They have the same def moves, the same chill style, the same home-boy bravado as platoons of other rapsters. What D.J. Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince don’t have are the genre’s tough-guy clichés. “We want to bring rap out of the ghetto,” says Will Smith (a/k/a Fresh Prince). “We’re presenting problems that relate to everybody.”
Like shopping with Mom, searching for Ms. Right and taking off in the family car—all difficulties addressed in their antic No. 19 single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Backed by a witty video, the song has zoomed from inner city to shopping mall, capturing the imagination of thousands of Walkman-toting striplings who own nary a gold chain. Their second album, He’s the D.J., I’m the Rapper, is nearly double platinum, and the Philadelphia-based duo just completed a 65-stop tour with star rappers Run-D.M.C.
Raised in a quiet middle-class neighborhood in Philly, singer-lyricist Prince, 19, proved himself a Renaissance man-in-the-making at Overbrook High School, where he wrote poetry, read Poe and won a scholarship to MIT (an offer he has tabled) before graduating last June. A rapper since he was 13, he says, “I want you to see what my words are saying.” (In “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” he pleads with Mom to “put back the bell-bottom Brady Bunch trousers.”)
Though less flamboyant, Jazzy Jeff Townes, 23, is at least as dedicated. At 10, the deejay-to-be began mixing and double scratching in the basement of his family’s house in southwest Philadelphia; by the time he was 18, he was a local pro. “I worked with 2,000 crews before I found this maniac,” he says of Fresh Prince. “There was a click when I worked with him that was missing before.”
With beatbox man Ready Rock C (Clarence Holmes, 19, a childhood pal of Smith’s), the pair has displayed a talent for capturing the spotlight: Last month, a New York judge issued a temporary injunction barring the playing of their “Nightmare on My Street” video, inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street, because of possible copyright infringement. Jive Records is battling the ruling on the basis that the video is a parody.
Win or lose, D.J. Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince are determined to stretch the boundaries of rap. They have at least one important convert in Caroline Smith, Fresh Prince’s mother. “This album’s good,” she says. “I can stand to listen to it.”