Story rhymers DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince occupy a weird place in hiphop history: called the Cosby kids of rap, and unthreatening teen dreams (damned if you are, damned if you aren't) the truth is they occupied a missing market in late eighties hip hop: family friendly rhymes, lowest common denominator, sitcom-style raps that kids could feel safe playing when moms was around, and N.W.A or 2LiveCrew couldn't be brought out. Theatrical from the outset, Will Smith began as the hypeman in Jazzy Jeff's DJ dreams and ended up crafting at least a couple long play records that deserve their place in the trophy case.
Rock The House (the album who's I Dream Of Jeannie sample made enough noise to get the attention of Jive Records and Russell Simmons) was a record that should have been too sweet for the streets back then. Comtemporary story rhymers like Slick Rick were tough as nails and rhymed about the the bleakest at their best. Other tough up and comers like EPMD and Public Ememy's rowdy political rap crew were at the opposite end of the spectrum from the fair-mouthed, ultra clean scenarios The Fresh Prince could come up with. On that record, "Girls Ain't Nothin But Trouble"—a song about a girl who cries rape, and who's perp receives a charge of aggravated assault—is later rebutted on the same album by female rapper Ice Cream Tee in "Guy's Ain't Nothing But Trouble", an unheard of dis/response track. Eventually touring with groups like LL Cool J, Run DMC , and Public Enemy, Smith's playful innocence gained radio play and resulted in what Jazzy Jeff rightly called "...the globalization of hip hop" in his interview with Philadelphia Weekly this week.
He's The DJ I'm The Rapper went triple platinum and resulted in a couple of AMA's and a Grammy (accepted in protest/absentia because the Grammy's didn't televise rap back then). I distinctly remember spending more time at little league practice discussing "Nightmare On My Street" than learning the strategies of moneyball, and wanting to watch those first-person fisheye videos every single time they were played on MTV. It's interesting to listen to the classics from the album like "Live At Union Square" and "Brand New Funk" and hear the bravado that pervaded the speech of the time (notice I didn't say hiphop because all of you motherfuckers talked like that back then) but hey, Will Smith was 17—learning the world by walking around in it and telling his stories. They brought good publicity to Philly, who were ironically worried about their rep the whole time, not knowing that eventually Will and Jazzy would make Code Red, whose one good jam "Boom! Shake The Room" wasn't enough to keep up with what they had done before, and Will would save the world with Big Willy StyleIndependence Day.