Vinyl Vlog 288

Vinyl Vlog 288

Saturday, 16 December 2017

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the 2LP reissue of He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.

It’s funny but, looking back at it now, it’s unbelievable how quickly everything came together for DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Before April 1987, no one (well, no one outside of Philadelphia) had any idea who the duo was but, suddenly, Rock The House dropped, as did the smash single “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble,” and the dominoes immediately began to fall in a very long line. Major public appearances began to stack up for the crew. Less than a year later, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper dropped and made the crew household names. By 1990, Will “Fresh Prince” Smith had crossed over into television with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and both he and DJ “Jazzy” Jeff Townes had become cultural icons; true, the Beastie Boys had brought hip hop culture into the bedrooms of white America, but it was DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince who introduced the culture to their parents and, even by twenty-first century standards, their ascension would be considered fast but, in the late, pre-internet/Information Age Eighties, it was unheard of; back then, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were breaking records before the music industry even knew any of those records existed. The duo were pretty bold about it all too; when He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper arrived, it did so it did so as a double album – the first for rap – and singlehandedly proved that the music was capable of sustaining the format early, as well as with great appreciation from fans.

To this day, thirty years later, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper continues to hold some impressive power and clout which is easy to recognize as soon as it begins to play. Unlike so many other rap and hip hop sophomore albums, He’s the DJ… doesn’t bother wasting time sucking up kudos for past successes (as happens regularly in hip hop – see the catalogues of Dr. Dre and Eminem for easy-to-find examples) and just gets to work with “Nightmare On My Street.” There, with a sample from the film’s score which this album still has to claim has nothing to do with the Freddy film franchise, Smith gleefully plays around with the imagery from the movie for the great cultural tinker toy it is (scan “He’s burnt up like a weenie and his name is Fred/ He wears the same hat and sweater every single day/ And even if it’s hot outside he wears it anyway”) and really plays light all around, but the song still survives as a better-than-decent novelty. As stated, the best part of “Nightmare” is that it doesn’t try to lean on the success of Rock The House or really phone anything in just to get the record moving; it’s a good and sturdy opener, and remains so to this day.

After “Nightmare On My Street,” He’s the DJ… does touch briefly on some self-congratulatory filler (find “Here We Go Again”), but the very Quincy Jones-ish “Brand New Funk” which follows it and “Time To Chill” (which closes the side) quickly break new and smooth ground for a genre which had really avoided sampling Soul even two years previously, by posturing like the champs Smith and Townes actually were by then. That very, very successful air continues through the album’s B-side as “Charlie Mack” immortalizes the group’s bodyguard before hitting paydirt “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” gets raucous with “Pump Up The Bass” and then gets horny with “Baby Let’s Get Busy.” Now, it’s true that some aspects of the group’s delivery haven’t aged well (the objectification of women in “Let’s Get Busy…” can be seen as milquetoast by twenty-first century standards, or as just incredibly sophomoric – depending upon your value set) but, really, the same could be said of almost any hip hop record – for one reason or another, on any given day. The catch here will remain with a listener’s ability to overlook such foibles.

As the C-side warms up with some live-to-air performance presentation, it suddenly becomes a little more difficult to get on board – if only because such an addition feels like a trite desire to fill space and “make this a double album at all cost” (or rather, because production money ran out) – but it does get easier to take, before long. The standout track on the side, “DJ on the Wheels,” showcases Townes’ awesome touch on the tables beautifully (if a little pointlessly, now), and then the D-side of the album splits the difference by doing some live and some studio demonstration (the human beat box demo “Human Video Game” is pretty cool) before the album runs out.

While some critics could easily contend that He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper shot to be ambitious and “to be the first double album in rap” but pumped in at least one entire side of filler to do it, the truth is that it’s pretty difficult to argue with the quality of the results. The truth is that He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper is an album which was indeed very ambitious and of its moment, but it still holds up as one hundred percent fun now, thirty years later too. In that way, while He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper is a strange kind of timeless, it is timeless nonetheless. [Bill Adams]


The 2LP reissue of He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince is out now on Legacy Recordings. Buy it here on Amazon.

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