DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s ‘He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper’ Album Celebrates 25-Year Anniversary
Twenty-five years ago, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince released their breakthrough LP, ‘He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper,’ on March 29, 1988. The duo’s second album might have been lighthearted and fun, but it was slightly ahead of its time and introduced the duo to mainstream audiences.
West Philadelphia natives DJ Jazzy Jeff (real name Jeffrey Townes) and rapper Fresh Prince (real name Will Smith) gained notoriety in 1987, with their debut album, ‘Rock the House,’ which included the ‘I Dream of Jeanie’-sampled ‘Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble’ and the creative turntable banger, ‘Touch of Jazz.’
For their sophomore album, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince wanted to celebrate the DJ. Jeff’s skills on the 1s and 2s were legendary in the Philadelphia rap scene. His development of the Transformer and “chirping” scratching technique propelled deejaying into an art form beyond just spinning two pieces of vinyl together.
At the same, Prince also wanted to honor the “MC” (master of ceremony). Smith was famous in his Philly neighborhood for rocking house parties and moving the crowd. The pair had songs already recorded and Jeff came up with a unique idea.
“I was like, ‘Yo, why don’t we put both of these albums together and just do a double album?’ It was kinda funny because no one had ever thought to do that,” he recalled in an 2013 interview with Philadelphia Weekly. “We just made the suggestion, and Jive was like, ‘Yo, that might be great. It would be the first rap double album.’”
The 18-song collection, which was recorded in London, highlighted Jeff’s amazing skills on the turntables (‘Jazzy’s in the House,’ ‘Hip Hop Dancer’s Theme‘), Smith’s storytelling skills (‘As We Go‘) and honored the beatboxer (‘Human Video Game‘). But the three key songs that helped the album reach its three-times platinum status (a first for a rap album during its time) was the Halloween classic ‘A Nightmare on My Street,’ the party-starter ‘Brand New Funk‘ and the sing-along teen ode, ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand.’
Initially, Jeff and Prince didn’t want to release ‘Parents’ as their first single. “We were trying to do something that was a little bit harder, with some scratches in it, maybe some human beatbox stuff, and I remember one of the producers who was working with us saying, ”Parents Just Don’t Understand’ should be the first single,’” recalled Jeff. “Me and Will were like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ And he was just like, ‘I’m telling you, ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ is a smash hit.’”
Indeed it was a smash hit. The accompanying video, which followed succinctly to Prince’s comical storyline about shopping for clothes with your parents, became an airplay staple on MTV.
Rumor has it that the ‘Parents’ video inspired Quincy Jones to develop a television series around Smith. The NBC sitcom, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ catapulted Smith’s career as an actor. In addition, the show’s theme song is probably the most memorable and fun song to sing at karaoke parties.
‘He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper’ achieved a lot of “firsts” for Jeff and Smith. It was the first double rap album, it won them their first American Music Award for Favorite Rap Album and it earned them their first-ever Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance (‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’).
The duo were nominated in 1989, during the first year the Grammys instituted a rap category. However, producers didn’t want to broadcast any of the rap-related categories, much to their chagrin. The snub led Jeff and Smith to boycott the Grammy awards.
“Me and Will sat down knowing that this is the first time rap has been here, that this is huge, and we mapped out what we wanted to do,” Jeff recalled. “We decided to boycott the Grammys. Will this stance ruin our career? We really didn’t know. It just became a matter of principle. They’re slighting the music.”
A year later, the duo followed up with their third album, ‘And in This Corner,’ with an even more poppier hit, ‘I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson.’ Their 1991 album, ‘Homebase,’ boasts the indelible summer classic, ‘Summertime.’ Finally, their 1993 album, ‘Code Red,’ could be considered the duo’s swan album as Smith was more preoccupied with making movies than music.
For DJ Jazzy Jeff, ‘He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper’ was more than just a classic rap album, it unified people together globally under the guise of hip-hop.
“I feel like hip-hop — and especially black people — we want something that’s just ours. We don’t want to share it. And I think it’s like that as much today because we are a lot more exposed to stuff, but hip-hop was ours,” he says. “Hip-hop was the music. Hip-hop was like soul music. It was like ‘If you don’t like it, you don’t understand it. You don’t know where it comes from or the origin or why we were doing it — and it’s ours.’”
“I felt like people started to think we were trying to take something else from them without realizing that all this is was a recognition that we’re doing something good,” he continued. “And the crazy thing is, it wasn’t just white people falling in love with hip-hop; it was Asians, it was Africans, it was people from Australia. It was the globalization of hip-hop actually happening right then.”
Watch DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ Video
Watch DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s ‘Brand New Funk’ Video