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Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince Biography

Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince began in 1985. Jeff Townes was a local DJ in philly, and Will Smith would often rap at local house parties. One night Jazzy Jeff's regular emcee did not show up so Will decided to jump on stage. Their chemistry was so good that night that they continued to perform as Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince. Their performances around Philly continued to improve and shortly after they had a deal to release a single, "Girls Ain't Nothing about Trouble." Girls was the first hip hop song to sample a TV show theme in "I Dream of Jeannie" Will was still in High School when Girls was released and became a huge hit. They were soon signed to Jive/Zomba shortly after releasing a full length album, "Rock the House," in 1987. Rock the House featured Will's trademark storytelling and Jeff's DJ wizardry and the album went gold.

After the success of the first album Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince travelled to London to record the followup. They spent a month in the UK before producing "He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper." This was hip-hop's first double album. One side was devoted to the Fresh Prince's storytelling, while the second side focused on DJ Jazzy Jeff's turntablism skills and scratching. Jeff's DJ skills were so impressive on this album it spawned many future DJ's who would try to mimick Jeff's trademark transformer and chirp scratches on these seminal records. The album went double platinum and propelled hip-hop in the mainstream. The album also featured Will’s friend, human beatbox Ready Rock C, he appeared on tracks and toured with the group.

"Parent's Just Don't Understand" was a huge commercial hit and took hip hop to places it had never been. Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince also won the first ever hip-hop grammy for the track. They boycotted the ceremony because the hip-hop awards were not televised which proved that hip-hop was still struggling to gain acceptance at the time. Another single from the album "Nightmare on My Street" was a big but after releasing the music video the video was pulled. New Line cinema later sued Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince over the track, they settled and the settlement included a deal to appear in future movies. House Party was written for Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince but they turned down that movie, the role's eventually going to Kid N Play. 

The vinyl of He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper is longer than the CD and versions which were cut for time, many of Jeff's DJ tracks were extended a lot more on the vinyl edition. During the success of this album they released a 900 number which gave fans the chance to get the latest news on the hip hop duo. This was the first pop star 900 number and ended up making them millions, a lot more than they made from record sales. Jazzy Jeff also designed the first mixer for a scratch DJ, the Gemini 2200

After He’s the DJ, JJFP began working on their third album, “And in this Corner.” They used a lot more live instrumentation in this album. In fact they made one of the first hip-hop/jazz collaborations on “Grover’s Groove” which featured jazz legend Grover Washington Jr. The album was filled with the Fresh Prince’s creative and funny storytelling. The album went gold but it did not reach the heights of their sophomore album. It was viewed by the duo as a disappointment. During this time Will had decided he wanted to get into acting. The music videos had shown some of his skill in this area. Will and Jeff also got into financial trouble with the IRS for not paying taxes. Even with all their success they spent all the money they had earned and were now broke.

In 1989 Will met Benny Medina backstage at the Arsenio Hall show in LA. Benny Medina, was the real life Fresh Prince, the show would be based on. He then introduced Will to Quincy Jones and pitched the idea of a TV show. Quincy organised a meeting with the executives of NBC and 6 weeks later they were filming a pilot for “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Although Will was largely derided at the time for moving into TV he would later pave the way for many rappers to become actors and appear in television and movies. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was a success from the beginning, airing Monday nights at 8:00PM. DJ Jazzy Jeff joined the cast as Will’s friend Jazz. During this time Jazzy Jeff used the money from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to set up his own studio in Philadelphia called A Touch of Jazz.

A Touch of Jazz sought to develop the local talent in Philly, they worked on many projects throughout the nineties. They didn’t have any huge hits until they put out Jill Scott’s album “Who is Jill Scott?” that went multi-platinum strictly through word of mouth. A Touch of Jazz was suddenly behing the neo-soul renaissance and worked on albums from Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Floetry, Glenn Lewis, Jewel and Darius Rucker.

While Fresh Prince of Bel Air continued to do well on NBC, Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince returned to music. They came back with summer anthem, “Summertime” in 1991. This seminal summer anthem and now considered a hip-hop classic captured the vibe of Summer all around the world. The track won them a second hip-hop Grammy and they were once again in the charts. Their 4th album Homebase, continued the feel good vibe of the early 90s. There was less storytelling and a more mature Fresh Prince on the album. Again Jazzy Jeff experimented with live drums and instrumentation and captured an overall Jazzy vibe. The album went platinum and proved the duo were still music and television stars.

The final Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince album was released in 1993, entitled “Code Red.” It featured the worldwide hit, “Boom! Shake The Room” Boom reached number 1 all over the world including UK, Ireland, Australia and throughout Europe. 5 albums in Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince had one of their biggest hits. The album was released shortly after but didn’t do as well in America. It only sold 300,000 copies during a time when gangsta rap was beginning to take over. Will approached the album with a harder style delivery and included other producers such as Pete Rock, Teddy Riley and Dallas Austin. Although it may not have been a commercial success it was still a great album and still sounds good today.

After the disappointment of Code Red, Will decided to focus on acting. He continued with the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and began to appear in movies such as Made in America and 6 degrees of Separation. In 1995 he starred in Bad Boys with Martin Lawrence which was a commercial success in America and overseas. This was one of the first times a movie starring two African American’s had done so well at the overseas box office. The movie signalled Will’s future stardom, Michael Bay’s signature dolly shot, is considered the moment Will became a star. During this time Will said he retired from rap music, he saw no future for his style of comedy/fun rap on the heavily populated gangsta rap airwaves.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air wrapped up in 1996 after 6 seasons. Although it was a success during its run it would become even bigger in syndication. Running everyday on cable channels around the world the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is now considered one of the best 90s sitcoms and has as many young fans today as it had in the early 90s.

Will reached true global box office phenomenon when Independence Day came out in 1996 and it broke all box office records. Will had now successfully made the transition from TV to movie star. When he followed ID4 up with the sci-fi action/comedy Men In Black he was truly on a roll. Men In Black also marked the return of his rap career. He released a song to coincide with the movie. Men In Black became one of the most played songs on radio of all time. Now he had re-established his music career he returned with DJ Jazzy Jeff and they began working on a new album. Will and Jeff left Jive/Zomba and they both signed solo record deals with Columbia/Sony. Jazzy Jeff recorded an album for Columbia but it was later shelved due to creative differences.  Even though the new records were credited as Will Smith, Jazzy Jeff was well and truly behind the records and contributing his trademark scratches. He dropped some chirp scratches throughout the chorus of Will’s #1 smash Getting Jiggy Wit It. Will continued his run of success with hit singles Miami and Just the Two of Us. Will’s comeback album “Big Willie Style” ended up being one of the highest selling rap albums of all time. It sold over 12 million records in the US alone. At this point Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince had sold over 30 million albums worldwide. Will’s next album was executive produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince. Will recorded Willennium in Philly at Jazzy Jeff’s studio A Touch of Jazz. It featured JJFP tracks “Pump Me Up” and “So Fresh” which returned to the old school sounding albums of Jeff and Will’s early records. In 2002 Jeff released his first solo record, “The Magnificent” and Will released his first record without Jeff, “Born To Reign.” As for Will’s movie success he released 7 movies that made over 100 million at the US box office in a row including hits such as Bad Boys 2, Hitch, I, Robot and I Am Legend. These films established Will Smith as the biggest movie star in the world.

In 2004 and 2005 Will took a break from acting to focus on music and released his 9th studio album, “Lost and Found” on Interscope records. It featured the worldwide hit single “Switch.” During this time Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince made a lot of performances including concerts in Philadelphia, South Africa and London and on shows like BET’s 106 and Park. Jazzy Jeff released his second solo album “The Return of the Magnificent” in 2006 which featured rap legends such as Method Man, Big Daddy Kane and CL Smooth. The latter half of the 2000’s saw Will take a break from acting to focus on his family. Jazzy Jeff continued to tour the world DJ’ing and releasing mixtapes.

In 2013 Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith reunited on the Graham Norton show for a special performance of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme. The clip was uploaded to YouTube and received over 15 million views in a week.  Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince have remained friends for over 18 years and their musical partnership shows no signs of ending, even if Will is now one of the biggest movie stars we have ever seen, he still never forgets his hip-hop roots.

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