30 Years Ago DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince Gave Hip-Hop Something Brand New (Video)
Thirty years ago this week (March 29, 1988), DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released a landmark double-album courtesy of He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper. At a time when Rap music was just getting comfortable with the album format, an MC/DJ battery from West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania raised the stakes in a major way. Jeff Townes and Will Smith doubled up. They released more than 72 minutes of music on their first project released entirely with Jive/RCA Records. It was designed to showcase the unique talents of both halves of the group, across two vinyl plates (with DJs in mind).
The follow-up to Rock The House is an album that arrived during a period where MCs were stepping in front of DJs as Rap’s showcase entertainers. Two years before The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Will Smith was fast emerging as a charismatic rapper, groomed and backed by one of Hip-Hop’s most elite DJs. The album scored a Top 5 debut on the charts, and in less than a decade, achieved triple-platinum status.
It can seem easy to remember He’s The DJ… for catchy songs like hit singles “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (a Grammy-winning rehash from the proven “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble” formula in 1986) or the “Freddy Krueger”-inspired “Nightmare On My Street.” These were accessible Rap songs to a base that Jeff and Will were cultivating as well as anybody. Making family-facing records helped take The Fat Boys to film, and propel Kurtis Blow to gold. However, Jeff and Will used music videos, and bigger than life personas to take advantage of the resources available to them. It was “go hard, or go home… to Philly.”
Jeff was a recent New Music Seminar DJ battle champion. The Fresh Prince was growing to be a renowned MC around the East Coast. Signed to the same label as Whodini and Kool Moe Dee, He’s The DJ… had skill and Rap potency that history sometimes treats as an after-thought. The fact is, first single “Brand New Funk” (released as a promo to DJs) showcases the royal chemistry between Jeff and the Prince.
Brian Coleman’s Check The Technique book reveals that the James Brown-esque “get down!” ad-lib was group beat-boxer Ready Roc C, not a triggered sample at all. Meanwhile, Jeff did concoct his Funk formed with records by James, Donald Byrd, and Pleasure. The record has a commanding groove, perfect for dancing, cruising, or just cooling out.
The video is sparse but since. Will kicks his rhymes into the lens while Jeff masters the wheels of steel with authority (including some grabbing scratch segments). There is footage from a recent concert, and cameras capturing the studio performance (complete with synchronized dancers) both in color and black-and-white. The moment pops as the MC and DJ rock a routine that feels airtight. That synergy remains with Will and Jeff after nearly 35 years, and 30 from album worth remembering.