Revisiting DJ Jazzy Jeff's turn-of-the-millennium career reinvention The Magnificent - WXPN
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DJ Jazzy Jeff | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

This week, 17 years ago, pioneering Philly turntablist Jeffrey Townes was poised for a career reinvention. Throughout the 80s, Townes was one-half of the grammy-winning, platinum-selling rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. In the 90s, Jeff was most well known as an actor on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, comedic relief with his most famous running gag which involved being repeatedly thrown out of the Banks family’s Bel Air mansion.

By the dawn of the 2000s, Jeff had surrounded himself with a cadre of gifted, up-and-coming musicians including Vikter Duplaix, James Poyser, Andre Harris, and Vidal Davis. His recording studio A Touch of Jazz had been up and running for years at 444 N. 3rd Street, in the city’s Callowhill section, and the ATOJ crew had just produced Jill Scott’s grammy-nominated debut Who Is Jill Scott. Together, with Townes at the helm, the ATOJ crew had taken the influences of hip-hop, Philadelphia International and Jazz combined to create an entirely new sound. This new sound (unfortunately misnomered “Neo-Soul”) was a fresh, soulful take on hip-hop and R&B and the creative process that birthed it was fundamentally collaborative.

When it came time to record his debut solo album, Townes would again enlist the help of talented producers and artists like Kev Brown, J-Live, Oddisee and more. The resulting album The Magnificent is an essential document of the kind of tasteful, evocative soul and hip-hop music that Philly was producing in spades in the early 2000s. From Baby Blak and Pauly Yams trading bars on a butter-soft jazz guitar on “For The Love Of The Game” to “We Live In Philly,” a surrealist love-letter to our beloved city, the album holds up beautifully, capturing the sound and spirit of Philadelphia. Even 20 years after its release, The Magnificent still feels like shopping for vinyl at Footwork or trekking down South Street to grab cheesesteaks at Ishkabibbles.

After years of producing records and touring the world, Townes’ reputation as a DJ and curator of musical dopeness is well established. True to the blueprint he established years ago at A Touch Of Jazz, Townes continues to explore the fruits of collaboration through the Playlist Retreat, an invite-only creative gathering where musicians, DJs, and producers from around the world get together and make music openly. With a deeply influential catalog of music and a reputation as one of the world’s finest DJs, it’s clear that the career reinvention that he embarked on two decades ago is complete. 

Below, take a listen to a recent Bandcamp re-release of The Magnificent, and get tickets for DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Scratch’s Vinyl Destination tour stop on September 28th at The Queen in Wilmington over at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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