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Reissue Theory: DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, “Homebase”

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We continue our summer set of Reissue Theory posts with a big star whose musical career is now just a footnote. But that footnote gave us, in part, one of the best-loved summer songs of the ’90s. Of course, we’re talking about DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.

Sure, the latter is now known worldwide by his real name, Will Smith. And he’s a mega-movie star whose box-office power is relatively unmatched. He’s even better known for his star-making turn as the lead in the still-funny NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But let’s not forget that Smith started as a rapper, and a rather intriguing one, too.

When Smith and Jeff Townes burst onto the national scene in 1987, they were already celebrities in the West Philly rap scene, having been signed to local label Word Up Records for two years (amazing trivia: the A&R man who signed them was Paul Oakenfold, world-class remixer). Townes’ proficiency at the turntables, combined with Smith’s quick-paced, laid-back and youth-friendly flow, was a lethal combination. When the pair was signed to Jive in 1987, they found nothing but success, including the smash hit He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper (rap’s first double album) and the first-ever Grammy for a rap song, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

Although backlash and controversy were imminent – “serious” rap fans trashed the group’s clean, profanity-free image, follow-up LP And in This Corner… stiffed and Smith developed a pretty serious spending problem that got the I.R.S. involved – the duo managed to bounce back. Smith paid off his debts with his salary for a new TV show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (in which Townes also had a recurring role), and the two recorded a new LP, Homebase, in 1991.

That record spawned a massive hit in “Summertime,” one of the definitive hot-day pop classics. It won the pair another Grammy and kept the flame burning for their brand of pop-rap. Of course, Smith would move on to blockbuster films and his own, relatively successful solo rap career (with occasional input from Jazzy Jeff, who continues to be a successful DJ). But there’s no supplanting those early, innocent years from our minds.

In fact, given Smith’s star power, it’s unusual that DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince’s discography hasn’t gotten a “before-the-mega-fame”-type treatment; only a late-’90s greatest-hits record serves as the duo’s catalogue presence. So let this be the first suggestion to revisit this great material, Reissue Theory-style. Sit back and unwind after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

June 24, 2010 at 13:47