We all know Will Smith for his iconic portrayals in movies such as Independence Day, Men In Black, Bad Boys, and The Pursuit of Happyness. But did you know that Smith used to be a rapper and was part of an award-winning MC and DJ duo during the late 1980s?
His partner-in-crime? It’s none other than Jeffrey Allen Townes, more popularly known as DJ Jazzy Jeff. Born in the streets of Philadelphia, Jazzy Jeff love for music and DJ-ing began when he was 10 years old, thanks to the influence of his older siblings’ musical preferences. He started by doing mixes at the basement of his house, armed with several vinyl records owned by his siblings.
During his younger days, Jazzy Jeff shared that DJ-ing involved performing in block parties, where the typical setup would be two big speakers, a pair of turntables, and a mixer. “It was a chance [for me] to expand the music from the inside out,” he says of the time when he has yet to be noticed by the big guns.
What inspired him to be a DJ? “You realize the power of the tunes [the DJ is] playing, on how it affects the people, and I was drawn to that,” Jazzy Jeff adds.
Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
For the 80s and 90s kids, Jazzy Jeff is best known for his collaboration with Smith, who used the moniker The Fresh Prince back then. So how did they meet together almost 30 years ago? It all started with a casual session of DJ-ing on the streets of Philadelphia. Back then, Jazzy Jeff and Smith belonged to different crews, but they crossed paths at a house party near Smith’s home, where Jazzy Jeff was invited to be a DJ.
“So I picked up the phone, and I called my MC but he wasn’t in the house...I had to do it without [my MC]. I went to the house, and the first person that walked in was Will [Smith],” Jazzy Jeff recalls. “He asked ‘would you mind if I’ll rock with you tonight?’ and I was like ‘cool,’ and the rest was history.”
After that fateful day, both Smith and Jazzy Jeff decided to do more collaborations under the moniker DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, which made them garner multiple gold and platinum selling albums, two Grammy Awards, and a TV show.
Ever heard of the TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, best known for Smith’s character as a fictional version of himself? Jazzy Jeff appeared on that show as Jazz, the Fresh Prince’s best friend.
Even if they broke up and focused on their individual careers in the mid-90s, Jazzy Jeff and Smith continued to collaborate, especially on Smith's solo albums.
Friendship that is forever
Having been close friends for more than 20 years, way before they became famous, Jazzy Jeff noted that nothing has changed between him and Smith, except that both have since gotten busier with their respective careers, with Smith focusing on acting and him focusing on producing music.
“For the most part it’s the same and you appreciate that, having somebody that knew you from the beginning… Smith is not some big giant movie star to me; I’m [simply] Jeff to him,” Jazzy Jeff said. In fact, despite their busy schedules, it's normal for them to still have conversations with one another. For Jazzy Jeff, getting in touch with Smith is simply a phone call away, a sign that their friendship goes beyond fame.
Even if they are no longer DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Jazzy Jeff and Smith do hold shows once in a while, including some at Smith’s pre-event parties every time he has a new movie coming up. Hint, hint: There’s a possibility for a reunion tour this year, so we might see both Jazzy Jeff and Smith perform together live, just like their early days.
Follow your passion
With a journey as colorful as his, Jazzy Jeff has one piece of advice for all aspiring musicians out there: Do what you love. Whether it's Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul, or Pop, what is important for any aspiring musician, DJs included, is the love for music. "Do it because you love it," Jazzy Jeff said.
"The greatest joy in the world is to do something you really love...and if you love it, it goes across the people you are playing for."
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