As the season begins to warm, the car cruising begins. You know, the kind of top down, slow roll, hey-let’s-try-to-talking-to-the-group-of-girls-in-the-car-next-to-us-also-driving-at-two-mph kind of cruising that was a staple in DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” video. The year was 1991 and the song still manages to spark a feeling of seasonal nostalgia. Sunshine, kids playing on the streets and outdoor BBQs are all the elements that capture the essence of Summer regardless of the decade and with a name like “Summertime,” the song better sound like a sonnet to dear Summer.
DJ Jazzy Jeff shares that the single was crafted during a moment of “season-changing” nostalgia. During his first year away from home, Will Smith or “The Fresh Prince” missed the “natural aphrodisiac” of the warmer months in Philly and attempted to put it in a song. Twenty-three years later, Jazzy Jeff looks back at what made the track so quintessential and shared some of his own summertime classics.
HipHopDX: When you did “Summertime” with Will Smith, did you have any idea it was going to be classic?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Not even close. Not even close. You know, “Summertime” was born off of the fact that Will’s first year in L.A., doing The Fresh Prince [of Bel-Air], he missed the change of the seasons. In L.A., it’s 80 degrees during Christmas. There’s a level that anyone from the East Coast or anyone from a cold climate gets, that first day that it hits 60 [degrees], that first day that it hits 70 [degrees], that day that it hits 75 [degrees] and everybody runs and puts on shorts. The girl that you saw in the Fall, how she grew or how she changed over the Winter and the Spring. When the people put the music on, come outside or wash their cars and I remember him calling me saying how much he missed that. He called back home and I was just like, “Oh my god, it’s 80 degrees today,“ and “Aw, you remember Janice? You should see the way she looks now.” He was kinda like “Aw, man this sucks.” It was 80 degrees during Christmas. He didn’t get that season-changing nostalgic feeling that you get and that’s what made him write it.
DX: I’ve actually never experienced that since I’m from L.A. and it’s hot here all the time.
DJ Jazzy Jeff: And it’s beautiful! Absolutely beautiful in L.A. all year round but the funny thing is that we [in Philly] had a foot of snow a month ago. You look up and say, “Wow, it’s about to be 70 degrees tomorrow. I’ma open my garage, go outside and shoot some hoops.” Everybody’s out, everybody’s smiling and happy. Everybody’s always smiling and happy in L.A.
DX: That’s true. It’s the sun. It’s always making us smile. The only time we don’t’ smile is when we’re sitting in traffic. For the single, “Summertime,” what do you feel was the “it” factor? What do you think made people gravitate towards it?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: It’s definitely timing. I believe timing is one of the biggest things of any kind of thing that you do. It was definitely timing, but I think it was something that was relatable. I think, yes, you have your L.A.s and L.A. still gets it. They may not get it as much as New York or Philadelphia, but you do have a level of season change and going into the Summer. I think people in England get it because it’s cold all year long. They have those moments in the Summer when everybody comes out. I think more than anything he captured the emotion and the feeling that you get on a great day.
DX: The music video looks like it was shot on a “great day.”
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Yeah, it was one of those situations that we were like, “Listen, we want to have an almost family reunion, a cookout with all of our family and friends and we want to videotape it.” I think people kind of got that these weren’t extras. That was my aunt or that was my childhood friend that I grew up with.
DX: Was the video filmed in Philly and around the seasonal change?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Yes, it was. It wasn’t quite Summer. It was April or May.
DX: What are some of your fondest summertime memories in Philly?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: We used to drive out to this place called The Plateau. You know what’s funny? And it’s going to sound so cliché, but it’s so many of the lyrics that were in “Summertime.” We used to drive out to this placed called The Plateau and everybody would park their car and turn their radio on and had a Hip Hop station on. Everybody would be playing the same music. You would sit and drink wine coolers and meet girls. Where The Plateau was, it sat up on a hill with a view of the city. You would stay out there from three o’clock in the afternoon till the sun went down and now you’re looking at this gorgeous view of the Philadelphia skyline. And it was free. That was something that we didn’t have to pay for. That wasn’t paying to go to a party. That was a Sunday afternoon when everybody kinda got together and it was all different parts of the city. That was one of the things that, I think, the generation before me and it sucked that the generation after me, they didn’t get a chance because they ended up blocking a lot off. It just gated so that they couldn’t ride up there anymore. But yeah, that was it.
DX: That was the spot, huh? What other songs do you feel like captured the spirit of Summer?
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Awww, man.
DX: By the way, you and MICK (formerly Mick Boogie) have awesome Summer playlists.
DJ Jazzy Jeff: Thank you and this is our fifth year. We’re trying to do something special for our fifth year. We would really like to go around and start a series of summertime parties. I could name every record that I put on the playlist from The Isley Brothers’ “Summer Breeze” to Ice Cube’s “Today Was A Good Day.” There are so many songs that make you feel like summer and putting those playlists together are the easiest and the hardest things in the world because every time I put it together, I have 100 songs each year that I have to pick from. The hardest part is narrowing it down but it’s almost like I’m going back to the songs that I would turn on in my car while driving in the Summer.