Phoenix, Arizona was popping last night, as six of the nation’s top 12 DJs brought their spin skills to the turntable–propelling two contenders one step closer to being crowned as Red Bull Thre3style National Champion.
After six rounds of epic DJ battles at the Monarch Theater, celebrity DJ judges Four Color Zack, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Z-Trip chose DJ Akshen of Phoenix, and DJ Trayze of Washington D.C., to advance to the final round on Saturday night, to compete against two additional DJs for the highly-coveted title of Thre3style USA Champion. The winner of Saturday’s final showdown will represent the United States at the 2015 Red Bull Thre3style World DJ Championships in Tokyo, Japan in September.
As a part of the DJ Battle, the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff sat down with GlobalGrind’s Entertainment Correspondent Latia Glover to talk about how he got involved with the competition, paving the way for younger DJs, and the possibility for a new Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff album.
Welcome the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff. How does that even feel, to be a living, walking legend?
I don’t think I pay attention to that. I’m extremely happy to be able to have had my job for as long as I’ve had it.
With reality TV being so prevalent in this generation, it’s common to see rappers on television, but you guys trailblazed the concept of hip-hop artists stepping outside the box. You were one of the first few to successfully step off the record and onto the screen. How did that happen? Was it something you and Will set out to do, or did the opportunity just present itself?
It definitely wasn’t deliberate, but what I will say is you have to have the mentality that you will take things as they come. You can’t live in a box and expect to be outside the box. If somebody presents you with an opportunity to do something, then it might mean that they see something in you that you don’t see in yourself. I always say, ‘In the worst case scenario we’ll end up right back where we started, so why not take a shot?’ And I think that’s where the television came in; Will in movies and me producing genres of music that I knew nothing about. You almost have to have that mentality for life. Saying to yourself, ‘I will accept anything that comes.’
How do you maintain relevance in an industry that is constantly moving and changing, especially from when you started your career?
I got a job at a fast food restaurant to save money, to be able to throw a party at a hall, to be able to make money and buy myself some turntables. And that has never left me. I got a job to do something that I loved. I didn’t get a job so I could buy turntables so that I could DJ a party, make some money, and be rich; I would have kept that job forever if it meant I could DJ forever. It was me using my job to fund my passion, and my passion became not just my job, but my career. I never prostituted my passion. I don’t care how much money I could make off my passion, I could not prostitute it because it has done too much for me to disrespect it like that. So at the end of the day, when it was time to face an industry that was so fickle, I fell back on my passion.
Right in the middle of me producing Jill Scott and Floetry, someone said, ‘Would you be interested in going to Europe and doing a DJ tour?’ And I was saying I didn’t know if people were going to want to see that. But I went over there; I didn’t worry about the money. I ended up having the most amazing time that I have had in almost 20 years because I was playing for people who loved the music. I loved it so much that I just said, ‘This is what I’m going to keep doing.’
And now you’re paving the way for younger DJs as a judge in the Red Bull Thr3estyle Competition.
You know what it is, I know what the house parties and block parties meant to me. I tell my son all the time, ‘It’s a shame that you will never experience the block parties.’ Parties where we used to go out to the park and set speakers up all over by the snack huts; they’d give us the plug because all the people that were out there would buy their snacks. But you were able to showcase your ability for people all over the city because they just wanted to have a good time. It wasn’t about a dime or a dollar, it was just about talent, and people having a good time. And I feel bad that he doesn’t have that. So I think it’s my duty to groom the next new wave of DJs, and use this competition to do that.
How did you get involved with the competition?
I’ve been with them for about six years now. Red Bull would always throw these really cool events and hire me as their DJ. Then they became interested in doing a competition; they wanted me to showcase and judge. To watch this grow, and to see that it has become the biggest international DJ competition in the world is amazing.
I now have DJ friends from every corner of the globe. It’s really a brotherhood. You watch some of these guys compete and then when you go visit their country, they’re the ones taking you around, showing you where to go, and what to eat. It creates a great roadmap for DJs to be able to follow. Not only are you going to be able to compete in the United States, but internationally. It’s a great launching pad.
How do DJs enter the competition, do they enter themselves or are they selected?
There were initial regional competitions and the DJs that won those are the ones that get to battle to represent the U.S. in the World Championship.
And the one thing that I can say is that this year there are more well-known DJs in the finals than ever before. This is LeBron James entering in the slam-dunk contest! That’s what you always want; you want the best in the competition. And that’s great because sometimes we get to a point where we are so big, but we don’t want to feel like we can lose something. It takes a lot of heart to compete.
And what is the atmosphere during those days; one city hosting all those DJs at once has to be crazy.
Oh yeah, it’s crazy! All those creative juices are flowing in one area. I know for me, I get inspired by hearing somebody new come up with something fresh and different. It lets me know that the culture is still breathing, and breathing life into itself. It’s regenerating guys who after 25 and 30 years are still learning something.
Have there been ladies in the past?
Every year in the competition there have been ladies. Actually, the DJ from Brazil was a girl came in third or fourth place in the world. She was AMAZING. And I like that, I want to see the girls, every nationality, everybody represented.
Do you get on the tables at any point during the competition?
Oh, I always do. All of the judges showcase one night. You have to understand that I do 170 international dates a year, so this is what I do. I’m never going to be sitting in a rocking chair.
Outside of the event, can we expect to hear anything new from you and Will anytime soon?
The situation with Will and I is all about timing. He’s like the biggest movie star on the planet, so it’s only about timing. The desire is there. We always talk about it like, ‘we gotta get together, we gotta do something.’ But when you’re shooting for 6-7 months on location, it’s hard to find time. I can say that we’ve been talking about it a lot more than we ever have in the past. So if it’s ever been close, it’s closest now.
Have you heard that he’s [Will] been in the studio with Kanye recently?
Let me tell you something, Will has been secretly dabbling for 10 years. Like I said, if this happens, it has to be with 100 percent focus. Like we know what it took to make those old records. We went in the studio, we surrounded ourselves with music and great ideas and we pieced it all together. I don’t think he wants to put out a record if he can’t put that same focus in it. But the desire is there. If you see me disappear for 3-4 months and don’t hear anything from me, it might be a good sign.
Can we play a quick game? Answer as many questions with a gut response in 10 seconds.
Beyonce or Kelly?
Philly cheesesteak or California cheeseburger?
Team DJ Envy or Team Dame Dash?
Light skin Aunt Viv or Dark skin Aunt Viv?
Times up! But I have to ask, why light skin Aunt Viv?
Because she was more motherly. Dark skin Aunt Viv was mean. Think about it, would you want your mom feisty or nice?
PHOTO CREDIT: Aaron Rogosin and Carlo Cruz/ Red Bull Content Pool, Getty