Years before Will Smith would become a bona fide Hollywood/Box Office phenomenon, he was known to the world as The Fresh Prince (not of Bel Air but of Philly), the rapper and one half of the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. After releasing their gold debut album Rock The House in 1987, the Philly duo came back in 1988 with their sophomore effort He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, which would go on to sales 6 times as many albums as it predecessor (that would be over 3 million, for all my slow brothers out there). DJ Jazzy Jeff was always a well respected deejay by those in the know, but in a lot of hip-hop circles the duo’s credibility was questioned do to their comical, self -depreciating brand of hip-hop, which many considered soft when compared to the output of their counterparts. He’s The DJ was definitely a commercial success, but was it actually a good album?
Nightmare On My Street – This is Will’s attempt at a “horror core” rap. Apparently the infamous Elm Street is in Philly, as Big Wille spins a tale about his run in with Freddy Krueger. This was mildly interesting while managing to be extremely cheesy at the same time, if that makes any since.
Here We Go Again – Big Willie’s charisma and personality make up for anything he lacks in lyrical prowess. Don’t get me wrong: Will can rap, but I’m pretty sure he’s not in your top 10 either. Will cleverly explains the delay in the release of He’s The DJ (although I wouldn’t consider it a delay as it was pretty much released exactly a year after Rock The House) over a smooth Jazzy Jeff track. This was nice.
Brand New Funk – I’ve always loved this Jazzy Jeff beat, and Willie sounds pretty decent flowing over it. Jazzy Jeff would later rework the same track on his solo release The Magnificent, but instead of Will on the mic Jeff would enlist his fellow Philly neighbor, Petey Crack to handle emcee duties (that version pales in comparison to the original). This still sound really good.
Time To Chill – Jeff pretty much steals George Benson’s instrumental wholesale, but it still works well. Will’s line about Jeff’s beat “bringing love to the heart of a criminal” was kind of weird and doesn’t really make since, but the beat is so relaxing I’ll let it slide. Will does a good job on the mic, and this was pretty enjoyable. Nice start fellas.
Charlie Mack – This was a first…can’t say I’ve ever heard an emcee write an entire song boasting about his bodyguard’s stature and toughness before (matter of fact most rappers would be ashamed to admit they even have a bodyguard in this “hardcore” era). Willie sounds like a little brother pumping up his big brother while he stands behind him, to the neighborhood bully. When you add the below average beat with the weird subject manner this one simply doesn’t work.
As We Go – Big Willie does his best Slick Rick impersonation on this one, but still manages to pull it off. This was decent.
Parents Just Don’t Understand – I believe this was the first single, and the biggest reason He’s The DJ would go one to sell a billion copies. This song was brilliant on many levels: What kid hasn’t thought this at one point in their life? Although he doesn’t get the respect he’s due, Will is a pretty solid storyteller. Slick Rick is considered by many to be the greatest storyteller in all of hip-hop, a title that he is probably well deserving of. One issue I’ve always had with Ricky D is at times it hard to follow his stories do to unclear vocals (or maybe its poor mixing of the vocals with the track), which makes it easy to loose focus on his storylines. When Big Willie is on top of his game his stories come across crystal clear, and almost conversational, as if he and the listener are hanging out and he’s telling you the latest drama (a quality that Jay-Z also possesses). Will keeps your ear attentive with all his inflections, mimics, and role playing, and the story remains pretty entertaining. This was genius (yeah I said it!).
Pump Up The Bass – The duo pays homage to the bass. Big Willie rhymes a little (I love the grammatical correction he makes to his own line) but this is clearly Jeff’s chance to shine, as he provides sufficient cuts and scratches, which might of made this a enjoyable listen if not for the messy beat underneath it.
Let’s Get Busy Baby – This is Big Willie’s ode to – as we called it back in my day – “slappin skinz”. Over the Stevie Wonder sampled bass line, Will attempts to talk a lady out of her panties. Hey, class clowns need love too.
Live At Union Square (November 1986) – This plays exactly how it reads. It serves as a reminder that it takes more than strong lyricism to emcee. Big Willie has complete control of the crowd on this live performance, and Jeff completely murders the turntables. Almost made me break out the Wii and play Jazzy Jeff’s character on DJ Hero, shoot.
DJ On The Wheels – Based on the song title, I think you’re smart enough to figure out what this one is about.
My Buddy – Big Willie rhymes over his “buddy” Ready Rock C’s beat box. Willie’s countdown of the 10 wack crews he’s wrecked ends abruptly at 4, which is find because it really wasn’t that interesting enough of a story in the first place.
Rhythm Trax – House Party Style – Essentially another deejay cut, while Big Willie only acts as Jeff’s hype man. It is what it is.
He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper – Jeff cuts on the tables while Will spews his version of battle lyrics, which is hard to take serious, since he clowns around at the beginning and end of the song, and considering the rest of the album’s content. While we all know an emcee of Rakim’s caliber would murder Will in a battle, I wonder how he would weigh (no pun intended) matched against say, Heavy D in a battle. Oh yeah, the song, it sucks.
Hip-Hop Dancer’s Theme – Jeff borrows the same sample used by Run-DMC for “Peter Piper”, and he gets yet another opportunity to display his turntable skills. This song could have been left off since Jeff’s scratches only get mildly interesting as the song begins to fade out. By the way, this has to be one of the most generic song titles of all time.
Jazzy’s In The House – Interesting, a deejay joint followed up by another deejay joint, really? This would probably be very entertaining live, but it doesn’t hold up well on record.
Human Video Game – Ready Rock C provides yet another beat box for Will to spit a cornball tale about his addiction to video games. The storyline was terrible, the beat boxing was annoying, and the song completely sucks. That’s all folks.
He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper lives up to it’s title, in that it equally distributes the spotlight to both Will (on the mic) and Jeff (on the turntables). He’s The DJ starts of strong on the strength of Will’s charisma and Jeff’s solid production, but the wheels begin to fall off after “Parents Just Don’t Understand”. The Latter portion of He’s The DJ suffers from bland beats, which make you lose focus and become uninterested in what Will has to say (it also doesn’t help that some of his subject matter is mad corny). He’s The DJ is by no means a classic album, but there are a few enjoyable gems, and it does contain “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, which in my humble opinions is on of the best stories rap has ever told, and sometimes its just nice to hear hip-hop music designed for the “common man” instead of the gangsta.