Soundman Jazzie B is a living legend. The DJ behind the pioneering Soul II Soul Soundsystem, which in the early '80s patented a blend of boogie, reggae, funk, soul and beyond, he led the crew into the world's spotlight with an exceptional recording career.
UK sophisto-soul/hip hop smash hits like 'Fair Play', 'Back To Life', and 'Get a Life' resonate as classics today the world over, and Soul II Soul remains a potent force, both as soundsystem and production outfit. Jazzie's new compilation for Trojan Records, 'School Days', compiles a top-drawer selection of lover's rock and early dancehall reggae, and is out now. We caught up with the man to find out more...
What kind of vibe did you want to create with the new 'School Days' compilation?
"I was approached by Trojan Records to do the compilation, a collection of my early influences from a reggae perspective."
What makes that early dancehall period so special do you think?
"There's lots of melody, that's what I find most intriguing about that style of music. I deal with melody and that's why I like it. All of the tracks are very special in my life. The thing with music, is that it conjures up all the things that have happened, that are significant, specific things that have happened in your life, and you've got a collage there of all things from growing up, scribbling on the desk and listening to tunes, really."
You were one of the first DJs to spin reggae and rare groove / boogie together in the same sets. Did people find it hard to get their heads around it at first?
"No because Soul II Soul Soundsystem was always part of the sound, playing those tunes that you want to hear. We were always interested in pushing the envelope. Most of the sounds back in the day, there were reggae sounds that crossed into soul and vice versa. We were playing whatever tunes were out there, whether it was calypso, country and western, Elvis Presley or Tom Jones!"
You're also compiling a new mix album for Ministry – what kind of sound can we expect from that?
"That's gonna take off from where this compilation finishes, moving out of the reggae era. From late '70s to Warehouse, Africa Centre days. Very broad selection, there's gonna be 30-40 tracks, going through quite a few eras moving up to the present day, what I'm playing and listening to now."
Garage artist Wookie was one of your protégés. What do you think of the mutations of the garage sound now, like dubstep and bassline?
"Love it! I love anything like that. I like the spangly guitar music too, it's wicked, anything innovative, that's still going on in the adversity of the industry. And the internet is empowering to some of these kids coming up now, they can knock up their own stuff now and dictate to their own audience, it's near perfect."
Am I right in thinking that you've joined the illustrious list of DJs with OBEs?
"Who else has got one? Trevor Nelson, Norman Jay. I'm the first real soundsystem man who's got one, bonafide!"
You're celebrating 20 years of Soul II Soul this year. How does it feel to have made it to this milestone?
"The best is yet to come. I'm doing this new album, with cover versions of our hits, some different mixes, working with Caron Wheeler again. We're looking to tour next year."
What's next for Jazzie B?
"A smiling face, a thumping bass, and a happy race."