Flashback: December 25, 1988
I run to the living room to see what I gotten for Christmas. I’m 11 years old; too cool for toys and uninterested in clothes. I want a stereo and music. Fortunately, my dad doesn’t disappoint. I get a combo record player/double-bay tape deck stereo system and three classic albums: Run DMC’s Tougher Than Leather, Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel, and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper.
He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper was on constant repeat in my brand-new stereo. I could recite every rhyme. I pretended to scratch like Jazzy Jeff1. It was the soundtrack to my final year in elementary school. That’s why it’s one of my favorite albums.
People know Will Smith for his movies2 versus his rapping skills, but in 1988 he was a good, if not great, rapper. Teaming with Jazzy Jeff, the duo dropped what I consider to be one of the best hip-hop albums ever created. Notice I say “hip-hop” and not rap.
While Will Smith is more than capable on the mic, the turntable skills of Jazzy Jeff are the real highlight. Magic happens when the rapping and scratching merge together into party jams: the addictive “Here We Go Again3”, the brassy “Pump Up The Bass”, and my second favorite track “Brand New Funk” are perfect examples of how the lyrical word-play of Fresh Prince dances across the foundation laid by Jazzy Jeff.
For me, the jewel of the album is the title track. “He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper” starts off with a video-game-like intro, before Fresh Prince segues into a boastful, ballsy, G.O.A.T. romp about his superior rapping skills. Prince’s verses are backed with a twisting maze of obscure samples. Jazzy Jeff masterfully ties it all together with some of the best scratching I’ve ever heard on vinyl (including the infamous transformer scratch).
- And before you ask…. no, I was not fortunate enough to get the LP in vinyl. For those in the know, the vinyl version of the album came with a “bonus” scratch record. so, all my pretend scratching was just that: pretend. :(
- People hate on Big Willy for his corny style and movies, but that’s not really fair. Will Smith owned the late 80’s to mid-90s. Grammy (check). Hit tv show (check). Second Grammy (check). Hit movie (check). Blockbuster movie (check). Plus, plenty of “harder” rappers have made questionable moves when it comes to movies. So let’s just give Will Smith props for making his money.
- I love this sample of Bob James’ “Westchester Lady“. He doesn’t get nearly enough shine for his contributions to some great hip-hop classics.