DJ Jazzy Jeff on uniting with hip-hop stars LL Cool J, The Roots … – Houston Chronicle

It’s been a crazy time for DJ Jazzy Jeff. But, then again, it’s been a crazy time for anyone who has a place in hip-hop history.

As hip-hop celebrated its 50th anniversary this month, Jeff – one of the most acclaimed, groundbreaking, veteran DJs in the game – has been on-call to provide breaks, scratches and grooves for some celebratory hip-hop shows. Earlier this summer, he and Doug E. Fresh hosted the 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop Mixtape Live in Atlantic City, which featured 50 different MCs from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.

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Currently, Jeff has been touring the country as part of the F.O.R.C.E (Frequencies of Real Creative Energy) Tour, which will make a stop at Toyota Center on Friday. He’s on a lineup that includes fellow Philly boys The Roots as well as LL Cool J, DJ Z-Trip, Big Boi, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Goodie Mob, Juvenile and Rakim.

Salt-N-Pepa, Common, Queen Latifah, Method Man & Redman, and De La Soul have done performances on different tour stops.

“This has been a whirlwind,” says Jeff (government name: Jeffrey Allen Townes), 58, on the phone from Atlanta. 

If it weren’t for the hip-hop tribute medley that happened during this year’s Grammys telecast, where Jeff and the Roots served as the backup band for such legends as LL, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, and Houston’s own Scarface, the tour might not have happened.

DJ Jazzy Jeff

Ben Tschetter

“The Grammys performance is actually what birthed this tour, the concept of the tour,” he says. “But it’s pretty much been non-stop. And I’m loving the fact that you have all of these legendary hip-hop acts – not only with LL and the Roots and myself and Rakim and Salt-n-Pepa. But you’ve got 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes. You have Snoop. You have Wu-Tang. All of these guys are all out on tour, and all of these guys are selling out arenas. I feel like people really miss the nostalgia.”

Jeff doesn’t know how 50 (who performs at Toyota Center on Thursday), Snoop (who was at the Woodlands last weekend), or other touring rap icons are presenting their shows. All he knows is that the traveling show he’s on is nothing short of a hip-hop extravaganza, and audiences should treat it as such. “This is one of those shows where there’s no opener and there’s no closer,” he says. “We hit the stage at 8 o’clock, and it is non-stop. So, I tell people don’t try and come fashionably late. You’ll mess around and walk in and LL will be onstage!”

This year also marks the 35th anniversary of “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper,” the triple platinum-selling, 1988 sophomore album he did with The Fresh Prince, aka future movie star/Oscar winner Will Smith. The duo became the first hip-hop artists to win a Best Rap Performance Grammy for their hit single “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” (They boycotted the show, along with other hip-hop artists, when the Grammys refused to include the category in the live telecast.) 

When: 8 pm Friday

Where: Toyota Center, 1510 Polk St.

Details: $28.35-$219.50; 713-758-7200;


But Jeff doesn’t just have a cool spot in hip-hop history. He’s also a part of R&B history as well. Many a neo-soul star has recorded at his Philadelphia-based A Touch of Jazz Studios. Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Floetry, and even Darius Rucker have used his studios and his crew of writer-producers (which included super-producing pairs Dre & Vidal and Carvin & Ivan) to churn out some alt-R&B goodies.

For a guy who’s mostly known for getting thrown out of Uncle Phil’s house all those years on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Jeff actually gets a kick out of hipping younger audiences (who usually show up with parents who were practically raised on hip-hop) to his skills as a DJ and producer.

“There were times when I’d do DJ sets and people would look at me and were kind of like, ‘Oh my God – that’s the guy from ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’! I didn’t know he DJed!’,” he says. “And it’s kind of like I DJed first before I started making records, before I started acting, before I started producing. So, I appreciate having that journey, and my big brother and super-mentor Kenny Gamble told me one day, ‘You cannot care about when people love you or when people start to love you. Just care that they love you.’ So, I don’t care about when they had entered this journey. I appreciate that you’re onboard.”

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