There has always been a touch of jazz buried deep in the musical psyche of Jeff Townes. Even while churning out rap crossover hits (“Summertime,” “Parents Just Don’t Understand”) with Will Smith as D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, he and Smith found time in 1990 to team with Grover Washington Jr. on “The Groove (Jazzy’s Groove).”
Since then, Townes has gotten busy revealing his many musical sides. First, there was his notable production work on Jill Scott’s Hidden Beach debut, “Who Is Jill Scott?” Now he’s back with his own solo debut, The Magnificent, due Aug. 13 from BBE/Rapster Records.
The effervescent DJ/producer compares the set to “standing buck naked” before an audience. “It’s a stretch,” says Townes, who is not accustomed to being the focal point of his projects. “As a producer, you’re pretty much creating a body of work that an artist has to stand behind. This whole time I’ve either been doing it with someone else or sharing it with Will.”
Townes says putting together “The Magnificent” was his most “creatively free” undertaking — and his most challenging. “BBE came to me and asked, ‘What [represents you musically] as a producer? Answer that question by doing an album.’ That was an extreme stretch of creative freedom that you’re not used to getting, especially in today’s music industry. It took a minute for me to get started because I like so many different kinds of music. As much as I am hip-hop, I’m soul. As much as I am soul, I’m a turntablist. As much as I’m a DJ, I love jazz and rock.”
So Townes decided to do it all, inviting some friends to join the fun. “The most surprising thing to me was that I had absolutely no problem getting anybody on this record,” he says. “It wasn’t that I had a list of people that I wanted to go to. But because the record was based so much on creative freedom, a lot of my collaborations came from creative freedom conversations that I’ve had with so many people, from Freddie Foxx to [Boyz II Men’s] Shawn Stockman.”
The album also features Scott, Raheim, J-Live, the Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, and other artists affiliated with Townes’ Philadelphia-based production company, A Touch of Jazz.
“The Magnificent” is the fifth and latest release in the BBE/Rapster Beat Generation series launched two years ago by London-based BBE. The label has also released projects by Jay Dee of Slum Village, Pete Rock, Marly Marl, and Will.I.Am of Black Eyed Peas.
Excerpted from the Aug. 10, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
For information on ordering a copy of the issue, click here.