Though he's certainly well-known as one of the most popular entertainers in the game, it wasn't long ago that Will Smith was a rapper with a promising TV show. Three decades ago, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air became a smash hit when it was added to NBC's prime-time line-up and helped Smith become the blockbuster actor fans know and love today.
But his skills as a fun-loving rapper are not to be underrated. As the smooth-talking half of the Philadelphia duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Smith's charm was just as evident on record, as he helped bring hip-hop into the mainstream before, during and after Fresh Prince's television run. With an excellent new cast reunion special now streaming on HBO Max, now seems like the perfect time to revisit Will's rhymes.
"Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" (1986)
Smith and Jeff Townes first met at a Philly house party and figured out their formula straight away: fast-paced, funny rhymes over notable samples and beats. Debut single "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" combined two larger-than-life dating misadventures with the theme to the '60s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. While the duo were criticized by some rappers for their squeaky-clean image, the original version of the song was a little edgier than a later version released as a single in 1988, after the duo gained more notoriety on the charts.
"Parents Just Don't Understand" (1988)
Breakthrough album He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper gave rap a few firsts: it was the first hip-hop double album, as well as the first to win a Grammy Award. Top 20 hit single "Parents Just Don't Understand" was one of their silliest: a relatable tune about the generation gap, with anecdotes about silly clothes and getting pulled over that made for some humorous acting from Smith in the colorful video.
"A Nightmare on My Street" (1988)
The second single from He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper has a most unusual story: this tale about the villainous Freddy Krueger was one of two songs with connections to the Nightmare on Elm Street flms. (The other, by The Fat Boys, was deemed "official" by the film studio, and Freddy's actor Robert Englund even rapped on their track.) But "A Nightmare on My Street" was a chart hit, even with a sticker warning that it was not an official Nightmare song and even a bizarre court case around the tune that got the video banned from airplay until only a few years ago.
Less than a year after getting cast in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the duo scored their biggest hit ever with this laid-back, nostalgic trip on the most carefree season of the year, over the beats to Kool & The Gang's "Summer Madness." "It’s still hip-hop’s finest summer celebration," Rolling Stone proclaimed when they named it the ninth-best summer song of all time in 2013.
"Yo Home to Bel-Air" (1991)
Did you know the name of the Fresh Prince theme? Did you know it had a few extra verses? Did you it was a bestselling single in Europe, reaching No. 3 in The Netherlands? If not, smell ya later!
"Boom! Shake the Room" (1993)
1993 proved to be a pivotal year for Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince: Will starred in his first big movie, the drama Six Degrees of Separation, and Hollywood would soon find his charms irresistible. But the duo - still friends and collaborators even after Will started rapping solo - went out on a high note: Code Red, featuring one more big hit: "Boom! Shake the Room," a U.S. Top 10 and a British chart-topper. "We wanted to take a new direction," Jeff told the Philadelphia Daily News of the record. "It wasn't that we were concentrating on harder, it was just different." Different or not, it was just another great work by a duo who had a big impact on the game.