Jazzy Jeff: True To Philly
Friday December 21, 2001 @ 11:00 AM
By: Aaron Brophy
by Ryan O'Connor
Odds are that if you started listening to that newfangled rap music in the 1980s, you were a fan of DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince. With their funky beats, James Brown samples and goofy lyrics, this duo achieved a mainstream breakthrough for hip-hop. Along the way, they racked up platinum sales and the initial hip-hop Grammy in 1989.
Will "Fresh Prince" Smith has since become one of Hollywood's brightest stars. As for the unassuming "Jazzy" Jeff Townes, he's been far less conspicuous. Since the group's final release in 1993, his appearances have been rarer than steak at a fat farm. Talking to Jeff in the wee hours of the morning after a recent performance, it became apparent that his low profile is intentional. After all, this is the man who turned down offers to join The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air as a full-time cast member.
"My base was in Philadelphia," he explained, "and I just wanted to stay there."
Making the long commute to California to shoot his guest appearances — which invariably ended with him on the short end of a bum's rush — a move to Hollywood was out of the question for this pioneering spinster. Such would have taken him out of his home city, and worst of all, resulted in his immediate recognition no matter where he went.
"I'm just comfortable being low key. I don't want to put on a persona. What people are used to seeing is my personality — I'm not braggadocios," he says.
But he has plenty to boast of if he so chooses. Founder of his own production and recording company, A Touch Of Jazz, even the modest Jeff admits that "It's a small, but effective operation."
Jeff has been pivotal in propelling Jill Scott's career, he says her success comes from "trying to stay away from the norm when it comes to production, and just attempting new, innovative, and creative things." To prove his point, he mentions that he's currently working on a "Hawaiian-reggae group."
Somehow, between his touring and work on other's careers, he has found time for a solo album.
"I was doing something with Columbia [Records] and that kinda fell through," he shrugged. This setback was short lived. Having recently signed a deal to record an album with London's BDE, he's back in the studio.
"It's kind of hard doing things on the record [tentatively titled Beat Generation] when you're producing and you're also trying to make sure that the company goes cool and then you're out on the road doing DJ dates. But it's a good problem to have."
And true to form, he's not bragging.