DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince: Rock the House

Widge's Note: In addition to being one half of Ireland's ambassador team to Needcoffee, Aaron (along with his partner in crime, Brian, both of them from Quick Stop Entertainment's Cabin Fever) are going to be reviewing hip hop for the site. Why? Because we can. Here, he reveals his hip hoppity past and explains his own personal yardstick for the musical genre. Enjoy.

Hi, my name is Aaron and I got into hip-hop because of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. I'm not ashamed to say it. It's not the most of credible starts I'll admit, but there was a time that they were considered part of the cool kids.

Before the TV show, the movies and the "Big Will" moniker, The Fresh Prince played second fiddle to a highly respected hip-hop DJ called Jazzy Jeff. Back when De La Soul, Leaders of the New School and A Tribe Called Quest made a name for themselves by providing fun, clever and smooth rhymes/beats.

The Fresh Prince may have leaned more towards the throwaway lyrics of such one hit wonders as Skee-Lo and Kriss Kross but not many people could argue with the fact that Jazzy Jeff knew how to create a solid song musically. Even with the Prince's lyrical shortcomings, I defy anyone to find me a more apt, heartfelt and beautiful hip-hop song as "Summertime".

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I have two brothers, neither heavily musically inclined, and the middle child, closest in age, was fifteen when I was eight. So before I had any choice in the matter he would play MTV for hours-straight back in the dawn of the 90s. For me that is still the golden age of hip-hop...before it became a parody of itself. When it was just finding its feet and had cast off all the baby phat. "Walk This Way" was released three years before and the major players where making their stamp on the game.

In a way, despite how much my tastes have grown since then, I find I still lean towards the lighter tones of those early days. Jurassic 5, Common, Kanye West and others have excited me in similar ways. I have my issues with Kanye--which I'm sure I indulge you with at a later date--but his debut album blew me away. So that is going to be my first call on in my Top 3 Hip-Hop albums of all time. I'll try to keep my summations short.

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3) Kanye West - College Dropout

Despite what he has evolved into afterwards, Kanye's debut packed a punch. There was fire in his belly when this was recorded. "Through The Wire," "Jesus Walks," "All Falls Down," et al burn with the ambition and the belief that could only have been lit by the life threatening car crash he suffered. Unfortunately that fire went out soon afterward and was replaced by something a lot less endearing...but if you want an example of a rapper who had something to say and was going to burst if he didn’t get to say it, this is a go to. He may not be a technically gifted rapper, and many accuse him of being a producer that should stick to that, but he had at least one damn fine album in him.

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2) A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory

We got the jazz. This was my introduction to ATCQ and I never looked back. Arguably not their best album but my personal favourite. From the floating melody of "Butter" to the cutting lyrics of "Rap Promoter," ATCQ are at possibly their most energetic. Something I feel needs to be noted: the song "The Infamous Date Rape" was an extremely brave discussion about the rising popularity of a crime at the time that was risky to discuss as honestly as done here.
With the conclusion of the positively explosive "Scenario" which included Charlie Brown and Busta Rhymes it's hard to see the signs of age in this, now, 18 year old album. It's like butter, baby.

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1) Common - Be

If I had to listen to one album for the rest of my life, it would quite possibly be this one. If a sound could be a colour, this would glisten golden. As I've said previous, I like the smoother stuff but this is liquid. Rather than go on about each track, I'll pick the standout song for me which is "Faithful." Common focuses on the double meaning of the word and how it applies to women, both idolising them and the need to keep monogamous. John Legend's fantastically gospel voice just adds to the theme and makes you want to scream out "Amen!" As a rapper, common has a clear and pronounced style, taking time to get his words across. While his work can often be hit and miss, this is the standard by which I will hold any future endeavors.