The Magnificent
Record label: BBE/Rapster
Format: 2xLP/CD
Release date: 20 August 2002

In order to truly understand the brilliance of a DJ like Jazzy Jeff, you gotta go back. Check the bonus scratch album on He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper and play “Live At Union Square”. It was 1986, back when it was okay to stand in front of hip-hop fans and pump them up saying things like, “All the ugly people be quiet! All the people who got AIDS, be quiet!” Jeff wasn’t just gettin’ busy on the decks, he was workin’ overtime. The brother has hands as underrated as Jam Master Jay’s, in my humble opinion, and every time he rocks the “transformer” scratch, I’m dumbfounded. Fast forward to his work with Louie Vega and Kenny Gonzalez in the Nuyorican Soul project, where he cut up RUN DMC’s “Peter Piper” to a waltz signature (ever see him do that live? there’s nothing like it), or seasoning The Roots’ live instrumentation with spectacular cuts. While his cohort Will Smith saved the earth on the silver screen, Jeff held it down for the Philly sound. The Magnificent marks Jeff Townes’ solo debut, boasting a host of special guests and considerable talent from out of his production company, A Touch of Jazz. Keep in mind that this company was partially responsible for introducing the world to Jill Scott.

A number of new voices are featured on this album, most notably Pauly Yamz and Baby Blak. More often than not, they get the job done on the microphone. Their finest hours are on “Da Ntro” and “For Da Love of Da Game,” where they talk about sacrificing for their art over a smooth jazz beat. Pauly is impressive on “Know Ur Hood,” warning an outsider on the need for street smarts. Other notables include Cy Young and Oddisee. Cy’s rhyme delivery and tone reminds me a lot of Truth Enola (check De La Soul’s “Pony Ride” on Stakes Is High or Truth’s own “Real Lovin’”) – sure and steady spittin’. Oddisee’s that smooth cat, a potential player but doesn’t immediately come at you from that angle. “Musik Lounge” offers the perfect setting for him to run it down, ultra-smooth with guitar and nicely placed background whistles. Some more familiar names in the rap game pop up as well, like Freddie Foxxx a.k.a. Bumpy Knuckles. However, “Scram” I could’ve done without. He’s a dope MC, but how many times can you run that “you ain’t really hardcore, you ain’t really a thug” steez before it gets REALLY TIRED?

Instead, I turn to heads like The Last Emperor (“Mystery Man”), who always puts it down, as well as Flo Brown (“Love Savior”) of the Okayplayer/Black Lily camp. She has got to be one of the sickest MCs in the game – don’t underestimate her, she’s an assassin. Jeff’s debut isn’t all hip-hop, though. Let’s remember: The City of Brotherly Love prides itself on homegrown soul. Raheem makes his point on “My People” – meaningful new school soul with social commentary and Black pride. Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman shines on “How I Do” alongside Cy Young; I just hope urban radio programmers give that one a’s that hip-hop head noddin’ stuff. And Jill Scott flips the script on an old Roy Ayers favorite (“We Live In Philly”), waxing poetic about people and places in her hometown. She’s got this exaggerated poet enunciation thing happening throughout the piece – part Black bourgeoisie, part valley girl.

For this album’s top moments, head straight to the pair of cuts featuring J-Live. Call me biased, but there’s nothing this kid can’t do. On “Break It Down” he lyrically smacks up fools looking for simple rhymes, telling them plainly to “go check Mother Goose.” If that weren’t enough, Jazzy shows out on the tables with a bunch of other bad asses, including Spinbad, Babu, Q-Bert, Revolution, and others. Then there’s his autobiographical joint “A Charmed Life,” an absolutely gorgeous cut both lyrically and instrumentally. Props go to P. Smoovah on the production, lush and Blue Note jazz inspired.

Truth be told, I was expecting this album to be another one of those “half and half” affairs (half phat, half filler). I was down with most of it, though. Jeff manages to do good for hip-hop and soul equally, and both genres are better for it. But what I wanna know is...can Will stop gettin’ jiggy with it long enough to realize that his own albums could stand A Touch of Jazz?

{vic feedle}

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