Jazzy Jay: The Living Legacy of Hip Hop
From the gritty basements of the Bronx to world stages, few have shaped Hip Hop’s evolution quite like Jazzy Jay. As an original member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation, he’s a living testament to Hip Hop’s transformative power. As Hip Hop celebrates its 50th year, there’s no better sage than Jazzy Jay to speak on its lasting legacy.
The Origin Story: How Jazzy Jay Found His Calling
It takes a village to raise a DJ, a phrase illustrated by Jazzy Jay’s journey. Picture a young Jazzy Jay at age 7 or 8, eyes lighting up as his Uncle Robert bursts through the door, a bag of 45s in hand like he’s the Santa Claus of soul. Fast forward to Jazzy’s adolescent years, where Kool DJ Red Alert plays the Yoda to his Skywalker, Jazzy Jay is 12. “I used to always go to Red’s House and be sitting there waiting for him to get home from work so I could hop on the turntables,” Jazzy recounts.
“I remember the energy and the way it made people feel.”
But the moment that really sealed the deal for Jazzy Jay comes from his earliest memory of witnessing a DJ in action. He takes us back to the Bronx River Projects in the early ’70s. “It was a cat named… Tommy. He lived in the building in front of mine…” Tommy would set up his two turntables and play in front of Jay’s building. “I remember the energy and the way it made people feel.” People would flood out from their homes—even the elders would sit on benches—to listen. “He had all of this energy coming from those small speakers and projecting out to the crowd and everybody just felt all the harmony and electricity from that.” It was in that moment that a young Jazzy Jay recognized the magnetism of being a DJ. If someone like Tommy could be a local legend, why couldn’t he?
A Master DJ’s Essential Skill
When asked about the most important skill for a DJ to have, Jazzy Jay zeroes in on his talent for reading the crowd. “The ability to read your crowd and play something that brings out that feeling in them—that’s my greatest thing,” he says. It’s not just about playing hits; it’s about the unexpected blends that capture attention. His knack for surprising the audience—making them hear tracks they didn’t even know they craved—is what sets him apart. “The element of surprise, making people hear songs they didn’t even know they wanted to hear,” adds Jay. For him, the ultimate win is “snatching their attention and schooling them from the turntables.”
“The ability to read your crowd and play something that brings out that feeling in them—that’s my greatest thing.”
On The Best DJ Moment of his Career
Jazzy Jay’s standout moment in his DJ career unfolded at the T-Connection, an iconic venue in the Bronx. During a high-stakes DJ battle, Jay found himself pitted against two giants of the turntable: Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizzard Theodore. “That night at the T-Connection up in the Bronx… I came out on top of Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizzard Theodore,” Jay recounts. While he idolizes both opponents, he stresses the point that the win was all about bringing his A-game. “Not saying that I was better than them, but that night I brought my A-game and it showed,” he humbly states.
Where is DJing Heading?
Jazzy Jay has his finger on the pulse of the industry’s future. “I would say [the future is] to the moon because of the fact that people are always innovating.” Jay acknowledges that even as technology turns novices into DJs, it’s simultaneously amplifying the greatness of seasoned pros. “Making people into DJs that never were DJs before, and then taking great DJs and making them even greater,” he adds.
As for the torchbearers of the next DJing generation? He’s got eyes on a few. “I see cats like Skratch Bastid… DJ Cash Money, he’s always innovating.” Jay also has respect for DJs like Terry Hunter, whose understated techniques still forge emotional connections. “What he makes you feel when he plays his music, it’s like you can connect to it.” In Jazzy Jay’s eyes, the DJ world will only keep “expanding and going further,” powered by technological innovation and creativity in the scene.
On His Favorite DJs
When asked about his favorite DJs, Jay can hardly narrow it down. “I got a few of them and the list is real long, but I would have to say Cash Money, Mix Master Mike, DJ Craze is incredible,” he enthuses. Among the new school, Jay shouts out Skratch Bastid, calling him “ridiculous” in the best way possible.
“Every time I go to his party, he reminds me why I started doing this in the first place.”
But the admiration extends to his old-school brothers too. “There’s, of course, my old school favorites like Grand Wizzard Theodore, GrandMixer DXT,” Jay praises. Yet, he saves a special nod for Little Louis Vega, a DJ he helped usher into the industry. “Every time I go to his party, he reminds me why I started doing this in the first place,” he shares, reflecting on the cyclical beauty of inspiration.
DJ Jazzy Jay Says #ThankYouDJs
Jazzy Jay offers a heartfelt salute to the DJs who inspire him daily. “Diamond D, Beat Man, Danny Dan, Scram Jones, DJ Spinna, Kenny Dope—these are cats that are still playing vinyl. We respect that,” he says, showing love for DJs committed to the art’s origins. His respect extends even to those DJs who’ve never touched vinyl, “if you’ve developed those skills to use Serato and all the different new technology, you’re more of a musician than just being a DJ.”
“God bless Hip Hop and God bless everybody that had the involvement in Hip Hop. Give yourself a round of applause.”
Jay offers special kudos to Serato for changing the game: “They made it easier for me to carry [my records]. I’ll still whip out some vinyl on your ass every now and then, don’t get it twisted.” His conclusion? Keep elevating, keep creating. Whether you’re spinning 45s or relying on a digital crate, the work shows. “Practice your skill and get out there. You know, we’ll know if you put in the work and we will be able to tell if you didn’t,” he warns.
As the narrative of Jazzy Jay’s life and career continues to be written, one thing remains crystal clear: “And we only gonna go further from here.”
Check out DJ Jazzy Jay’s legendary tribute to 50 Years of Hip Hop on his Instagram.
Don’t miss out on paying tribute to the DJs who have helped shape Hip Hop culture. Feeling inspired? Join the Serato HH50 movement and create your own routine using #ThankYouDJs and #Serato hashtags – and don’t forget to tag @serato so we can help you share the love.