JumpinJack AJ Posted March 28 Report Share Posted March 28 https://albumism.com/features/dj-jazzy-jeff-and-the-fresh-prince-hes-the-dj-im-the-rapper-album-anniversary?fbclid=IwAR3vXTbyBWfnmFJy0-GfrVlUvnBb4TLc1BjrF2CI77q3ZbZn9XLXhI-RptA DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s ‘He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper’ Turns 35 | Album Anniversary March 28, 2023 Jesse Ducker Happy 35th Anniversary to DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s second studio album He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, originally released March 29, 1988. In 2023, there are a lot of hip-hop heads in their mid to late forties. It’s safe to say that a good portion of them owe at least part of their fandom to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. I’d hazard to guess that for many, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper or just “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” was their proverbial gateway into hip-hop fandom. Thirty-five years after their sophomore effort dropped, Philadelphia born and raised Will Smith and Jeff Townes are institutions of American Culture. Will Smith is, of course, Will Smith: a man who, until about a year ago, was one of the most universally beloved movie stars/celebrities on the planet. Jazzy Jeff is an innovative DJ and producer, an elder statesman behind the turntables and acclaimed for his abilities behind the boards. He’s also the credited inventor of the Transformer Scratch, and the man who gave the popular DJ software Serato its legitimacy. If you want to track the trail that’s led to hip-hop music gaining global acceptance, then the arrival of Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince are essential signposts. Back in 1988, hip-hop hadn’t seen someone like the Fresh Prince. LL Cool J was a natural-born celebrity. Slick Rick was a gifted storyteller. Kid ‘n Play created fun, family-friendly hip-hop. However, the Fresh Prince combined all of those elements, and infused them with his undeniable charm and charisma. Throughout He’s the DJ, the Fresh Prince carries himself as a leading man and radiates the type of charisma that makes him come across as the cool best friend that everyone wants to have. The duo’s debut Rock the House (1986) was originally released through Word Up Records, a Philadelphia-based label run by the Goodman family. The album earned both local and national acclaim and solid record sales, with the duo receiving attention for their single “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble.” The song was an entertaining story rap about the Fresh Prince’s humorous but unfortunate encounters with the opposite sex. But the album also featured tracks like “The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff,” a boisterous dedication to the DJ, and the title track, an entertaining team-up between the Fresh Prince and Ready Rock C a.k.a. The Human LinnDrum a.k.a. the beat-box for the duo. As a whole, Rock the House was pretty unpolished, but the crew’s potential was apparent. After releasing Rock the House, Jazzy Jeff won the “Battle For DJ Supremacy” at the 1986 New Music Seminar. The win, coupled with the solid success of Rock the House brought them to the attention of Jive Records. The label signed the duo, re-released Rock the House in 1987, and they began to put together what would become He’s the DJ. Portions of it were recorded at Studio 4 in Philadelphia, under the guidance of engineer Joe Nicolo (later the founder of Ruffhouse Records). The rest of the album was recorded at Battery Studios in London, at the behest of Jive and its parent company Zomba. There, the Fresh Prince and Jeff worked with Pete Q. Harris and Bryan “Chuck” New, the studio’s in-house producer and engineer, respectively. Hip-hop’s first double album, He’s the DJ was in some way conceived as two separate albums: One would focus on the Fresh Prince, the other on Jazzy Jeff. With the finished project, it roughly breaks down with the first side being the Fresh Prince side and the B-side being Jeff’s, though there is some bleed through. As detailed in Brian Coleman’s Check the Technique 2, much of the DJ oriented material was recorded in Philly with Nicolo, along with a few of the more narratively oriented songs. When in London, the pair recorded more musically complex material, with Jeff and Smith collaborating with Harris and New to flesh out and refine some of their ideas, both lyrically and musically. Originally running 18 tracks and 85 minutes long, CD and digital releases of He’s the DJ were subsequently trimmed for time. In order to get to a 72-minute run-time, these later pressings shorten many of the DJ oriented songs by a minute or two, as well as eliminate “A Special Announcement” (an acapella shout-out) completely. Watch the Official Videos: He’s the DJ might have gone Triple Platinum off the strength of songs like “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” but there was something on the project for fans of all stripes. It’s an overall successful endeavor, mixing commercially accessible material with straight-ahead rugged tracks that any hardcore head would be happy to bump. The duo’s legend was of course built on “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” one of the most well-known hip-hop songs of all time. The track exploded in the spring of 1988 and was a ubiquitous pop culture fixture for years to come. The pair first recorded a version of the song with Nicolo in Philly, but it was refined and reworked into its current form during their London recording sessions. Both in terms of structure and content, it wasn’t all that different to “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” or “Just One of Those Days” from Rock the House. However, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” is just a bit more amiable in a way that made it universally accepted. Listening to it 35 years later, you can still hear why it was so popular at the time. Smith glows as he spins what are two easily relatable tales that tap into evergreen adolescent fears: wearing wack gear to school and getting caught by the police joyriding in your parents’ car (Porsche or not). Each of the two verses unfold like an episode of a Friday night 1980s sitcom or a big-screen summer teen comedy. Smith, turning on his charm full blast, sounds every bit of a movie star on record. The video for the song was also integral to its success, getting regular play on MTV, and also establishing Smith’s soon-to-be leading man credentials. The single was certified Gold, and the duo won the first rap-related GRAMMY award for the song, as it earned an award for Best Rap Performance in 1989. The second single from the album, “Nightmare on My Street,” was enthralling in different way than “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Here, Smith tells of a slightly harrowing (but still PG-rated) encounter with horror icon Freddy Krueger, maintaining the creepy texture while utilizing his goofy sense of humor. Jeff replays the ominous and memorable theme to the franchise, further adding to the atmosphere. The duo and Jive had pitched the song to New Line Cinema as a tie-in for the release of Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, but the studio turned them down, opting to go with the Fat Boys instead. As someone who owned the Fat Boys’ Coming Back Hard Again (1988) and thus heard the song, “Nightmare on My Street” would have been a better choice. Jeff maintains that if they had been able to release a video for the song, He’s the DJ would have sold 10 million copies. It wasn’t for lack of trying, as Jive bankrolled a big budget video for “Nightmare,” only to have it shelved due to legal issues with New Line. The film studio objected to Jeff and Prince using the Freddy Krueger character without their authorization and sued both them and Jive. You can read a very detailed breakdown of how it unfolded in Check the Technique Vol 2. It should be noted that the success of the album’s first two singles led to the duo re-recording and re-releasing “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble.” This version’s production was a little bit cleaner and slicker, adding a third verse and altering some of the lyrics for timeliness and to eliminate somewhat questionable content. They also recorded a video, attempting to piggy-back off of the “Parents Just Don’t Understand” phenomenon. “Brand New Funk,” which can be considered the album’s third single, is one of the best tracks on He’s the DJ. The song could technically be considered the first single, since it was released as a radio only promo before He’s the DJ dropped. Later it was included on the B-side of the “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” re-recording. Regardless, it’s the song that people (including both the Fresh Prince and Jeff themselves) cite in order to establish that the pair made serious hip-hop music. And they’re correct, as the track can stand shoulder to shoulder with many of the best hip-hop singles of 1988. The song is a pure boom-bap exhibition, with the Fresh Prince kicking raw rhymes with an often complex and tongue-twisting delivery. Jeff holds up his end, crafting a rollicking, head-nodding track, composed of portions of Pleasure’s “Bouncy Lady,” along with various screams and yelps from both James Brown and Ready Rock C doing his best impression of the Godfather. Jeff also gets busy on the turntables, providing the earliest of many scratch exhibitions throughout the album. When the single was eventually released, it was a live version of the record. According to Jeff, it was actually recorded at a soundcheck before a show in Long Island. This newer version includes an extra intro verse from Smith. Adding a new verse made sense, as without it, there really aren’t a lot of lyrics on the original version. Some of the best songs on He’s the DJ are the album cuts. “Here We Go Again” is particularly strong, serving as a belated introduction to the project. Smith updates fans on the duo’s state of affairs and hypes up the album’s release, conveying a mix of joy and earnestness, without being too self-serious. The beat is integral to the track’s success, as Smith flows over a sample from Bob James’ “Westchester Lady” and a replayed bassline by Jeff. As He’s the DJ’s narrative endeavors go, “Charlie Mack (First Out the Limo)” is the most entertaining. The song is the duo’s dedication to Charlie Alston, their 6’7,” 290-pound bodyguard, respected both in Philadelphia and by hip-hop heavyweights. Smith describes Alston as some sort of combination of John Henry and Saturday Night Live’s Bill Brasky, a man who “once killed a man ‘cause he would not let go of his Eggo” and who will leave you “decapitated, crushed in the dust.” The entertaining “As We Go” allows every member of the crew to demonstrate their talents. The centerpiece is of course the Fresh Prince kicking both braggadocio and light but enjoyable story raps over a beat that mixes the Honey Drippers’ “Impeach the President” and The Headhunters’ “God Made Me Funky.” The song also features a lengthy breakdown for Jeff to deliver some turntable magic and Ready Rock C to provide a beat-box solo. Even the songs that Jeff said he considers “filler” have value to the album. “Time to Chill” is a fairly lightweight endeavor, as the Fresh Prince spends four verses extolling the smoothness of the Jazzy Jeff-produced groove. I cannot front: the beat, built on a sublime sample of George Benson’s “Breezin,’” successfully carries the song. Meanwhile, “Let’s Get Busy, Baby” is an innocuous entry, as Smith kicks PG-rated game to the ladies over a replay of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” He’s the DJ’s Jazzy Jeff instrumental contributions work very well. “DJ on the Wheels” and “Jazzy’s in the House” are two of the best DJ tracks of the late 1980s-era, with Jeff flexing his skills behind the turntables effortlessly. “Hip-Hop Dancers Theme” features Jeff laying down his precise scratches over a loop of Bob James’ “Take Me to the Mardi Gras.” The song served as the introduction to the pair’s live show, where their dancers would hit the stage to get the crowd hyped up. One of the Fresh Prince’s unheralded talents was his ability to work in tandem with Jazzy Jeff, acting as his master of ceremonies in the more traditional sense of the term. Throughout He’s the DJ, he narrates some of Jeff’s DJ-centric songs, effectively explaining to the listener the techniques that Jeff is executing. Smith riffs his way through “Rhythm Trax – House Party Style,” an electro-based track, helping entertain the listener as Jeff scratches. In this case, it sounds as if Smith recorded his vocals after the rest of the song was completed. The album’s title track is one of the most underappreciated songs on the project. It sounds like an early to mid-1980s off-the-cuff skills demonstration, as the Fresh Prince delivers a single lengthy, fast-paced verse, while Jeff damn near melts the vinyl with his hands and scratches. The Fresh Prince is at his most ferocious, moving like a force of nature over well-used drum breaks. “I'll drop kick a hurricane, body-slam a tidal wave,” he raps. “Walk through a tornado or a volcano / But I’ll be okay though / And here’s some more info that you rappers should know.” He’s the DJ also features a pair of tracks where Ready Rock C plays a central role. Both “My Buddy” and “Human Video Game” prominently feature Ready Rock’s talents, with each based on routines that he and Smith performed live on stage before they were ever recorded at the studio. The former features Ready Rock mimicking the drum track and guitar from the previously used “Impeach the President,” as Smith heralds his beat-box skills and recounts how the two eliminated nine different crews in one single battle. “Human Video Game” is the engaging album closer, as Smith humorously recounts how the human LinnDrum helped him kick a clearly fictional video game addiction. Mostly the track is designed to showcase Ready Rock’s ability to imitate arcade games, most prominently Donkey Kong. This time Jeff assists with proceedings, laying a basic musical backdrop to accompany the beat box. “Human Video Game” is the song that suffers the most from the aforementioned edits for time, as later versions of the song eliminate Ready Rock “playing” Pac-Man. These days, we can and do have lengthy discussions about Smith’s impact and legacy without ever considering that he was the guy who rapped on He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. Similarly, Jeff’s contributions to hip-hop culture have gone far beyond his role on this project. But this album enabled both of them to reach what would have once been unimaginable heights three-and-a-half decades ago. It’s an excellent step on what’s been a complicated journey, and one that gave us fans another reason to love hip-hop. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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