DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince life and biography

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince picture, image, poster

DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince biography

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-04-27
Credited as : Hip hop duo, Will Smith, M.I.B. soundtrack

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DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince is a hip hop duo from West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rapper Will Smith (The Fresh Prince) met Jeff Townes (DJ Jazzy Jeff) while trying to make a name for himself in West Philadelphia's local hip hop scene. After joining forces with Clarence Holmes (Ready Rock C) the team members became local celebrities. Holmes left the group in 1990, and later sued it in 1999.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince have done more to bring rap music into the mainstream than any other hip-hop group. The Philadelphia-based duo, who infuse their work with satire and playfulness--a departure from the hostile tone of some rap acts--in 1988 produced one of the best-selling rap albums of all time, He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper. The group also proved outstanding by receiving the first ever Grammy in the rap music category for their quintessential teenage lament, "Parents Just Don't Understand." Because their work is funny and accessible to teens of all races, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince are welcome where other rap groups are rarely invited--to live concerts, teen magazines, and even network television.

Rolling Stone contributor Jeffrey Ressner noted that DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince "have distinguished themselves by avoiding rap's traditionally angry tone.... Rather than tackling themes like urban violence and drug abuse, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince prefer to satirize frothier middle-class subjects like video games, monster movies and going shopping with parents." The music is not entirely sanitized, however--it may be self-mocking one moment and bitterly sarcastic the next, the mood more exasperated than militant. "The music comes from us and it reflects who we are," Jazzy Jeff told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We don't approach the music with the idea of getting a message across. We just sing about our experiences, and the audience finds it funny or can relate to it."

Although they have been heralded as the first middle-class rappers, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince did not exactly grow up in the suburbs. Jeffrey Townes, or Jazzy Jeff, grew up in a working-class neighborhood of South Philadelphia and the Fresh Prince, born Willard Smith, was raised in nearby Wynnefield, Pennsylvania. Both began perfecting their musical craft at an early age. Jazzy Jeff started spinning records at parties when he was only ten, using his family's basement as a training ground for his expert mixing and double scratching. The Fresh Prince, a rapper from age 13, attended Philadelphia's Overbrook High School, where he earned sufficient grades to qualify for a full scholarship to the academically rigorous Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.).

The two musicians knew of one another while they were still young teens. Their paths crossed from time to time because they each performed in different rap groups. Early in 1986 they got together at a party; the rapport was instantaneous. "I worked with 2,000 crews before I found this maniac," Jazzy Jeff told People. "There was a click when I worked with him that was missing before." Jazzy Jeff, who had released an album in 1985, was already a local celebrity when he took on the Fresh Prince. As a result the duo had little trouble finding a record label. Their first single, "Girls Ain't Nothing but Trouble," hit the charts in 1986.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's first album, Rock the House, made a strong showing in 1987, selling some 600,000 copies. Stardom came the following year with the double LP He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, one of the first rap albums to go double platinum. Both albums, but especially the second, offer raps about what the musicians understand best--the day-to-day troubles of modern teens. "Parents Just Don't Understand," for instance, details the nightmares of shopping for school clothes with a mother who is hopelessly out of touch with current styles; the Prince pleads with his mom to "put back the bell-bottom Brady Bunch trousers."

Not surprisingly, the "clean rap" image proved a mixed blessing for DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Some other rap artists scorned them for selling out to the white audience and for ignoring legitimate problems of black youths. On the other hand, the musicians found themselves invited to perform live concerts far more often than many of their cohorts because promoters saw less chance for violence at their shows. As a consequence DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince toured extensively, performing throughout the Midwest and in Canada. Jazzy Jeff told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "We like to give the audience a lesson in rap. It's not hard, anyone can do it. It's not about black or white, it's just about having fun."

By 1989 the duo had far more competition in the mainstream market; their release And in This Corner sold just under a million copies. That album contained the hit "I Think I Could Beat Mike Tyson," a piece that pokes fun at an over-active ego. Music videos accompanying "I Think I Could Beat Mike Tyson" and "Parents Just Don't Understand" brought the Fresh Prince to the attention of a new audience--television producers. On the basis of his work in videos, he was invited to take a leading role in a network situation comedy, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

The demands on the Fresh Prince of filming a television show have greatly curtailed the rap duo's musical work. The two still perform and record together, however, and Jazzy Jeff makes frequent guest appearances on the show. The Fresh Prince told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he took the television work in order to continue his quest to educate people about rap. "Rap music--which a lot of white America doesn't understand--rap music is not just a music," he said. "Rap music is a subculture: hip-hop. It's a style of dress, an attitude, a look, a language. It's more than just music."

Though perhaps not as visible as the Fresh Prince, there is little chance that Jazzy Jeff will return to obscurity. With his wide-ranging knowledge of modern jazz, eerie mixes of fine music and trashy television theme songs, and masterful record scratching, he will remain in demand on the rap circuit. Jazzy Jeff explained his performance philosophy in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We're not from the suburbs, so we don't pretend to know what growing up there is like," he said. "But there are certain experiences or feelings that everyone has in common." He added: "We don't care if the audience is black or white, inner city or suburban, as long as they show up and are having a good time."

Code Red, their last studio LP as a duo was released in 1993, reaching gold sales. This LP featured a self-admitted harder sound than their other songs, with Jazzy Jeff saying "We wanted to take a new direction. It wasn't that we were concentrating on harder, it was just different", featuring more jazz and soul samples than previous releases. The lead single "Boom! Shake the Room" reached #1 in UK and Australia, and featured a harder sound than any of their other songs. Other singles were "I'm Looking For the One (To Be With Me)", which is similar to "Summertime", and "I Wanna Rock", which showed off more of Jazzy Jeff's DJ skills.

Shortly afterward, Smith began to pursue acting full-time. He played his first lead film role in 1993’s Six Degrees of Separation. The 1996 blockbuster Independence Day cemented him as a major draw, and he left the Fresh Prince sitcom that same year. Strangely, he and Townes ended up being sued by Jive, who alleged that the duo was still under contract to create more albums. In an interview, Smith has stated that while shooting Men in Black he approached Jive with the "Men in Black" single; they turned him down, saying that it couldn’t be a hit. In the aftermath of the movie and soundtrack’s success, the duo settled the lawsuit out of court. Hence, their greatest hits compilation includes two cuts from the M.I.B. soundtrack.

Since then, Smith has released three solo CDs on Columbia/Sony records. After being dropped by Columbia he released one CD in 2005 on Interscope. Townes released two albums on the famous UK DJ label BBE. He has also become an R&B producer of note, overseeing releases by Jill Scott, Rhymefest and many others.

The group received the first rap Grammy ever in 1989 for "Parents Just Don't Understand", though their most successful single was "Summertime" which earned the group their second Grammy and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Will Smith and Jeff Townes are still friends and claim that they never split up, having made songs under Smith's solo performer credit. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince have sold over 5.5 million albums in the US.

-Rock the House (1987)
-He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper (1988)
-And in This Corner... (1989)
-Homebase (1991)
-Code Red (1993)

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