It’s hard not to think of DJ Jazzy Jeff as the partner of The Fresh Prince – aka Will Smith. The late 80’s and early 90’s featured a near constant stream of radio and MTV hits from the duo. Once Will Smith broke into television, he made sure DJ Jazzy Jeff – aka Jeffrey Townes – had a constant presence on his hit show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The Fresh Prince started putting out records under his new name (some of them still featuring DJ Jazzy Jeff), and DJ Jazzy Jeff put out two critically acclaimed records and an impressive amount of mix tapes. The last decade or so has found Jeff DJ’ing throughout the world, producing records, and reminding the world that he is one of the world’s premier DJ’s – setting moods, scratching, and mixing with an expert ear. M3 marks his 1st album in 11 years and is the final chapter of the Magnificent trilogy. It just may be his finest solo work yet.
Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.
It goes without saying that DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince are one of the greatest hip hop acts to ever hail from the city of Philadelphia, PA (The Roots would obviously be in that select group). At some point The Fresh Prince changed his name to Will Smith, started a movie career, and continued rapping under his new name. The highlights on his solo records for me were when he invited DJ Jazzy Jeff to scratch on a handful of tracks. None of his solo records gelled the way the DJ Jazzy Jeff &The Fresh Prince records did until the 2005 release of Lost and Found. Notable guest appearances (Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg), relevant musical backing, and smart lyrical content make up most of the tracks on this record. Tell Me Why is my favorite on the record, and one of the highlights of The Fresh Prince’s career. The track was originally targeted as the 2nd single from the record but was scrapped in favor of Party Starter – a shame, as Tell Me Why has an emotional core that would have possibly appealed to radio programmers. The song relies on The Fresh Prince’s storytelling flow, throwing us right into an attempt to explain the insanity of 9/11 and war to a child. The track builds as it progresses, with The Fresh Prince becoming more agitated and emotional as he asks someone to explain the unexplainable:
- the death of hip hop icons Jam Master Jay, Tupac, and Biggie Smalls
- the death of Smith’s infant brother Sterling
- Nelson Mandela’s ordeal
- The saga of MLK and Malcolm X
- The hate crime committed against James Byrd Jr.
- The death of Reginald Denny
By the end of the verse Will Smith is practically shouting his rhymes, anger and frustration bleeding through. Resignation in the words “Please what am I supposed to say to my kids when they say ‘Why?’, Mary J. Blige’s backing vocals coming to the front of the mix with the final “Why”, and orchestra swells lending the track an otherworldly emotional resonance. This is a perfect song. Here’s hoping The Fresh Prince will return one day.
Part 3 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays
As someone who grew up in the Philadelphia region and then moved across the country to the Seattle, WA area, I’ve had to combat a few stereotypes about Philadelphia natives:
- Yeah…we booed Santa Claus. Kind of a mean thing to do. But maybe he deserved it?
- We do not talk with a Brooklyn accent. We do not talk with a Boston accent.
- We are not generally mean people – we are loyal to those who are loyal to us, and call out people who are fake. Not exactly mean (and something that is hard to explain in the passive aggressive Pacific Northwest)
- Rocky Balboa is not a real person. But we have embraced him like he is.
- Will Smith is not “an actor who tries to rap”. Will Smith rapped long before he started his amazing movie career – and oh yeah, his name is The Fresh Prince