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DJ Jazzy Jeff - Hip Hop Forever III - Compiled and Mixed by DJ Jazzy Jeff

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Artist: DJ Jazzy Jeff

Album: Hip Hop Forever III - Compiled and Mixed by DJ Jazzy Jeff

Label: BBE

Review date: Nov. 12, 2006

Hip Hop Forever III is the newest mixtape from DJ Jazzy Jeff, the hip-hop producer and performer who, most famously, partnered with Will Smith for five albums between 1987 and 1993. Describing Jazzy Jeff’s career in greater detail is probably not worth the space required – if you were alive for any of the early ’90s, you couldn’t have escaped the chorus of “Summertime” or the sight of Jeff flying out the front door on an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – but the following disclaimer is necessary for those readers who might be dismissive: Jazzy Jeff is, and always has been, an excellent DJ. Regardless of his association with and subordination to Will Smith, Jazzy Jeff was fundamental to the emergence of the DJ as a central player in contemporary popular music. To wit, the man invented the transformer scratch, a technique that DJ’s, whether commercial or avant-garde, still employ today. The least we can do is forgive him for the schlock of “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

Hip Hop Forever III is a revue of Jazzy Jeff in his DJing capacity, illustrating little of his career as a producer but much of his abilities as an arranger and, ultimately, as a party-mover. Jazzy Jeff’s approach to DJing is, for lack of a better term, conservative. Eschewing the manic choices of younger DJs who rely on digital media and summon songs by scrolling down a playlist in iTunes, Jazzy Jeff lets his songs play for multiple verses, signaling the beginnings of his next selection with bouts of choice scratching, his hallmark. It is a style that is both functional and formal. Jazzy Jeff’s decision to play his songs for longer lengths is surely motivated as much by a need to find the subsequent record in his crate as it is by the conventions of old school hip-hop, a period that expected its DJs to provide a continuum of familiar but invigorating grooves, in contrast with the hodgepodge of discrete, genre-juxtaposing segments of today’s mashup artists.

The content of Hip Hop Forever III conforms to the overall traditional form Jazzy Jeff takes. The majority of the records are singles from over a decade ago, mostly from sources that are as predictable as they are oft-repeated. Although Hip Hop teeters on the brink of ordinariness, there are a few moments when Jazzy Jeff conjures something fresh from an old standard. His prologue to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Award Tour,” for example, is an excellent play on the ascending energy of the song’s opening bars. Using an old DJ trick, Jazzy Jeff replays the introduction half-a-dozen times, increasingly piquing his listeners’ ears as the song tenses and releases.

On the whole, Hip Hop Forever III feels a bit vestigial. Yet, at the apexes of his set, Jazzy Jeff manages to provide something sophisticated and fully satisfying, albeit with material that has, over the years, been mixed to death. These moments are refreshing and maybe even a bit relieving: It’s nice to know that even the most moribund of sounds can be revived in the hands of a craftsman like Jazzy Jeff.

By Ben Yaster

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