Homebase was an amazing comeback album for Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince. The first 3 albums followed a similar formula but they reinvented themselves when they returned in 1991. Once Will had got the TV show, "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" on NBC many were questioning their musical relevance. They actually used the TV stardom to return to music with one of the strongest hip-hop albums of the 90s. It all starts with the summer classic, "Summertime." This track was a commercial success but it also retained their hip-hop credibility. No one could deny it was a great track. The Fresh Prince was now rhyming with a more mature and deeper voice in stark contrast to the emcee from "Girl's Ain't Nothin' But Trouble".
The music on the album changed with the changed style of raps. Jazzy Jeff introduced a lot of live instrumentation, live drums and live horns onto the tracks. It gives the album a great sound.
The Fresh Prince changed his character similar to the one seen on Fresh Prince of Bel Air. A lot of the album's focus is on the smooth talking Fresh Prince having fun with the ladies. This can be heard in tracks such as "Ring My Bell," "A Dog is A Dog" and "This Boy is Smooth." They are light hearted tracks showing the Fresh Prince's adventures with the opposite sex, and a little more sophisticated than the early albums.
The album starts off with the blazing track,"I'm all that." Jazzy Jeff expertly crafts a track from a classic Rick James sample with deep bass line, horns in the chorus and a thriving drum beat. The Fresh Prince stakes his claim to the fact that he is all that. The chorus is a mix of scratches, and Chuck D samples. He delivers some killer lines aimed directly at his detractors. The track actually conveys the transition the duo made, he points out that he was critisized for making people laugh and called soft and wack but he stakes his claim as a true emcee. It is a brilliant opening to the album signalling the Fresh Prince's new found confidence and assuradeness in his place in hip-hop.
Not much more can be said about "Summertime" that hasn't already been said. In 2013, 22 years after the track was released it is still played every time the weather gets warmer and summer hits. The song captures the very essence of "Summertime" and describes the experience not only in West Philly but the world over. Hula and K. Fingers Jive's in house producers came up with the classic summer madness sample which perfectly captures the mood. The vocals on the chorus were delivered by Zhane who went on to have hits in their own right. The Jazzy Jeff remix of summertime is even better than the original but was only found on the single but a version of it is found on the album in the Summertime reprise. Even the chants in the background give it that family vibe and lift the track. It is safely considered one of the best hip-hop songs of all time and a true timeless piece of music.
"The Things That U Do" has a great male vocal chorus. RnB singing is included on a quite a few tracks on Homebase which is very different from their past albums. The samples and all round production is taken to a new musical level. In fact for 1991 this album was ahead of most rap releases of the time. It is actually one of the best produced rap albums you will hear; the little things count. This song features a rap from Fresh Prince about a girl who he is digging. Jazzy Jeff jumps in with some vocals as well. Even strings are added into the mix of this song to oppose the driving bass line and add to the musicality. The song clocks in at almost 5 minutes yet it never feels like it is dragging.
"This Boy is Smooth" is a new style of Fresh Prince storytelling. Driving bass line, strings, live drums, piano stabs and a blazing saxophone solo add to this amazing music mix. The rhymes from the Fresh Prince are extremely smooth and this song just sounds like butter. It is one of the strongest tracks of the album. Jazzy Jeff even jumps on the track for a short rap. 4 tracks in and you know the music on Homebase is some of the best you will ever hear on a rap album. It's not simply repetitive beats, it music that constantly changes and adds in new elements to make this album shine with truly great songs and musical moments.
The "Ring My Bell" cover is a fun song. It had an even funnier video. It is pure early 90s pop rap.
"A Dog is a Dog" is a funny Fresh Prince track about his taste for more than one woman. Still it is probably the weakest track on the album even with some P-Funk sampling. "Caught in the Middle" is a more serious track about being caught between the realities of life and being in love. This is another track where the music goes to another level, there is even a beautiful piano solo in the middle of the track which pretty much sums up all of Fresh Prince's rhymes. Jazzy Jeff also has taken his use of vocal samples to the next level, constructing the chorus but also cutting in relevant sounds to accompany the track.
"Trapped on the Dancefloor" is an interesting track which features two Philly rappers El Sid and Jazz Fresh. These rappers worked with Jazzy Jeff at his A Touch of Jazz studio. El Sid did make an album for a record label but it was never released. They both contribute solid raps about being trapped on the dancefloor. Jazzy Jeff also contributes a long rap verse. It is the longest track on the album and just a great straight up hip-hop track.
"Who Stole the D.J." is a more old school Fresh Prince storytelling track. It features FP playing a detective in search of a missing DJ. Jazzy Jeff's contribution again enhances this track with some classic detective noir style music. The changing music works well with this very funny story. It would of made a great video. It is a nice change up in the album. It also adds to the fun vibe which is throughout the album.
"You Saw My Blinker" is a controversial track because it was the first time the Fresh Prince ever really swore in a rap by using the word "bitch." It is actually funny in this context because it is delivered in a very serious tone but FP is really rapping to a old grandma who hit his car. It is kind of making fun of the gangsta rap of the time and is a great parody. The track also has probably the best beat on the album. If you realise the tone of the song JJFP were going for here you can enjoy this great track.
"Dumb Dancin" was something that Will came up with on the set of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. You can see it on the TV show but basically it is to do the most ridiculous dancing you can imagine. This track describes what it is about and tries to get you to do it. The music on this track is truly amazing. It will get your hands clapping and your toes tapping and it features one of the best breakdowns on a JJFP track. Jazzy Jeff pulls in a huge mix of samples and creates a magnificent vibe. The final track is a reprise of Summertime with the classic Summertime chants and a new spin on the track by Jeff. It sends off the album perfectly.
Homebase is one of the best produced rap albums in history. The addition of live musicians and the Fresh Prince's more mature tone created something special. It is just a great "feel good" album. The vibe of "Summertime" is right through the album. This is a true album that should be listened to from start to finish and it still sounds amazing today. If you want positive, clean, rap, with some great music, it doesn't get better than this album.
The album went double platinum and had the #4 pop hit Summertime and the #20 hit Ring My Bell which both did well on the pop and rap charts.