Go back to the beginnings of hip-hop—before the jiggy era, before "underground" vs. "commercial," before Big Daddy Kane and Rakim—and you'll find DJ Jazzy Jay, the Bronx DJ and producer who, in the mid-'70s, was a key pioneer in the development of hip hop. An early member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation, Jay’s production and DJing skills laid the foundation for hip hop to develop into the multi-billion industry it is today. In 1984, Jay met Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons and became Def Jam's first artist, releasing the label's first single "It’s Yours" with T La Rock.
For the latest episode of Crate Diggers, we visit Jazzy Jay’s Brooklyn home, where he’s still collecting, still DJing and still trying to organize the estimated 400,000–600,000 records he's amassed for more than 35 years. A carpenter by trade, Jay built his main record room himself, along with the 20-feet high sound system the DJ proudly showed off in his backyard. Today, the DJ passes down his knowledge and collecting genes to the next generation, mentoring his son's group, Brooklyn funk-soul band Phony Ppl.
Some highlights from the video above:
On Meeting Rubin:
"I remember this crazy-looking white guy standing in front of the booth. Every Thursday night, he would stand there the whole night and just shake his head. One day, he got up the nerve and introduced himself to me, and this was Rick Rubin. He said, 'Listen, I think you’re great.' We became friends and every day it’d be me and Rick. He came and said, 'Listen, we want to start a record label.' I was like, 'Okay, no problem. Let’s do it.'"
On Why "It’s Yours" Was Def Jam’s First Release
"We didn’t have no plan for anything to be first. We just said, 'We want to start a record label. Let's just make a song and at that time, the only artist we had was me. And being that I wasn't a rapper, it was good that we had T [La Rock], at least he had something to say. We didn’t have no knowledge of what we were doing; we just did it because it just felt good to do it."
On his Influence on the Beastie Boys:
"I corrupted the Beastie Boys. They were young, little Jewish kids from Brooklyn. I introduced them to brass monkey and they lost their damn minds. They even made a song about it."
On the Competition:
"It was a challenge to play those songs before anybody else played it so you got the credit for bringing that song out. It was cats that contributed to what we called the sacred crates; the foundation upon which hip hop—the whole culture—was built."
On the Importance of Vinyl:
"If you don’t have some vinyl in your collection, you can’t holla at a cat like me. You might be hot on wheels or hot on the computer at pushing buttons. But [vinyl] is what it's all about."
When you're done with the vid, check out the full versions of the tracks mentioned in the episode below.
The S.S.O. Orchestra, "Faded Lady"
Rhythm Heritage, "Sky's the Limit"
Liquid Liquid, "Cavern"
T La Rock & DJ Jazzy Jay, "It's Yours"
Russell Rush & DJ Jazzy Jay, "Cold Chillin' in the Spot"
Wild Sugar, "Bring It Here"
Juice, "Catch a Groove"
King Errisson, "Well, Have a Nice Day"
D.C. LaRue, "Indiscreet"
Cerrone, "Look For Love"
LL Cool J, "I Can't Live Without My Radio"