I think the greatest tragedy of Code Red was that "Boom! Shake the Room" was such an enormous track. That is pure pop-rap and it rightfully went to #1 all over the world. What is amazing though is that that is not a reflection of how good "Code Red" is at all. In fact after listening to the album you would agree that is the weakest track on the album by a long way. Code Red is an extremely well produced rap album and features some of the best hip-hop producers who ever did it, "Pete Rock," "Dallas Austin," Teddy Riley" and "Jazzy Jeff" all contribute tracks.
1993 was an interesting time for Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince and the liner notes are quite revealing. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was a massive hit, and Will was starting to move into movies. Jeff was focused on his production house A Touch of Jazz in Philly so there was definitely a distance. Jazzy Jeff made a point in the album notes that people were trying to keep Will and Jeff apart. The result is an album that is not entirely produced by Jazzy Jeff. In fact the only beats on the album from Jazzy Jeff are for "Twinkle Twinkle," "I Wanna Rock" and the street remix of "Boom." The album doesn't lose anything musically though because the producers Will worked with were probably the best producers in hip hop.
The album starts off with the Pete Rock produced "Somethin Like Dis'." It features the Fresh Prince at his very best as an emcee. An insane verse of fast rapping and an old school chorus is the perfect mix of old and new.
"I'm Looking for the One" is a great feel good summer jam produced by Teddy Reilly. It has a fantastic beat, great call and response vocals and a sung vocoder effected chorus. The Fresh Prince rifs on rocking the party, and his opposition to the gangsta rap of the time while emploring everybody to just have a good time. The production is top notch with layered vocals in the background mix and a variety of sound effects.
"Boom! Shake the Room" was a monster party track. It was the first rap song to land at #1 in the charts in the UK, and went to #1 all over the world including Ireland, Australia and most of Europe. It had clever rhymes that most people could rap along and remains a heavily used karaoke song. It isn't the best track on the album but for what it is it did very well.
"Can't Wait To Be With You" featured the vocals of New Jack Swing crooner Christopher Williams and sampled Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much." It is a great song about Will's wife, and the expression and emotion on the track really comes through.
It is no surprise that the best track on the album was pure Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince. Jazzy Jeff's sampling of Johnny "Guitar" Watson for Twinkle Twinkle was amazing. He took a good song but sampled it in a way that created something totally different and unique. Will's charming rap that no how big of a star he is, he is just a regular guy resonates. I don't think he has ever changed even if he has shot to hollywood stardom. He is still that charming kid from West Philly. Jazzy Jeff joins in on the vocals in the chorus and throughout the verses. This is something he did more than ever on Code Red. It gives the track a great feel and a great back and forth between Will and Jeff.
The title track, "Code Red" is an evolution of the the Fresh Prince's storytelling. It is like taking a track like "Girls..." into 1993. The Fresh Prince is rapping with a harder delivery, Pete Rock delivers a menacing beat full of blaring horns, keyboard stabs and sirens. At its heart though is still a funny rap about the Fresh Prince being caught with another woman and trying to escape through the restaurant bathroom. Jazzy Jeff adds some great scratches and we get a nice twist on a classic style of JJFP track.
Shadow Dreams is produced by Hula & K Fingers of "Summertime" fame. It samples a great Eddie Kendricks track. The production on the track is outstanding with whispered vocals coming in and out of the left and right channels. The Fresh Prince delivers a great rhyme about never giving up on your dreams. Little did he know his life would become the very epitome of the message he was delivering on this track.
"Just Kickin it'" is a smooth laid back track over a George Benson sample. Will has mined similar territory in tracks like "Time to Chill" and "Summertime" in the past but on this track the rhyming is on point and he puts it in contrast to the rap of the time, "every other rapper trying to get you to jump." It has some great female vocals and the RnB singer really delivers some great backing vocals to enhance the track.
"Ain't No Place Like Home" is an amazing track produced by Dallas Austin. He samples a country song and Slick Rick to create an amazing vibe. The "Fresh Prince" raps about being homesick and how much he loves Thanksgiving and being with his family. The raps are truly heartfelt and like he did in Summertime he completely puts you in the mood of wanting to spend quality time with your family and friends.
During the recording of "Code Red" Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince wanted to experiment more with live instrumentation and they met some resistance from Jive. "I Wanna Rock" though is a 6 minute plus opus of Jazzy Jeff's scratching prowess along with a live drummer and keyboard artist. It's the ultimate progression of the DJ tracks they had done in the past such as "The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff." Fresh Prince drops a brilliant rhyme about Jeff's skills and the effects of a live crowd are also added in for great effect. The sampling and scratching of Rob Base's "It Takes Two" is unparelleled and this is an amazing example of the duo's hip-hop cred. Most people would have heard "Boom" at the time, but one listen to "I Wanna Rock" would have had those Summertime fans they lost with the overtly pop first move. I still don't think anyone has made a DJ track as good as this since.
"Scream" is a call and response type record. It picks up a lot of the elements of their live show. The Fresh Prince drops some great rhymes and Jeff backs him up with the vocals. The album ends with Jazzy Jeff's street remix of "Boom" which frankly completely transforms the track. Jeff adds in samples from LL Cool J and gives the song a rougher tone.
In 1993 gangsta rap was starting to pervade hip-hop so Fresh Prince definitely rhymes with a harder edge on this album. The content matter is still great though and Code Red ends up being the ultimate party rap album. It just has a great mix of tracks and there is no weak link. Of all the Jazzy Jeff Fresh Prince albums this is the one that sounds the best today. It was actually made during the peak of hip hop. As sampling died due to exorbitant sampling costs music as good as this just never appeared on rap albums. Most hip-hop post 1993 could not live up to the quality found here, it's amazingly produced and it is the perfect mix of uptempo and slowtempo, meaningful and party tracks. It stands up to repeated listens and really gets better with age. It may not be in the Source's 100 greatest hip hop albums, but it deserves to be.