It’s time to shine the Vinyl Spotlight! Every now and then on Paloozapalooza, I like to focus on a random LP from my collection. This week, we have:
D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince – Rock the House (1987)
Rock the House is D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s debut album and the first of two straight-up classics the duo put out in the late 80s. It’s nearly impossible to listen to these guys and not think about how the Fresh Prince went on to become legitimate Hollywood royalty, but Will Smith’s insane success doesn’t take away from the listening experience in any way.
Here’s some context for you: Rock the House came out a year before “Parents Just Don’t Understand” made these guys stars and a full three years before The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air began Smith’s transformation into a full-fledged phenomenon. This album presents the duo at its absolute earliest.
Listening to these early Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince tracks now, it’s impressive how quickly they had their signature sound in place. Smith’s rhyming is fun and entertaining, full of detailed storytelling that doesn’t rely too heavily on weak or obvious rhymes. A lot of people gave him a hard time for keeping his lyrics clean, but when he was young, hungry and in full “Fresh Prince” mode, the guy was incredible.
Personally, though, I almost always focus more on the production than the rhymes when I listen to hip-hop, and the beats throughout Rock the House are flat-out electric. Even here, when he was just 22, Jeff was a skilled, influential turntablist who could do more with a drum break and the “Fresh” sample than a lot of producers could do with unlimited records at their disposal.
I would even argue that on the duo’s first hit, “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble,” Jeff is the star more than Smith. Starting the album by sampling the “I Dream of Jeannie” theme was genius, and the bass he throws in just absolutely thumps.
(One nice thing about listening to Rock the House on vinyl is that I get to hear the original, superior version of “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble” instead of the remix they used on CD reissues, future compilations, and even on streaming sites such as Spotify.)
“Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble” is a definite highlight of the album, and “Just One of Those Days,” the very next track, is almost just as good. Jeff goes with a “Puttin’ on the Ritz” sample this time around, and Smith displays his trademark humor with the rhymes.
There are two more things about this album I need to share. First: I always love it when the producer gets his own tribute track, and “The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff” is no exception. Jeff samples and scratches his name with the greatest of ease, even throwing out a scratched “none of them” sample when Smith asks how many other DJs can get with him.
Second: Jeff’s “A Touch of Jazz” instrumental is fantastic! I love that they included this track as-is, with no rhyming or anything over the beat.
And for a track that is over 25 years old, it sounds remarkably current. The “fresh” scratch dates it a bit, sure, but other than that, it sounds like something that a label such as Redefinition Records could put out in 2015.
Listen to Rock the House below …