In the mid-1980s, stars like Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J kick-started hip-hop’s mainstream ascendance with multiplatinum albums and high-profile music videos, but a duo by the name of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince would play an impactful role in broadening the genre’s scope throughout middle America and suburbia. Hailing from the west side of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the duo met in the mid-80s at a local house party when Jazzy Jeff’s hype-man failed to show up, with a teenaged Fresh Prince offering to fill in, birthing what would become one of the more notable partnerships in hip-hop.
Releasing their debut album Rock the House in 1986 during the Fresh Prince’s senior year in high school, the pair would become an instant success, and they followed that effort with their multiplatinum 1988 release, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, and their hit single “Parents Just Don’t Understand” notably won the group the first ever Grammy for Best Rap Performance. The group famously decided to boycott the awards show due to the Best Rap Performance award not being a part of the televised broadcast, and the high-profile boycott was a monumental moment for hip-hop.
The group’s subsequent album, And in This Corner… would earn DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince another Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance for “I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson,” as well as a nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the album. But it didn’t match the commercial success of He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, and at the dawn of the 1990s, hip-hop audiences were becoming more vigilant than ever about “crossover” acts. The hit novelty songs and goofy DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince were increasingly beginning to look stale.
But the Fresh Prince was tapped to star in his own NBC sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, in 1990. The show, which also frequently featured Jazzy Jeff as dimwitted family friend “Jazz,” became a runaway hit; and helped reinvigorated the duo’s image. As a result, they set out to deliver what would turn out to be the most musically mature album they’d recorded.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s third album, Homebase, was released July 23, 1991. The album was led by the hit single “Summertime,” a smoothed-out, reflective track that sampled Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness” and showcased a more laid-back, grownup version of the Fresh Prince. The song would be a smash and the album would achieve platinum status; pushing the duo back onto the charts and rehabbing their image in rap circles.
In subsequent years, Will Smith would drop his “Fresh Prince” alter ego and focus more on his acting career; while Jeff would become one of music’s most in-demand producers and DJs. But Homebase stands as one of the best–and last–moments of Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff’s chemistry at it’s peak. So on the 25th anniversary of its release, we highlighted the five most memorable songs from Homebase.
“A Dog Is A Dog”
“You ain’t nothing but a dog,” proclaims a bitter lover on “A Dog Is A Dog,” a selection on Homebase that sees The Fresh Prince owning his philandering ways without an ounce of shame. From attempting to fill in for DJ Jazzy Jeff on a double-date to justifying his need for multiple romantic relationships, The Fresh Prince embraces the bachelor lifestyle on “A Dog Is A Dog,” a song geared towards the fellas who prefer to play the field, rather than settle down.
“You Saw My Blinker”
Storytelling is without question The Fresh Prince’s best skills as an MC, which he brings to the forefront once again on “You Saw My Blinker,” the fourth and last single released from Homebase. Including a rare slip of the tongue, during which The Fresh Prince drops a rare obscenity due to his fictional road rage, “You Saw My Blinker” is a tune that will resonate to many listeners who have also been cut off in traffic.
“I’m All That”
The Fresh Prince opens Homebase on a riveting note with “I’m All That,” a number on which the wordy MC goes in depth about the various traits that make him the dopest rapper roaming planet earth. Strutting over a sample of Rick James’ “Give It To Me,” The Fresh Prince makes a worthy first impression with “I’m All That,” which is surely one of the LP’s superior offerings.
“The Things That U Do”
The tempo gets adjusted to a frenetic pace on “The Things That U Do,” a dance-floor ready jam that incorporates the New Jack Swing vibe of the early ’90s into the makeup of Homebase. Featuring a sample of “I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To” by The Soul Children, and silky guest vocals on the hook, “The Things That U Do,” is tailor-made for busting a sweat and proves that The Fresh Prince is as adept at charming ladies in the midst of a jam as he is as crafting the tongue-in-cheek tales that made him and DJ Jazzy Jeff household names in the first place.
While the source of the lyrics have come into question over the years, (an oft-cited rumor that Rakim ghostwrote the track has been debunked by all parties involved) what cannot be debated is “Summertime”s standing as one of the most timeless jams in hip-hop history. Dedicated to the season of BBQ’s, warm weather, and fun in the sun, “Summertime” is regarded as one of the last great moments in The Fresh Prince’s career as a rap star prior to his full immersion into Hollywood. From the intoxicating beat, which samples Kool & The Gang’s “Summer Madness,” to the classic music video, “Summertime” is one of the greatest contributions to hip-hop, bar none.