“I got this rental car, and all it got is the radio, so you know I’ma hate that.”
From the moment Jazzy Jeff says that on “Skit 1”, it’s assumed that “The Return of the Magnificent” will be taking a raw, back to the basics, underground approach. Not that that will surprise anybody familiar with Jeff’s solo work. Most well known for his group work with Will Smith, DJ Jazzy Jeff has since moved deep into Philly’s underground scene, producing great beats for himself and others.
Like his last album, “The Magnificent,” this album is produced entirely by Jazzy Jeff, with a host of established names, and just as many unknowns. Like that album, Jeff’s production contains a fairly large range vibes, influences, and tempos. It’s mostly smooth and mostly hip hop, but he flips around with some very raw, stripped down beats (“The Definition”) and some more lush ones (“Run That Back”). He even delves into R&B with “My Soul Ain’t for Sale” featuring Raheem DeVaughn and “Touch Me With Your Hands,” although the latter is the album’s only misstep.
“The Return of The Magnificent” is the rare modern hip hop album that melds rapping, DJ cuts, and melodies efficiently, probably its biggest draw. Nearly every track gives him a chance to display his scratching technique, but it never feels forced, or takes away from the music. He can play the background of the hook on the upbeat “Hold it Down” featuring Method Man, or he can create it on “Let Me Hear U Clap” featuring Pos from De La Soul, or he can step back completely. He moves effortlessly between more and less active roles without causing a break in the music of the album, which gives it a very united feeling.
The beats are mostly slow and smooth, and mostly dominated by piano notes. Jeff doesn’t operate entirely within this blueprint; the Latin-touched “Jeff n’ Fess” (featuring Rhymefest) and the funky “What’s Wrong with Him” (featuring Raheem DeVaughn) both break from his usual format effectively. The latter might be the best beat on the album, based entirely on drums and bass rhythms. He has a few other departures, which mostly work well, but Jeff’s beats are usually at their best when staying within the low-key, piano-based blueprint.
Jazzy Jeff’s production is almost always good, and sometimes even great. It’s very consistent, which places the onus on the rappers to interact with him as well as possible. For the most part, they do well. Some big underground names show up here, more than on “The Magnificent.” Jean Grae, Method Man, J-Live, Rhymefest and Black Ice all come up big for him. A couple of big old school names show up here as well: Big Daddy Kane on “The Garden,” and C.L. Smooth on “All I Know,” and they freak two of Jeff’s best, smoothest beats:
Big Daddy Kane, “The Garden”:
“Reflecting on the game, kid, I have to say
Much love to the one, Jam Master Jay
A loss that hit the world of hip hop like John Lennon
Chapter out of life that prevailed the wrong ending
Steal from the Notorious, hearts is shifting
The streets started looking like we miss a part of Brooklyn
A disappointing flavor that we tasted before
But the spot lay secure for the late Shakur…”
C.L. Smooth, “All I Know”:
“I’m just an ordinary man, with an unordinary lifestyle
Seemed early I would live as a child
I was conceived a mistake
But through God is really all it take
For me to be born and make the earth shake
This was raised from the bottom
So before them plain clothes got him
Soak up the four square mouths to pop ’em
It’s me in the flesh, here to put the rumors to rest
And let you celebrate hip hop’s best”
The basic concept of this album is that Jazzy Jeff is going on a road trip with only the radio in his car, and this is what he hears. There are a few short skits that chronicle this which are mostly amusing, and he ends up declaring that “maybe there’s hope after all.” If this were to make the radio, it would mark a complete shift in modern tastes, but it would also mark a very good one. “The Return of The Magnificent” is one of the most smoothly produced albums in the past few years, and a more than worthy pickup for even the most casual Rap fan.