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Buy one of the following DJ Jazzy Jeff/A Touch of Jazz-produced CDs from amazon.com:

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, 'He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper' (1988)

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, 'Greatest Hits' (1998)

Will Smith, 'Willennium' (1999)

Jill Scott, 'Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1' (2000)

Musiq, 'Juslisen' (2002)

DJ Jazzy Jeff, 'The Magnificent' (2002)

Floetry, 'Floetic' (2002)


Getting Skratchy Wid It: It was Jazzy Jeff's bird call scratches that livened up Will Smith's 'Gettin' Jiggy Wit It.'

Transformer Man

DJ Jazzy Jeff makes Top 10 records but he hasn't lost his itch to scratch

By Todd Inoue

THERE WAS a time when DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince ruled the hip-hop new school. The Philadelphia duo made humorous rap songs about Mom ruining your rep ("Parents Just Don't Understand") and clowning the opposite sex ("Girls Ain't Nothing but Trouble"). Their accompanying cartoonish videos went a long way in attracting suburban kids to hip-hop. Together, Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince sold a gang of records and reflected an outlook far away from rap's streetwise roots.

After the duo split in 1993 after recording Code Red, Fresh Prince morphed into Will Smith the Actor while Jazzy Jeff and quietly went about making music. In 1989, the Philadelphia turntable maestro started A Touch of Jazz production company. He and his crew produced hits for Michael Jackson ("Butterflies") and Glen Lewis ("Don't You Forget It"). In 2000, a Touch of Jazz created its Sistine Chapel, a breakout album for Jill Scott's primer on love, tenderness and relationships, Who is Jill Scott?

Jeff, calling from his Philadelphia compound, remembers the creative freedom that surrounded the project. "Jill Scott's record was done with so much intensity," he says. "Jill's record was done without a record company. We owned everything. It was incredible for everyone to accept us for us doing what we did. That was the greatest feeling. I could retire after that."

Through Jill's soulful, operatic voice, the world reconnected with Jeff's funky dope maneuvers as a studio technician--all silky smooth guitar licks, Escalade bass, kick drums, a tasteful scratch or two and keyboards that resemble thought balloons in their effect and context. The merging of R&B and hip-hop begat a confusing subgenre--neosoul, a style that A Touch of Jazz helped prosper with critically acclaimed albums by Musiq, Floetry and City High. And despite growing notoriety, the production team maintains an invisible presence compared to high-profile producers posing in videos, like the Neptunes, Jazze Pha or Swizz Beats.

"I don't want to take attention away from the producers as much as I want the attention to go to the artist," says Jeff. "You want the accolades of being a producer, but when you look at some of the albums we grew up on, the producer wasn't the focal point. The producer's job is to build a frame around the artist's picture. Now, it's like some artists rely on the producer more than themselves and that's not fair. I try to leave A Touch of Jazz stealth in that aspect."

In 2002, Jeff did approach the spotlight. He released a solo CD, The Magnificent, that was the highlight of BBE's Beat Generation series. It's a tour of Jazzy's production toolbox narrated by Jill Scott, Odyssey, Freddie Foxxx, Raheim, Flo Brown and others. His collaborations with Philadelphia rapper J-Live on "Break it Down" and "A Charmed Life" are excellent examples of when hip-hop's stars align. "For Da Love of Da Game" presents Jeff organizing rhythm, beats and melody into a whiplash-inducing package.

With all the recent success, it's easy to forget about Jeff's past. He's most known for the "transformer" scratch, a technique that involves cutting a sound in and out with a crossfader while physically moving the record forward and backward. Jeff didn't invent the scratch, which was invented by fellow Philly DJ Spinbad, but he was the first to put it on wax. On He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, Jeff creates the ultimate seminar during "Live at Union Square 1986." This and tracks like "DJ on the Wheels," "Rhythm Trax - House Party Style," and "Magnificent Jazzy Jeff" have influenced most new school turntablists.

Jeff is currently in the studio with Jill Scott and Will Smith and producing a follow-up to The Magnificent. His show at Stank will be a mix of hip-hop classics, breaks and house topped with his mind-boggling LL Cool J "Rock the Bells" routine. Though Will Smith won't be in the house hyping him up, Jeff can easily carry the show himself.

DJ Jazzy Jeff appears on Thursday (Sept. 11) at Stank Night at Agenda Lounge, 399 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $10, available at the door.

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From the September 11-17, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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