DJ Jazzy Jeff talks 'Summertime' in Philly


DJ Jazzy Jeff isn't stopping. In fact, he's globe-trotting.

The West Philadelphia native, who along with Will Smith comprised iconic hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, will be coming home to Philly to headline Wednesday at nightclub NOTO.

Recently, though, he's been touring the world, touching down in Dubai, China, and Pompeii. He's documented much of his travels through his "Vinyl Destination" series, featuring Philly's own Dayne Jordan and DJ Ferno. He's also planning his third "Playlist Retreat," a getaway for DJs, producers, singers, and rappers to come together (at Jazzy Jeff's Delaware home) to network and create.

We talked to him about what it's like to come home.

It's been 25 years since you and Will Smith released "Summertime." What makes Philly summers so special?

Philly is a special place, because summer was block parties, going down to Penn's Landing, walking down South Street - there were so many things that made summer in Philly [that] I feel like other cities didn't have.

Does it still feel that way?

I came to the city last year ... and I was absolutely shocked. I grew up in Philly and I'm like, Philly is beautiful. What happened?! You got hammocks and food trucks?! I lived near Penn's Landing for 12 years and we never had this when I was here.

You've been touring all over; how is it different when you come to Philly?

It's like when a basketball player says it's easier to play an away game than a home game. Because the home game, you have the pressure of your friends and family looking on. But I love it.

I don't think we've ever had a club in Philly that's operated like [NOTO]. So that's super-exciting. Most of the guys who have played there are friends of mine, and they're raving about the club, like, "Oh, my God, the sound system was so great."

It's funny, because Z-Trip [a DJ and producer] s aid to me, "It feels like a club that should be in Vegas with the energy of Philadelphia." Like it seems like it should be a little bougie, but they really like to party.

How do you describe that Philly energy?

I have watched [it] go through different cycles. The Philly energy right now is higher than I've seen it. Last year, [when] I did the Boiler Room at the Foundry, I was shocked at the energy. It was probably the greatest crowd I did in the Boiler Room [sessions], and it was my hometown. It felt good, because this is your city, and Philly really came to represent.

Philly won't rock with you unless they mean it.

No. And that has helped me throughout my whole career. It's you playing on a stage where you have to perform or they'll let you know. So you're playing places where it might be a little easier and they're wondering why your intensity is so high. It's because I had the best battleground you could ever have.

What can we expect from a Jeff set?

I don't like genre-specific music. I may shock the daylights out of you with some of the stuff that I may play. My whole job is to make people have a good time. And I want you to walk out and say, "Wow, that was a journey." I don't change the way I play, [no matter] where I go in the world. You don't have to love every song. When I used to go to the club, the DJ would play songs I didn't like but I didn't leave. Your job is to satisfy everyone in that room for at least 45, 50 minutes. If you do that, everybody walks out and says, "I had a great night."

How do you stay fresh?

In this business, you can never think that you know. Because you don't. You are always learning. Relevancy is something that you don't have to lose, and if you lose it, you can gain it. All being relevant is is paying attention. I have a certain level of my ear to the ground and a certain level of who I am and I try to mix those two together.

What advice would you give DJs coming up?

A DJ is a servant of the people, not a servant of yourself. Your job is to make sure the people are enjoying themselves. If everybody is not walking out saying, "I had a great time," then you need to figure it out.

There's a sense of necessity surrounding the Playlist Retreat. Tell me about that.

You want collaboration. Because of the laptop, we're getting away from that, because people can do it themselves, and you can hear it in the music. The whole landscape of music has changed. It's very independent now, more than anything, let me look at these really talented [artists] together and put the tools they need around them.

The first one was really a gathering of creatives ... [then we] started to realize people's spirits were broken. You had really talented people and you wonder why you haven't heard anything from them only to find out something bad has happened in the industry to make them say they don't want to do it anymore. That became a major thing; you're just kind of like, "Is everybody damaged?!" The [retreat] started to be a healing thing.

You've said, "You don't retire from an art." Tell me about that. Can we expect you to be spinning for life?

Yes. This is what I do. When you start looking at Frank Sinatra, [he] didn't retire. Dean Martin, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald - they didn't retire. They performed till they couldn't perform anymore.

The Magnificent DJ Jazzy Jeff at NOTO June 7 1209 Vine St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 Tickets: $20

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