Artist: DJ Jazzy Jeff
Album: The Magnificent
Rating: 8 / 10
I €™m sure the majority of readers out there will agree with me when I say that DJ Jazzy Jeff deserves much more recognition than he actually gets. Even if you €™re not a hip-hop fan or listener, the chances are you will know exactly who I am on about. There are several ways you may recognise him: the first is through that famous sitcom ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’. Yes, Jeff Townes played Will Smith €™s good friend Jazz, who regularly found himself thrown out by Uncle €œSuge Knight € Phil. Or, you may recognise him from his partnership with the aforementioned Will Smith. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince repeatedly stormed the pop charts with their brand of bubblegum rap €“ mixing Jeff €™s expert turntablisim and warm grooves with his partner €™s simplistic if fun lyrics. Or maybe you recognise the days before modern hip-hop, when the Trick Daddy €™s of today were still in diapers, when Jeff was mixing and producing smash hits on his local block laying the foundations of the art.
In the 21st Century we find a very different Jeff Townes. Having split from Will, who of course went onto Hollywood domination as an A-list comedian / rapper / actor, Jeff sunk back into the hip-hop world, put together his own thing with his A Touch of Jazz production company. In August of 2002 the DJ/producer came back with his first proper solo album, “The Magnificent”, released on British label BBE.
The basic formula for “The Magnificent” is quite simple. Jeff is joined by his production crew A Touch of Jazz, who create a set of lush, melodic tracks for an all-star castlist of guests. One of my favourite tracks ‘For Da Love of Da Game’, is virtually solely because of the beat. Produced by Jeff himself, the beat is nothing but divine and perfect. The most relaxing, breezy, inviting spaced out string-loop is coupled with jazzy keys and a solid bassline. Over this deliciously warm arrangement Baby Blak and Pauly Yamz provide chilled-out raps about doing rap music for the love not for the money.
Jeff doesn €™t stick solely to any type of style during “The Magnificent.” Musically, he wanders everywhere €“ from contemporary neo-soul to jazzy rap a la Tribe Called Quest to smooth R&B to hardcore old-skool hip-hop, spread over 17 tracks. Call ‘We Are’ a combination of the first two. Twinkling piano keys and a bubbly bassline support Cy Young €™s baritone, positive rhymes about keeping ya head up and living your life despite the odds. Raheem lends some silky harmonising to a mellow trumpet-assisted chorus. Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men proves he has a voice left in him on the smoothed-out ‘How I Do’, and Baby Blak and Pauly Yamz return on ‘Worldwide’ – aided by the production company €™s sombre piano-overtone and chugging bassline. A delicious chorus adds a touch more of class to proceedings.
If you doubt Jeff’s ability to create cuts that hip-hop purists will appreciate, end that doubt now. J-Live contributes to the excellent ‘Break It Down’. A pulsating, breathless old-skool drum-based beat supports his skilled, literate rhymes dedicated to €˜true €™ emcees and deejay €™s. Also, note the battle turntablisim at the end of the track from a number of high-profile deejay €™s €“ prove indeed Jeff remains a fine man on the turntables. Providing a contrast to J-Live €™s thinking man €™s rhetoric, you can literally see fake emcee €™s running for their lives when veteran Freddie Foxx comes screaming in on ‘Scram’, a vicious denouncement of all commercial rap and punk emcees by this blunt, listenable New Yorker. A thick, heavy bassline lends its very noticeable support.
Philly emcee The Last Emperor blesses ‘Mystery Man’ with his fiery new-skool rapping style, spat over a jittery old-skool groove. The only question remains is why hasn €™t this talented artist’s debut album come out yet? Chef Word returns for ‘Shake It Off’, a stunningly worded exploration as to why artists should shake-off all their stresses through music not violence (or musical violence… haha). A deep bassline and a cool accordion provides an up-tempo background, with an urgent piano key loop adding some ‘Tubular Bells’ style drama to the chorus.
And finally, any fans of the Roy Ayers track ‘We Live in Brooklyn Baby’ should take a listen to the hands-down stunning cover ‘We Live In Philly’. The various members of A Touch Of Jazz jump into the fray lending strings, guitars, keys and a simple bassline (drums are handled by ?uestlove of The Roots). Moulded into one surreal, vivid end product, Illadelph native Jill Scott lends her distorted, mind-exploring vocals to the track. A wonderful example of Jeff €™s production finesse.
Normally you €™d expect a 18 full track album like “The Magnificent” to not be an easy listen, but the warm, luscious grooves of A Touch of Jazz and excellent guest artists soon dispel this theory. DJ Jazzy Jeff is definitely one of hip-hop €™s pioneers, as well as one of it €™s best pioneers, and he proves here that he can still cut it in the contemporary rap world.