(D.J.) Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince

  • (D.J.) Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
  • Rock the House (Word Up/Jive) 1987 + 1988 
  • He's the D.J., I'm the Rapper (Jive) 1988 
  • And in This Corner ... (Jive) 1989 

Although both use the same handle, the same producer and were both on the Jive label, the Jazzy Jeff (Townes) turntable master who teamed up with future superstar Will Smith (aka the Fresh Prince) is unrelated to the earlier rapper named Jazzy Jeff. However it came to pass, the upshot is that these mega-successful clean-cut young men from Philadelphia — purveyors of mild-mannered middle- class rap — are the ones people know.

Amid routine boasts and human beat box exhibitions, Rock the House introduces the 17-year-old Smith’s friendly singsong delivery and engagingly hapless persona on the PG-rated story, “Just One of Those Days” (an approach later developed by Young MC). The album’s only similar track, “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble,” is a gentle gender gripe that samples the I Dream of Jeannie theme song and earns a rebuke from female rapper Ice Cream Tee elsewhere on the LP. (Rock the House‘s reissue replaces the original hit single version of “Girls” with an extended remix.)

Sensing the correct path to lasting fame and fortune, the duo and their associates consigned most of the traditional hip-hop on He’s the D.J. (which sold several million copies) to a bonus disc of scratch tracks (plus a truly cruddy live performance from 1986). That left the main album to showcase their unabashed suburban preppiedom and bubblegum stylings in lighthearted raps like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (a comic complaint about middle-class fashion oppression), “Charlie Mack – The First Out the Limo” and “A Nightmare on My Street,” which weaves a personal tale around Freddy Krueger, complete with audio bites from A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Except for a couple of obligatory boasts and tributes, the dapper duo severed its vestigial ties to street-level rap (the closest the Fresh Prince — on his way to TV stardom — comes to sounding tough is an acknowledged joke) on the third album, turning instead to broadly accessible pop entertainment. With intricately arranged musical tracks surrounding the beat, And in This Corner… delivers a witty and winning collection of engaging stories in which the cocky rapper keeps getting clobbered — by a boxer (“I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson”), a thief (“Who Stole My Car?”), a crooked travel agent (“Everything That Glitters (Ain’t Always Gold)”) and even the supernatural (“Then She Bit Me”).

[Ira Robbins]