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The Fresh Prince of Storytelling

DJ Jazzy Jeff, the man I consider to be the best DJ ever to do it, recently mentioned that his homeboy, and partner inWill and Jazzy rhyme of course, Will Smith is one of the top 5 storytellers Hip Hop’s ever known. As a big fan of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, I’m always happy to come across stories like this because I personally feel that neither get the credit they deserve as true pioneers of Rap. As I’ve already mentioned, Jazzy Jeff has always been fantastic on the turntables, his trademark Transformer Scratch being my favorite example of skills, and with his Vinyl Destination series he does a great job of traveling the globe to bring us great stories and performances that keep something I like to call True School Hip Hop alive.

As far as Will goes, we all know he’s one of Hollywood’s top actors, but it’s when he’s in the news for Hip Hop that I’m most intrigued. As such, when I came across Jazzy Jeff’s comments I started thinking about some of Will’s storytelling moments on the mic. With that in mind, here’s a by no means exhaustive list of songs where Will Smith captures a moment and crafts a picturesque tale along with some standout lyrics that display Will’s brilliance at his craft.

Just The Two Of Us

On the first verse of this ode to his son, Will beautifully captures the strong emotions of angst, pride, and love that engulfed him when he became a father. He details the moment he first held his son, the car ride home from the hospital, and his first night with the newborn. He describes struggling with the car seat, being frustrated in traffic by aggressive drivers, and being so overcome with emotions that he couldn’t get any sleep. Poetic, vivid, and strong lyrics certainly drive this verse and as such it stands as a prime example of Will Smith’s storytelling talents.

From the first time the doctor placed you in my arms
I knew I’d meet death before I’d let you meet harm
Although questions arose in my mind, would I be man enough?
Against wrong, choose right and be standing up
From the hospital that first night
Took a hour just to get the car seat in right
People driving all fast, got me kinda upset
Got you home safe, placed you in your bassinet
That night I don’t think one wink I slept
As I slipped out my bed, to your crib I crept
Touched your head gently, felt my heart melt
Cause I know I loved you more than life itself

Parents Just Don’t Understand

zipsOne of his greatest and most memorable hits, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” serves as the most famous example of The Fresh Prince’s storytelling prowess. In fact, Will’s narrative of teenage rebellion and its inevitable consequences was so well told that pairing it with its colorful video led to the creation of the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as confirmed by Jazzy Jeff himself in this piece. Our choice lyrics finds a young Will going at it with his mom over school clothes, as he of course wants the flyest gear available and mom (who of course is more concerned about the family budget) not having it. You can almost see Will squirm as she picks out a pair of Zips.

We headed downtown to the Gallery Mall
MY mom started bugging with the clothes she chose
I didn’t say nothing at first
I just turned up my nose
She said, “What’s wrong? This shirt cost $20”
I said, “Mom, this shirt is plaid with a butterfly collar!”
The next half hour was the same old thing
My mother buying me clothes from 1963
And then she lost her mind and did the ultimate
I asked her for Adidas and she bought me Zips!
I said, “Mom, what are you doing, you’re ruining my rep”
She said, “You’re only sixteen, you don’t have a rep yet”
I said, “Mom, let’s put these clothes back, please”
She said “no, you go to school to learn not for a fashion show” 

You Saw My Blinker Bitch

On this track off their 1991 Homebase album, Will calmly, but angrily, and at times sarcastically tells a story about an old lady driving recklessly and causing an accident where his car gets the worst of the damage. With the declaration of “you saw my blinker bitch” closing each verse, it’s one of the few times you ever hear Will swear on a Rap song. He does censor himself however on the first verse, when instead of rapping “mad as shit” he uses the phrase “mad as hell”, despite the rhyme pattern calling for the s word given the previous two lines ended in “car got hit” and “happened so quick.” Gotta love Will. Even when he allowed himself to swear on a track, he still kept it as a PG as possible. In our choice lyrics, we find a pissed off Fresh Prince right after the accident occurred. A sympathetic cop takes the side of the old lady and this infuriates Will even more, but he tries his best to keep his cool. Even Will Smith can’t get the benefit of the doubt when there’s an old (presumably white) lady involved. Fun cinematic rhymes indeed.

We both pulled off on the side of the road
I was hot ready to explode
The only thing stopping me from breaking her nose
Is I was 21 and she was 90 years old
Then the police came turn the lights off
The lady started cryin’ and the cop got soft
The cop said ah it’ll be okay
Wrinkled old bag lookin’ like a charpe

I said wait what’s going on cop
Her car’s fine my car is wrecked
Then I saw what happened in the crash
Her dentures came out her mouth and got stuck in the dash
You hit me I didn’t hit you
Stop holding your neck lady you can’t sue
It’s your fault you caused all this
You saw my blinker bitch

Charlie Mack (1st Out Of The Limo)

On 1988’s He’s The DJ I’m The Rapper the duo dedicates an entire track to their then bodyguard Charlie Mack, who always exits the entourage’s limo first in order to ensure Will and Jazzy are safe at all times. In our choice bars, Will warns jealous emcees to stay calm or face the wrath of Charlie Mack. Will summons his bodyguard to handle a a particular situation. Hilariously, the moment ends with the culprit’s girlfriend giving Charlie Mack a message after the obligatory smackdown had been laid of course.

Still you weak rap dudes tempers are hot
Just because I’ve got something that you ain’t got
If you want to get physical, rowdy or try to bomb me
I won’t get excited, I’ll just say Yo Charlie
You should a been kind, you shouldn’t have snapped
Charlie only hit you once and now you’re taking a nap
And when he leaves you decapitated, crushed in the dust
You’ll look up, and see your girl in the limo with us
You may think that’s enough boy but I think not
Charlie kick his face again I think you missed a spot
I roll down the limo window and yell by the way eyes
You’ll see your girl buck naked giving Charlie a massage

Loretta

On “Loretta”, off 2005 Lost and Found, Will paints a clear picture of an obsessed fan out to profess her love for him. She even goes as far as to venture out to all of his appearances in the hopes of finally meeting. Reminiscent of Eminem’s “Stan” (though not nearly as popular a track), Loretta writes letters to the object of her obsession and on our choice bars, after hearing about Will’s marriage to Jada Pinkett, amends that letter with a resentful post script. Will’s lyrics perfectly capture her angst and despair.

Her mother begging her please come home & then Loretta resenting her
Leave me alone Ma! I won’t leave my destiny unfulfilled
“You’re just jealous be cause Daddy ain’t as sweet as my Will”,(click)
To the front gate at NBC, in June & July, backstage at MTV,
she would drive anyplace that they’d mention I’d be
Told herself, “strive for love & God eventually
he would give me to her & her to me, this was meant to be
14 months outside every event that I’d be at, she’d still keep missing me
& now she’s getting high with more frequency now
rage rumbling inside got to be with me now
then she heard I married Jada, she took her love letter out & wrote down,
“PS – I hate her.”

I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson

A brilliant and hysterical track where Will’s disillusion of grandeur somehow led him to believe that he could beat freshprince tysonMike Tyson, in 1989 mind you, when Mike had yet to lose a bout and typically knocked out his opponents out in the first few rounds. At the time Tyson was thought to be unbeatable, further adding to the hilarity of this story. The song begins with Will breaking down how he and Jeff talked themselves into believing he could actually win the fight. After booking the fight directly with Don King (also pretty funny if you think about it – “hey Don, I want to fight Mike. I know I’m a skinny rapper but…),  he goes on to describe how he got nervous at the pre-fight press conference and exaggerated his training routine (I said uh, I been training 20 hours a day, lifting big old cars and big bails of hay!). This resulted in the entire neighborhood mocking him, including this exchange featuring folks from Will’s barbershop and concluding with his own grandmother comically (and shrewdly) putting money on Tyson to win the massacre… err fight. That line always cracks me up.

I was at the corner at the top of my block
There was a couple of people standing outside of the barber shop
It was Lawrence, my barber, and Franny
He yelled out

Hey, Prince, you can win!

I said ‘really?’ and I stopped to chat

You could beat him man, if you hit him with a bat
Ha ha…you gon’ get whipped
But can I have your shoes when he break your neck?

Everybody was laughin’ out loud
I thought at least my own Grandma would be proud
I went to her house and snuck in to surprise her
I heard her on the phone
(A thousand bucks on Tyson!)

A Nightmare On My Street

Another great storytelling track off He’s The DJ I’m The Rapper, on “A Nightmare On My Street” The Fresh Prince describes a night out with Jazzy and a few others to watch Freddy Kruger wreak havoc on A Nightmare On Elm Street, the famous horror flick from the 80s. Impressed by the film, Will goes home, gets into bed, and then his very own nightmare begins in earnest.  Our choice lyric picks up at a point where Will goes from being terrified at his encounter with Freddy to suddenly growing a pair because he “realizes” he’s only dreaming… Or is he?

Got halfway up the block I calmed down and stopped screaming
Then thought, “Oh, I get it, I must be dreaming”
I strolled back home with a grin on my grill
I figured since this is a dream I might as well get ill
I walked in the house, the Big Bad Fresh Prince
But Freddy killed all that noise real quick
He grabbed me by my neck and said, “Here’s what we’ll do.
We gotta lotta work here, me and you.
The souls of your friends you and I will claim.
You’ve got the body, and I’ve got the brain.”
I said, “Yo Fred, I think you’ve got me all wrong.
I ain’t partners with NOBODY with nails that long!
Look, I’ll be honest man, this team won’t work.
The girls won’t be on you, Fred your face is all burnt!”
I patted him on the shoulder said, “Thanks for stopping by.”
Then I opened up the door and said, “Take care guy!”
He got mad, drew back his arm, and slashed my shirt
I laughed at first, then thought, “Hold up, that hurt!”
It wasn’t a dream, man, this guy was for real!!!
I said, “Freddy, uh, pal, there’s been an awful mistake here.”
No further words and then I darted upstairs
Crashed through my door then jumped on my bed
Pulled the covers up over my head
And said, “Oh please do somethin with Fred!”
He jumped on my bed, went through the covers with his claws
Tried to get me, but my alarm went off
And then silence! It was a whole new day
I thought, “Huh, I wasn’t scared of him anyway.”
Until I noticed those rips in my sheets
And that was proof that there had been a nightmare, on my street…

Truth be told this list is just the tip of the iceberg as between his albums as The Fresh Prince with Jazzy Jeff and his solo catalog Will has a slew of tracks, or verses within tracks, where his ability to place us right in the middle of his story shines through. Whether wiping out our memory with a neuralizer on Men In Black, telling us how fine the women in South Beach are on Miami, or making us feel like family at a Philadelphia cookout on Summertime, Will Smith certainly has an uncanny ability to tell stories through rhyme. Is he top five all-time? Maybe… That’s a blog for another day. At minimum, he deserves a lot more credit than he typically gets for being a skilled lyricist. So play your MP3 while Will runs a rhyme and put your car on cruise and lay back ’cause it’s story time.

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