DJ Jazzy Jeff Is a Hip-Hop Trailblazer in Delaware

Photo courtesy of JTown Music LLC

DJ Jazzy Jeff looks back on 35 years of He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, the album that made both himself and Will Smith household names.

Thirty-five years ago this month, an album that would change the face of modern music was released by two kids from West Philadelphia.

That album, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, was recorded by Jeff Townes and Will Smith, also known as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Not only would it make both artists household names—and go on to earn a triple-platinum rating—but it’s also heralded as the album that brought hip-hop into the mainstream.

Townes, who has lived in Bear for the last 20 years, said he and Smith had no idea the album would be a smash hit when they recorded it in London in 1987.

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“It was a really simple creative process,” Townes says. “We didn’t have any expectations—hip-hop was too young for us to have any sort of expectations of grandeur.”

The boys from Philly came up with most of the songs in a room at the Holiday Inn. Townes had a cast around his ankle, recovering from a car accident that shattered all the bones in his leg—something he says helped him focus on completing the album.

After three weeks of recording and one week of mixing, the album—containing the hit singles “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Nightmare on My Street”—wrapped.

The duo returned to the states and hit the road as a supporting act for Run DMC’s 1988 tour, just after He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper released. It only took a few shows for Townes and Smith to realize something strange was happening.

“Will would say, ‘Is it me or are the cheers louder?’” Townes recalls.

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Social media wouldn’t be around for over a decade, and the artists didn’t have much interaction with people outside the tour. They had no idea just how well their album was doing. Then they were told they were selling 75,000 copies per week.

DJ Jazzy Jeff's Album

Soon the group’s place in the tour moved up, and eventually they were made the openers for Run DMC.

Townes says he was blown away by the success of the album, describing their meteoric rise to fame as “very weird.” But he didn’t let it go to his head. “The only thing we cared about was getting our record played on the radio in Philly,” he says.

“I always say it wasn’t that Will and I changed, it’s the perception of people around us that changed,” he adds. “It was definitely exciting, but it was also a hard adjustment. I can’t just go to the mall and buy a pair of sneakers. People are following you around and surrounding you.”

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Now having spent decades in the limelight, Townes remains humble, but he still recognizes the importance of his work with Smith all those years ago.

In the late 1980s, “We were fighting for the legitimacy of hip-hop,” Townes points out, adding that with their seminal album in 1988, “We had a big hand in pushing hip-hop over to the mainstream.”

Related: 7 Record Stores in Delaware to Discover New Music

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