A prime example of the how hip-hop is always pushing the envelope. During the mid-late 90’s, Jeff opened his own production company and studio in downtown Philly, A Touch of Jazz. Transitioning over to R&B and neo soul, Jeff helped introduce the likes of Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott, and Floetry to the world.
Today, Jeff is still immersed into hip-hop as he was in the past. Over the spring, he debuted his online music producing program, Command Central: Making Beats. At the Grammys this year, he was on the turntables during hip-hop’s legendary takeover that spanned across generations — featuring icons such as Grandmaster Flash, LL Cool J, Run DMC, Rakim, Queen Latifah, Busta Rhymes, The LOX, Lil Wayne, Future, Lil Baby, and more. Jeff is a true pioneer to the hip-hop, and his legacy and influence continues to be present today.
I had the chance to speak with DJ Jazzy Jeff in celebration of hip-hop’s semicentennial.
With the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this year, in your eyes, how has the genre evolved?
I think people have finally realized the impact and influence that Hip-Hop has on mainstream culture. It’s overdue, but society as a collective I think is understanding the depth and layers that the genre has to offer because Hip-Hop is at the forefront of music itself today.
Also, technology was still so new when I started, so there weren’t as many options for tools and equipment available. And if it was available, it was really expensive. Now, everything is at your fingertips…from the way we make music, to the way we share and consume music. Social media has become the new promoter to let people know what you’re doing and where you are.
What does hip-hop mean to you?
Hip-Hop means everything…Hip-Hop has afforded me a blessed life doing something I LOVE. Hip-Hop owes me nothing.
Describe the atmosphere during the celebration of hip-hop’s 50th anniversary at the Grammys.
This was the greatest Hip-Hop Family Reunion ever… to sit in a room and watch LL Cool J, Run DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, Rakim and The Roots just having conversations was absolutely incredible.
What do you think the next 50 years of hip-hop will look like?
Well…since I won’t be here…I hope the legacy continues…I hope it continues to grow, evolve, and thrive while making a positive impact on humanity.
What can we expect next from DJ Jazzy Jeff?
More programs like this hopefully. I’ve pretty much been mentoring producers, DJs, and artists for my entire career. Back in the day, everything about producing and record digging was a secret because we were worried that somebody would steal our ideas. But then you realize that keeping all that information to yourself means that it dies with you. The only way to keep great music going is to pass the knowledge on to the next generation. The program is still open for the public and all info and sign ups can be found on my website: https://commandcentral.djjazzyjeff.com/.