80s Music

Artist Profile: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

Most of us probably remembered DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince as the musical duo that launched the music and acting career of Will Smith. But during their heyday, this hip-hop duo from West Philadelphia played a big role in making rap music more relatable for pop music fans and young listeners. This is because Will Smith or the Fresh Prince’s raps were never anything more than PG-rated and he has a winning and genial personality to match it with. On the other hand, his partner DJ Jazzy Jeff or Jeff Townes was one of Philadelphia’s best DJs. He was an inventive DJ that provided appropriate and playful music. During their career, they won two Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance and sold over 5.5 million albums in the United States. In this article, we are going to learn more about this iconic duo and how they made their mark in the music industry. 

Walmart associates from around globe gather during the 2011 Walmart Shareholders’ Meeting. (photo by Wesley Hitt, Hitt Photography)

Early Years

Will Smith and Jeff Townes met each other by chance in 1985 while Townes was performing at a party just a few houses away from Will Smith’s residence. Townes was missing his hype man or rapper and that’s where Will Smith stepped in and performed with Jeff Townes. While performing, the two felt that they made good music together. After their performance at the party, the two decided to collaborate and Will Smith asked Ready Rock C to be the beatboxer of their group. However, Ready Rock C was not officially credited to the group and was known only as a support live member. 

In 1986, the duo released their first single called “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble” under the record label Word Records. The song was about a series of funny misadventures that landed Smith in trouble and it was sampled from the theme song of the American sitcom called I Dream of Jeanie. Because of this, the duo became known for their cheerful and playful way of story-telling raps which was also blasphemy free. The song became a hit single before Smith graduated from high school. 

The song also paved the way for the duo to get the attention of Jive Records and record executive Russel Simmons. In 1987, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince released their first album called “Rock the House” which sold over 300,000 copies. During that same year, the duo embarked on their first major tour with famous hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy and Run DMC.

The duo followed up their success with their second album “He’s the D.J., I’m the Rapper” in 1988 which was one of the first double long playing album thanks to several tracks that featured DJ Jazzy Jeff’s turntable artistry. The album also became one of hip-hop’s biggest selling album during that time because it sold over 2.5 million copies after the duo released their music video for their single “Parents Just Don’t Understand” which became a hit on MTV. The single also went gold and won the first ever Grammy Award in the rap category. After that, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince toured extensively to further promote their album.

However, during that time hip-hop was somewhat a difficult field to sustain a career. That’s why the duo quickly followed up their second album with “In This Corner” in 1989. But the album failed to gather that much attention compared to their previous albums. The release of their album was also affected by the rapid change of the hip-hop climate with the release of De La Soul’s debut album.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Smith performances in their music videos have caught the attention in the television industry. Audiences and several producers were convinced of Will Smith’s charismatic and warm personality that’s why NBC decided to give Smith a starring role in a sitcom that was named after his musical persona and that was the birth of the iconic sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” The show was about a young Philadelphian guy who was sent to live with his rich relatives in California to stay out of trouble. Even if Will Smith was not that great of an actor yet, TV executives were right about his comical and charismatic appeal on set which helped the show became a hit. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air had a total of six seasons and Jeff Townes played a recurring role as Smith’s streetwise friend named Jazz. 

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s Last Years

Even if Will Smith took a hiatus from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince to be able to concentrate on his sitcom, the duo was reunited in 1991 which somewhat increased their popularity. They released their fourth album “Homebase” which reach platinum status. The album featured their warm and laid back hit party tine single called “Summertime.” The song became DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s first Top Five Hit. They followed it up with their fifth and last album called “Code Red” in 1993. However, the album didn’t perform well in the US market but their single Boom! Shake the Room became a hit song in the United Kingdom. After this, Will Smith decided to focus full-time on his acting career and prove that he could also do it on the big screen. He starred in several big-budget Hollywood blockbuster movies such as Men in Black, Enemy of the State, Wild Wild West, and Independence Day. Smith also embarked on a solo music career where he sold millions of albums compared to what he did with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. On the other hand, Jeff Townes or DJ Jazzy Jeff started his own production company called “A Touch of Jazz” and worked as a mixer and producer of different hip-hop and R&B artists.

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