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Jazzy Jay performing at NAMM
|Birth name||John Byas|
|Also known as||The Original Jazzy Jay, DJ Jazzy Jay|
November 18, 1961 |
Beaufort, South Carolina, United States
|Associated acts||Afrika Bambaataa, Universal Zulu Nation, Kool DJ Red Alert, Jazzy Five, Afrika Islam|
Jazzy Jay was born into a Gullah family in coastal South Carolina. He moved with his family to New York City at a young age and took up the drums, his first instrument. He began his career in hip hop in the 1970s in The Bronx, New York, the epicenter of hip hop culture during the first decade of its development, at the age of 13. An early member of Afrika Bambaataa's Universal Zulu Nation, he was a protégé of Bambaataa as well as his older cousin, Kool DJ Red Alert. Beginning as a Zulu King dancer in the early 1970s, Jay later became a Universal Zulu Nation DJ and was a member of the Zulu group Jazzy Five, with which he recorded the single "Jazzy Sensation."
Although Jazzy Jay began performing primarily at street parties, in the 1980s he began DJing in New York clubs such as Negril, the Roxy, the Ritz, and Danceteria. He also hosted a hip hop radio program on KISS FM and in 1984 he played himself as The Roxy's DJ in the influential hip hop film Beat Street.
Origin of Def Jam Recordings
Around 1984, Jay met Rick Rubin and assisted him in laying the foundation for what would become Def Jam Recordings. The label's first official single was the single "It's Yours" by T La Rock and Jazzy Jay. Jay later introduced Rubin to Russell Simmons, creating one of the most important partnerships in hip hop production. Jazzy Jay also put out Def Jam's third 12" in 1985, entitled "Def Jam" b/w "Cold Chillin' In The Spot," which featured Russell Simmons on vocals. In 1986, he participated in the recording Planet Rock - The Album, which was certified gold.
Also a producer, Jay founded Jazzy Jay's Studio in the Bronx, where he produced early recordings by Diamond D, Fat Joe, Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest, and others. He also began his own label, Strong City Records, through a partnership with Rocky Bucano.
More recently, Jazzy Jay was featured in the 2001 turntablism documentary Scratch. In the film, he displays his extensive LP collection (kept in the basement of his home), which he claims comprises at least 300,000 to 400,000 records.
In 2000, Jazzy Jay was inducted into the Technics/DMC DJ Hall of Fame. He sometimes performs together with another hip hop pioneer, Grand Wizard Theodore. He is also interviewed extensively in the 2003 hip hop documentary 5 Sides of a Coin.He was featured in the 2004 song "Rock And Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This) Part 2" by Handsome Boy Modeling School giving a background on himself and on rap as an art form.
He lives with his wife and three children in Brooklyn, New York. In 2011, his older daughter, Jazmine Byas, graduated from the prestigious Eastman School of Music and is pursuing a career with her oboe.
In 2012, Jazzy Jay confirmed he was working on a collaborative album with DJ Phix. He was quoted speaking on the album saying "I'm just tryin' to get back to my roots, DJ Phix is the DJ who's gon help bring me back." The album will be released in late 2013.