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Who Flipped It Better? DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince vs. Digable Planets

Kool and the Gang
Kool and the Gang

In this week’s edition of ‘Who Flipped It Better?’ we reverse the weather and travel back to the sunny days of summer with Kool & The Gang’s ‘Summer Madness’ from their 1974 ‘Light of Worlds’ album.

The lounging, hazy buildup conjures images of fire hydrants spraying in the street and steam rising from pavement as people peel their clothes off to cool down. In other words, use your imagination.

Sample: Kool & The Gang ‘Summer Madness’

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Jeff “DJ Jazzy Jeff” Townes and Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith were running things when ‘Summertime’ dropped in May of 1991. It spent a full week at No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart and peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song even earned DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. Besides the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ theme song, ‘Summertime’ is easily the most ubiquitous song that the duo ever recorded, buoyed by a smooth female vocalist on the hook and the growing ‘Summer Madness’ sample. The ascending synth that is the centerpiece of the original plays over the verses and gets chopped up into beeps for the chorus, peeking into your ears to make sure you’re bobbing your head.

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Digable Planets were a different kind of beast. While Will Smith had his television show to leverage his popularity with, the Brooklyn Bohemian trio of Butterfly (a pre-Shabazz Palaces Ishmael Butler), Ladybug Mecca and Doodlebug were somewhat less… marketable, let’s say. Their gold debut album, ‘Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space),’ was heady and abstract as they sought a balance between jazz and hip-hop that they struck pretty perfectly. However, with the exception of the album’s breakout single, for ‘Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)’ Digable Planets’ music wasn’t as palatable to the pop audience.

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The Digable Planets cut has a similar creep to the Kool & The Gang sample, with only the long, alluring intro underlying the verses, while the escalating synth only appears quickly on the chorus, if you can salvage any identifiable chorus on ‘Jimmi Diggin’ It’s Cats.’ It’s energy is more pent up and channeled in the knocking drums and the interaction of voices over the beat.

On the other hand, the Fresh Prince’s cut is live from the get-go. Meant to pop in the mainstream, it has more of an obligation to get going immediately, while Digable Planets really had no expectation of who was listening or what kind of spins they’d be getting — they were just interested in making ‘Low End Theory’ music with a couple jokes thrown in.

It’s tough to choose between the two, as one is more well-rounded while the other strips away extraneous elements to present a moody thumper of a song. Ultimately, while they’ve both stood the test of time, ‘Summertime’ is a more complete record with intricate uses of the sample, and thanks to DJ Jazzy Jeff’s touch, it wins out here.

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