Doctors Orders is a well established Hip Hop night that has been running since 2005 under the guidance of self-confessed vinyl addict Spin Doctor. He recently had Jeff Townes aka DJ Jazzy Jeff play at the club and has persuaded the genial and young-looking 48 year old to sit down for this Q & A on one of his rare nights off from playing music.
There’s around 70 people assembled in this comfortable venue situated on Shoreditch High Street, and Spin Doc starts by asking Jeff how he got started as a DJ. He talks briefly about growing up in Philly, a place that has long been known for producing some of the finest DJs in Hip Hop, then mentions early encounters with that other great Philly luminary DJ Cash Money. He then tells us about a guy called Kid Destroy who was a graffiti artist who would play parties using three Roland 808 drum machines, two Roland 303’s providing the bass lines, a Speak ‘n’ Spell to provide some lyrics and a Merlin (the toy where you pattern match the four colours displayed in sequence). He says it was this guy who made him want to make his own beats.
Of course, the other half to Jazzy Jeff is the Fresh Prince, so we get to hear about how they came to London in the late 80s, stayed at a Holiday Inn and worked on their first album “Parents just don’t understand” at Battery Studios in North London. This was the first Hip Hop album to win a Grammy (in 1989), forcing the music industry to recognise the genre. Although at the time the industry execs didn’t want to give them the award as part of the ceremony, wanting to film then receiving it in a separate location, something they refused to do.
Jazzy Jeff also talks about the power of being on TV in terms of being recognised by “90 year old white women” but says he’s constantly amused by people seeing him play in a club who would then tell him they had no idea he was an actual DJ. Spin Doc keeps the conversation flowing by prompting Jeff with just the right questions, he doesn’t interject too much and allows Jeff plenty of room to relate his stories, so props to him for his interview technique.
They finish the interview section by discussing “Vinyl Destination”, the 15 minute episodes put online every two weeks detailing the highs and lows of Jeff’s touring schedule.
There’s plenty of time for an interesting range of questions from the audience, including one about the film “House Party” starring Kid ‘n’ Play which was originally offered to Jeff and Will Smith as part of a settlement to New Line Cinema for their use of the Nightmare on Elm Street theme on their hit “A Nightmare On My Street” taken from their 1988 second album “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper”. We get to hear his opinions on Serato (great for keeping costs down when you have to carry crates full of vinyl all over the world), how he’s ready to work with the Fresh Prince at any moment (it’s just movie people keeping Will Smith busy) and his collection of sneakers from the various countries he’s played in.
Jeff is engaging throughout the entire evening and has plenty of anecdotes as you would expect from someone who travels all over the world playing music. He ends by summing up his job as being that of “someone who is supposed to make other people happy by playing music”, something plenty of DJs should take on board in these days where everyone reckons they can do it.
Great to hear one of my favourite DJs chatting about his career and love of music. Good on Spin Doc and the Doctors Orders crew for hooking it up.