DJ Jazzy Jeff Reflects On The Grammys Hip-Hop Tribute: The ‘Biggest Family Reunion I Ever Attended’ (Exclusive)

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The past, present, and future of hip-hop came united in one glorious celebration on Feb. 5, when the 65th Annual Grammy Awards paid tribute to 50 years of hip-hop, and DJ Jazzy Jeff had one of the best seats in the house for it. The iconic DJ —  who won the first hip-hop Grammy ever in 1989  – participated in the Recording Academy’s tribute, a collection of performances highlighting trailblazing talents of the past half-century that helped make rap and hip-hop the dominant music genre it is today. “That was the biggest hip-hop family reunion I ever attended,” Jazz tells HollywoodLife when talking about his new Command Central: Making Beats program with CafeMedia, and its upcoming giveaway. “And I tell people — to be in the rehearsal hall with Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepa, Rakim, and we’re all having conversations. We’ve never done that!”

“We’ve never been in the same room,” continues Jazz. “None of us have all been in the same room together, so you needed something like this to bring all of us together. All of these people I’ve known for over 30 years, but for all of us to be in the same room together was mind-blowing. And to have those conversations? Everyone has kids and lives and the like. I was on a tour with Eric B. and Rakim, Salt-N-Pep, and Public Enemy in 1987! And it’s kind of like, talk about where we are now…it was amazing.”

“There were a million people that I wish could have joined us on that stage,” adds Jazz. “I understood and applaud Questlove so much for trying to do his best job of fitting 50 years of hip-hop in 15 minutes.” Shortly after the salute, Questlove (the producer and musical director of the segment) revealed to Variety that Will Smith was initially part of the celebration but had to drop out to shoot Bad Boys 4. Will and Jazz – as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince — won the inaugural Grammy for Best Rap Performance for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” at the 32nd Annual Grammy Awards. It was the first time that the Recording Academy gave out an award for hip-hop, but the show refused to include the category in the 1989 broadcast, prompting a boycott.

At the time, the Grammy said they didn’t have enough time to highlight all categories, a situation Questlove and the rest of the hip-hop salute found themselves in regarding who to include in the celebration. “You knew you were going to ruffle some feathers,” says Jazz over any unintentional exclusion. “There was nothing personal. There is a plan to do a much larger scale show and bring a lot of people so that you can celebrate hip-hop.”

“But, it was also one of those things that, and expressing to Questlove and him reaching out to some of the people, I told him that you should make it very clear that none of us will be around for the 100th anniversary and no one really cares about the 51st, so this is really something that we should participate in,” added Jazz about the old school stars that got a chance to shine on the stage of the arena. “People need to understand that you got Run-D.M.C., you got Salt-N-Pepa, you got Rakim to come to California for eight lines. They didn’t come for themselves. They came for the culture.”

Busta Rhymes in the spotlight at the Grammys salute to 50 years of Hip-Hop. (Rob Latour/Shutterstock)

It’s generally accepted that hip-hop was born on Aug. 11, 1973, at a party DJ Kool Herc and his sister held in the rec room of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. While Jazz — who turned 58 on Jan. 22, 1965 – says that he won’t Be around for the 100th anniversary, he’s making sure that the genre will be, thanks in part to his Command Central: Making Beats program with CafeMedia.

The six-week online course provides students with the resources to build the core foundational skills for music production. Lessons range from drums, melody, arrangements, mixing, and sampling. Those who sign up for the Interactive version will have access to live sessions with Jeff. He will also connect with some legendary friends and provide one-on-one feedback throughout the program.

Starting on Apr. 17, DJ Jazzy Jeff is hosting a giveaway for his students. Those who sign up for the On Demand or Interactive level will automatically be entered to win one of these pieces of gear that Jeff uses to produce. He is giving away a MASCHINE+ (a standalone groovebox and sampler for production and performance), one Pair HEDD Type 05 MK 2 Monitors, five Studio One (digital audio workstation) Artist Tier Licenses, one Studio One Professional Tier License, and ten three-month subscriptions to Mag Mob VIP, Jazzy Jeff’s online streaming platform.

“I have been doing this, not to the public, but I have been doing this ever since I started,” Jazz tells HL about his role as a mentor. “I’ve always been somebody that whenever I learn something, I’m eager to show it to somebody else.”

“I am a tech geek at heart,” he continues. “I love technology, but I’m also a purist. So I love this balance of — how can I get the purest music out using the technology we have today. I’ve got a bunch of friends I get on the phone, and we talk about new plug-ins, new programs, new gear, and new techniques. And I’ve had production companies and studios for pretty much 30 years; anybody new that came in, I was the one that taught them how to use the gear and taught them how to use it and treat the studio.”

Jazz explains how his course with CafeMedia focuses on laying a solid music production foundation. Anyone interested in making music but intimidated by taking that first step will find that this course is for them. “I launched a DJ course about a year and a half ago that did really, really well, and it was pretty much the same premise,” says Jazz. “I feel like so many of the courses that I’ve seen start from level five and go up, and I’m kind of like, ‘So is anybody teaching them bars and beats and structures and things like that?’”

“So when I did the DJ course, I told them that I wanted to start from zero and go to [level] five. My goal is to find out if you have it in you to pursue it, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” he says. “So many people walk into the studio, and they’re amazed at all the gear and equipment and, ‘Oh my God, do you know how to use all of this?’ And trying to show them that it’s not as daunting as they think. ‘Let me show you what each one of these things does.’ And once you break it down, everybody’s like, ‘Oh, I get it.’ It’s 40 of these ‘one things’ that just makes it look daunting.”

“I want to show people, ‘This is how you program drums.’ ‘This is how you quantize your drums in fixing them.’ ‘This is how you create melodies.’ This is how you do all of these things to at least get an idea that’s in your head out, and then you can decide if I want to pursue this as a career or if I want to pursue this as a hobby,” he says.”

“You can go to Home Depot and buy every tool in the world. If you don’t know how to use it, then it doesn’t matter,” he says with a smile. “You just have the tools. So that’s all this is.”

Jazz’s eagerness to embrace innovative technology and willingness to pass his wisdom down comes from when people had to work to make the sounds they heard inside their sound. “I came up in an era when you pretty much had to get a job and save your money to pay for studio time to try to get your ideas out in two, three hours,” he recalls. “And now you can go to the Apple Store and buy a laptop, and you pretty much have a photography studio, you have a video studio, and you have a music studio all built in.”

“I love the fact that you can teach people in their room how to do this because trying to teach somebody this 25, 30 years ago was almost unheard of. You almost had to go to college to try to learn how to do these things.”

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Whereas some producers would be highly protective of their skills and knowledge, Jazz tells HL that he’s never “looked at [music production] from a competitive standpoint.” He was never one to hoard knowledge, while some of his peers might have been a little more guarded with their techniques. “Hip-hop was born out of competition, but the competition was a brotherhood. When we would dig for records in those early days, you would soak your records in the tub to take the labels off so no one could see what you were actually playing.

“But I think I’ve always looked at it — we all have the same tools as Picasso. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to be Picasso. So it’s like we all have the same tools. Share the knowledge you can give, and you can give a hundred people the same drum sounds, the same music composition, and they’re going to come back with a hundred different ideas,” he adds.”

“And that’s what I love about production,” says Jazz. “What you really want is everybody to put their own personality into the music. That’s why I think I’m more appreciative of people starting this in their bedroom because it’s just you. I want to see what you have, not what the industry tells you, not what society tells you. I want to see what you have.”

Jazz also knows that for beginners, watching someone making their music their whole life “can sometimes be discouraging,” as they pull off complicated techniques while you’re still working on the fundamentals. “So I’m trying to make it fun,” he says.

At the end of the day, Command Central is not just a passion project but a project about passion. For those who want to be the next great producer, or someone who finds joy in making beats that they play only for themselves, DJ Jazzy Jeff’s course is meant to tap into that dedication, drive, and love.

“I don’t know a DJ that started to DJ for money. I don’t know a producer that necessarily started to produce for money,” he says. “I want to go back to the joy of why you’re doing this. This is a little bit different than a nine-to-five job in the office building. This is a creative job. When people come to me and ask me, ‘So, what do you see yourself doing in the next 20 years?’ I’m like, ‘The same sh*t I was doing for the past 30.’”

“This is it. I feel like I’ve reached my destination of joy, of what my purpose is,” he says. “So if you can give somebody that joy —  yes, it’s hard. Yes, you struggle at what you will do, no matter what else you try to do. But I appreciate having something that I will give blood, sweat, and tears to that I absolutely love.”

Head now to to sign up for the Command Central: Making Beats program with DJ Jazzy Jeff. A new episode On Demand every Monday, starting April 17th, with Interactive episodes followed by a real-time conversation with DJ Jazzy Jeff and guests taking place each Thursday.

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