To most casual fans, the name Jazzy Jeff conjures up images of Fresh Prince's bubblegum raps and it's true, Jeff Townes was the man behind the turntables and the beats on most of Fresh Prince's early work (save the classic "Summertime," produced by Hula and Finger). But Jazzy Jeff is far more than the guy who produced "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson."
Making his name in the early '80s, Jazzy Jeff popularized the transform scratch, which placed emphasis on cutting the sound in and out of the mix using the crossfader or line switches of a mixer. Originally invented by fellow Philadelphia DJ Cash Money, the transform revolutionized scratching, which had previously placed more emphasis on manipulating the record with one's wrist movement. This alone is enough to place Jeff in the hip-hop history books, but his impact on the art doesn't stop there. After parting ways with Will Smith, Jeff continued to be a major player on the Philly scene. Since forming his production team, A Touch of Jazz, in 1990, Jeff has produced beats for artists such as City High, Lil' Kim and his former partner, Will Smith. Still, it was his contribution to the Roots' 1999 LP Things Fall Apart that brought Jazzy Jeff back into the limelight.
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His first solo album, The Magnificent, is far from solo. The tracks are produced by Townes but feature a host of guest vocalists, ranging from superstars Jill Scott and Boyz II Men crooner Shawn Stockman to unknowns such as Pauly Yamz and Baby Blak. While the beats are impeccable, most of the vocals fall short.
The only true successes are "Break It Down" and "A Charmed Life," both featuring the unfuckwithable J-Live. While the former is exclusive to this compilation, "A Charmed Life" is taken from J-Live's latest, All of the Above, which is a much smarter purchase. Freddie Foxx (a.k.a. Bumpy Knuckles) also excites with his rough and rugged "Scram." Sadly, Jill Scott's interpolation of Roy Ayers's "We Live in Brooklyn, Baby" (titled "We Live in Philly") fails miserably and is only a reminder of how incredible Digable Planets' 1994 cover truly was. Like its predecessors, this current installment of BBE's Beat Generation delivers nothing more than half-baked sketches.