With today being the 15th anniversary of DJ Jazzy Jeff’s The Magnificent, we asked legendary scribe Jerry Barrow to get the inside scoop behind Jeff’s first solo studio album.
Kev Brown was working at a JCPenney warehouse in Capitol Heights, Maryland when he missed a call that would change his life. When the MC and producer got home from work there was a message on his answering machine saying that he needed to come to Philadelphia to work with DJ Jazzy Jeff. He ignored it.
“I didn’t think it was real because people be flakin’ out,” he says. “But they called [back]. It was Lyzel Williams, Jill Scott’s boyfriend and manager at the time. That’s how they heard my beats. I’d sent a beat tape to Hidden Beach Records.”
Some time prior, Pete Rock‘s brother Grap Luva hit Kev up to send beats to the neo-soul label, passing on sending his own.
“I sent them a beat CD that I just made and I wrote on it, ‘Grap told me to send you some joints.’ A few weeks later the Jeff calls started happening.”
DJ Jazzy Jeff Townes, the legendary Philadelphia producer and turntablist who made his name spinning alongside Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith, recording five albums and earning two Grammys along the way, was ready to take on his next challenge—independence.
“I was offered a couple of projects but never really wanted to do it because everybody back then was asking if Will was going to be on it,” says Jeff. “And I wanted Will on it if I wanted him to be on it, not to sell it. That was my first fight with just my independence. I was cool with Pete [Adarkwah] from BBE through Kenny Dope. I used to go record shopping with him. He said I want you to make an album that makes up who you are as a producer. He gave me a budget and I didn’t think about [the fact] that I was locked into making this record [now]. He knew what he was doing. Sometimes you have to push people to get it out. I was basically cornered.”
So Jeff put out the bat signal that he was working on an album and over the next two-and-a-half weeks or so he assembled a team of new and veteran talent to create what would become his debut solo project, The Magnificent, named after a scratch track on he and Will’s debut album, Rock The House.
“Once we got the relationship going it was just like ‘Make music, let me hear it, if I like it I’mma use it for the album,’” says Kev, who went on to produce seven songs on the album and helped to shape its atmospheric, bass laden sound. With his foot in the door at Touch of Jazz, Brown brought in as many of his friends and peers to work as possible.
“‘The Magnificent’ is basically a Low Budget Crew album,” he cracks. “It’s like if Hydra infiltrated The Avengers, but Jeff was with it. We was all young and trying to get it cracking.”
“We called Jeff Professor X,” says Raheem DeVaughn, who sang on three cuts and knew Kev and Cy Young from their time performing at Bar None in Maryland. “He just sits back and brings all these X-Men together for the greater good musically. The Playlist Retreat is just the mutation of what he was doing 15 years ago. Kev was very adamant about getting me up to Philly to meet Jeff. If it wasn’t for Kev, I wouldn’t know Jeff or Kenny Dope.”
The recording process was free but focused with Kev recruiting his people Cy Young, Oddisee and Ken Wood to contribute beats and rhymes.