Interview: DJ Jazzy Jeff – 'Television is an 80-year-old white woman'

This article is from 2016.

Interview: DJ Jazzy Jeff – 'Television is an 80 year old white woman'

The Fresh Prince producer discusses TV stardom and Trump ahead of his set at Glasgow's SWG3

Jeffrey Townes is a hip hop legend. The DJ, producer and turntablist is credited with creating (or at least popularising) the 'transition scratch' technique, and his A Touch of Jazz production company has played a part in the careers of Eminem, The Roots and Talib Kweli, among others. Yet mention his stage name to any pop culture fan of a certain age, and you'll get one response: Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.

'You can never not be happy about anything that brings you a fanbase,' says Jazzy Jeff, on the phone from London. He's ostensibly on the line to discuss his current European tour, but is happy to answer the inevitable questions about working with Will Smith. In the mid-late 80s and well through the mid-90s, the pair released MTV-friendly earworms such as 'Summertime' and 'Boom! Shake the Room'. When Smith scored a massive TV success with The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Townes came along for the ride, performing a recurring cameo role as Jazz, Will's best friend from Philadelphia.

'You cannot beat television,' says Townes definitively. People who are into music, he says, 'follow you because of what you do as a producer, or as a DJ, or because of records you put out. Television is an 80-year-old white woman. That's the part that shocked me, when you get an 80-year-old white woman in the mall that walks up to you and says, "Jazz!", and you're like, "Holy shit! How does she know?" The power of TV supersedes all of it.' Not that he's bitter about TV looming over his music career. 'You get to a point where you're like, "I don't care why anyone knows who I am, or what I do, just as long as you get them in the room and you show them."'

At the moment, 'showing them' means performing DJ sets as part of his latest Vinyl Destination tour – a series of international dates accompanied by video travelogues posted on Townes' website. He's joined on tour by Dayne Jordan, an engaging 26 year old Philly rapper whose album, Memoirs of Dayne Jordan, Townes produced in 2015. Never one to rest on his laurels, Towne's now working on a new collaboration with Chicago artist Rhymefest, under the name Jazz N Fess.

Listening to him talk though, it's clear that DJing is still his primary passion – especially when it's in response to world events, such as Prince's death (Townes was 'fightin' back tears while I was playing' the night the news broke), or the US election.

'Everyone is kinda in a daze because this is probably one of the first times you don't necessarily have a level of hope for the future – you have a level of uncertainty,' says Townes of the post-election atmosphere. He remains optimistic though. 'Music kinda heals it. The night after [the election] was one of the best shows that I had, in the UK. It was just – not even from the crowd's perspective, I needed a release. I needed to get something out. And it was a great night.'

SWG3, Glasgow, Fri 18 Nov.

DJ Jazzy Jeff

The Fresh Prince's old mucker promises a night of old-school hip hop.

Secret Location, East London

Sat 4 Nov

£17.50–£25

  • 21:00 – 03:00

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