Best of Will Smith part 1, the Fresh Prince years

I was going through my Will Smith CD collection a few weeks ago when I realized I was missing one of his cd’s I completely forgot about. I finally decided to buy the disc off Amazon. I gave it a brief listen to before I decided to figure out what my favorite Will Smith tracks are. I spoke a little about this on my recent podcast, yet I still wanted to write a full article describing the individual tracks.

So here is my list, broken into to parts. Part one will cover the songs released under the DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince brand. Part two will cover all of the songs released just under the Will Smith branding.

These are not ranked in any particular order just a list of my favorite DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince songs.

Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble- Rock the House

This is one of the best songs from his debut album. The duo quickly made a name for themselves in this track that samples the theme song from the famous TV sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie. The song is a humorous tale of Smith’s experiences with various females. Each tale ends with him telling his buddies how girls are nothing but trouble. There is a reprise later on the album from the girls perspective, but it’s not as iconic as this one.

Summertime- Homebase

This is probably one of the most iconic songs in the Fresh Prince catalog. The premise is simple, take a smooth funk song, remix it into a smooth hip-hop track and lace it with mellow rhymes devoted to reminiscing of all the good times from summers gone past. It’s the perfect slow jam for a warm summer day. Just put the track on the radio, crank the volume up as loud as you can handle and sit back sipping your favorite summer beverage while the tune washes over you.

The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff- He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper

This is one of those old-school songs that blends Smiths fast, on topic rhymes with Jeff’s quick cuts and funky bass lines. As a former turntablist I can fully appreciate a good Jazzy Jeff mix track. The song show cases Jeffrey’s turntable wizardry at it’s finest, even showcasing his famous transformer scratch with a narrative of Smith referring to Jeff as an actual Autobot. Good time.

Then She Bit Me- And In This Corner

This is the first track off the amazing record “And In This Corner” which features another song I will discuss shortly. The song reminds me a lot of a Jim Carey film called Once Bitten. In the song, just like the film, a young man meets a strange woman at a bar, goes back to her mansion where she bites him and he discovers she was a vampire. Okay the song doesn’t explicitly make those connections, however the music is very vampire-film inspired organ music laced with some very rock solid bass lines and a deep, pounding beat. The song is short, no hook, no chorus, but it tells a goofy story just like Smith’s best songs and is a good song to dance to if you happen to be in the mood, or just to chill out to as is most often the case with his music.

I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson- And In This Corner

Not exactly the “title” track from the ablum, but you could call it the “Main Event” if you wanted to do so. The track is a very fun tale of Will Smith famously challenging Iron Mike Tyson to a boxing match. In my podcast I highlight how much of a Nintendo fan Smith comes off and this song is likely a good reference for a Nintendo fan if you ever played Mike Tyson’s Punch Out for the NES, which was popular when the song came out. Anyways gaming connections aside, the song is one of the funniest songs Smith performed from his early days. The music has a very upbeat boxing ring vibe to it and the imagery is very 1980’s. The track was also featured on his Greatest Hits Collection, so you know it’s one of his best.

Boom! Shake the Room- Code Red

This was basically the very first song I ever heard by the duo and remains one of my favorites. It doesn’t have the humor of his earlier tracks but it sure packs a good punch. The hard-hitting beat, the almost g-funk sounding bass lines, and fast, angry raps make it a show of force for the rapper who was in the midst of a transition at this time. Code Red would be the last album he did as a duo and before he would go on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest names. It was a solid house party style dance track that to this day could get any hip-hop fan on the dance floor.

Nightmare on My Street- He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper

It’s no secret that A Nightmare on Elm Street is not only one of my favorite film franchises of all time, it’s actually my favorite movie of all time. The song tells a story how Smith and some of his friends go to see the original Elm Street film and later that night he gets a visit from Krueger in his dreams just like in the film. The song borrows dialog from the second film, while it also captures more of the MTV-inspired funny Krueger than the scary original. The song is perfectly 80’s and makes a good song to set the mood for a good Elm Street marathon.

I Wanna Rock- Code Red

This is one of those songs that hearkens back to the old school. Smith clearly was trying to recapture the glory days with this track while the rest of the album was showcasing his ability to adapt to the changing landscape of hip-hop. The song is short, and not very well produced. It’s a simple record scratch looping the same vocal sample over, and over. The line, “I wanna rock right now” from the Rob Base and EZ Rock track, It Takes Two, is the center-piece of the track with some old school beat boxing and a live band in the back ground backing up Smith’s raps, once again bragging about the skills of his partner-in-crime.

He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper- He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper

Yes, the title track from one of his earliest cd’s is still the best track on that record. Smith kicks some old school fast freestyle sounding raps to Jeff’s patented record mixing and fast scratches to a very familiar retro electro track. The song is just oozing with Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince charm that made the duo so famous. It’s old school, it’s funky and it’s b-boy dancable all at the same time. Bust out the cardboard box, slip into some sweat pants and pull out your best break dance moves to this groovy track.

The Human Video Game- He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper

I picked this song because it’s pretty simple, it’s just a beat box track with Ready Rob doing his thing. The beat boxing imitates the sounds from an actual Donkey Kong arcade machine. It’s just a fun song with Smith bragging about his friend’s obsession with the arcade classic and how he is capable of using his beat boxing skills to make it sound like he is actually playing the game. It’s another one of those famous light-hearted tracks the group was famous for.

Theme song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Oh come on, you knew I was going to pick this song. Summertime might be his most iconic track from his music career, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a sitcom we all know and love. The theme song gets stuck in your head and you know you like it. There isn’t much else to say, it’s just a fun song that sets the premise of the show perfectly.

I left off a few tracks he is more famous for, but to be honest, I didn’t think they were his best songs. Sure everyone knows Parent’s Just Don’t Understand, but seriously it’s a fine song but not worth a lot of the hype. I had a few other songs I could have mentioned, like Ring my Bell, or Brand New Funk, but I didn’t want to to look like I was only picking songs from the team’s Greatest Hits collection. Although it would be easy to just pick up that one album and call it a day, there are so many other great tracks I just wanted to highlight a few from each record. It was hard because honestly, I love them all. I might not like every single song on every CD, but I enjoy every CD and there is easily more than one song per CD I like, too many for a brief post such as this.

Look for part two where I go through his entire solo career and try to pick out the best of the best, of the best, with honors.

“You are all my children now.”

In the 1980’s there was a trifecta of different styles all blending together in a perfect storm of outrageous thematic elements that would soon dominate the entire fringe culture, and even cross into mainstream. Going a decade back the roots of this movement were beginning with the rise of the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop RPG game. The theme was medieval fantasy. It had firmly taken hold of video game culture by the middle of the decade with games such as Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Ghosts N Goblins, Gauntlet, and even Castlevania taking the horror/fantasy genre to mainstream status. On the music side bands like Alice Cooper, Dio, KISS, and many others, were using D&D, horror, fantasy, and medieval art mixed with Gothic imagery. While Hollywood itself was slow to jump on the bandwagon, indie filmmakers like George Lucas, Stephan Spielberg, Jim Henson, and John Carpenter were all making variations of this theme. And best of all they blended together perfectly. Horror movies would reference D&D usually with a gamer depicted or borrow heavily from medieval mythologies, while having a strong heavy-metal soundtrack, which in turn contained lyrics that referenced D&D either directly or indirectly often as the horror movies would. So if you were a fan of medieval fantasy, Gothic imagery and music that told stories set in these thematic worlds, then the mid-to-late 80’s was your decade.

During this time nothing blended these three elements together better than Wes Craven’s Gothic horror masterpiece “A Nightmare o Elm Street.” While the first film itself doesn’t really contain too much in the way of medieval fantasy, it does have a very strong fantasy component, the music is very fitting for the mood, plus it also contains some of that D&D-esque metal rock sprinkled in to ensure it hit all of the notes. In some ways the movie is a murder mystery, you know almost  detective noir-style with Nancy trying to solve the mystery of the masked villain killing her friends one-by-one. It also has a little bit of Gothic horror with Freddy acting as a zombie, a vampire, and a serial killer all while tormenting his victims not with his own dastardly schemes, but using their own fears against them. In some ways it is also a psychological thriller.

The film opens with an abstract scene in the basement of some factory or plant with an unseen man crafting a glove containing sharp razors as extensions of the fingers. Immediately the tone of the film is set, the killer is unseen, hiding in the shadows, nobody knows who, or what, he is or why he is killing these seemingly random teenagers. During the course of the film there are references to Shakespeare, including a quote from Julius Cesar about nightmares, fitting as in the play he dreamed of his demise before it happened, much like the victims in the film.

I won’t spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it. I am not under the impression that just because it is old everyone knows what takes place, I will say anyone that has any interest in mythology, fantasy, horror, vampires, zombies, the undead, D&D, or heavy metal music should check out the entire franchise. Each film has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.

The sequel, often criticized but still worth watching, goes in a different direction. Instead of a murder mystery where the kids are trying to survive by figuring out who the killer is and how to defeat him, part two, subtitled as “Freddy’s Revenge,” takes on a more haunted house, possession story line. Again it has some moments fans cringe at but it also has a few of the iconic moments that the franchise is well known for. There is even scene that takes place inside of a Gothic night club, further tying the franchise into this whole theme.

Of course if you really want proof the Nightmare films are really D&D-inspired look no further than the third entry. Regarded by many, myself included, as the best in the franchise second only to the original to some, it’s a masterpiece in many ways and proof that a sequel can outdo the original. But there are so many more D&D elements and fantasy themes in this movie. For starters the subtitle is now “The Dream Warriors.” It centers on the survivors of the previous two films, the “Last of the Elm Street teenagers.” something you just have to watch the movies to understand. It also features a kid who prominently plays D&D in the movie, even going so far as having an actual scene depicting, fairly accurately unlike most movies, a portion of game play. In the dream world however things get weirder, this character becomes a wizard with super powers and another character takes on a Gothic/Punk look even meeting Freddy face to face in an alley. There is an Alice in Wonderland feel to the third installment, a D&D type maze/dungeon at the end where they come together as a team, a cleric type, a sage type, a fighter type, and even the silent stealthy bard/thief type, who all have to face the final boss, Freddy, at the end to win the treasure, their right to live, and go back to living normal lives at the end of their mythic quest. It truly is the one film in the series the most similar to an actual game of Dungeons and Dragons, from the very opening scene to the very end credits. It even brings in a fleshed out back story and mythology to the character and his origins are explored in a very medieval Catholic mythology sort of way.

Part four sort of keeps the notion of dream powers, introduces new concepts like the Dream Master, the films subtitle, and ends in a final battle with a new powered up girl in a church where at the end she ends up well I won’t spoil it but it’s very much in line with the theme I been repeating.

Part 5 and 6 are where the franchise takes a turn for the worse. Number 5, the Dream Child, is more of a comic book movie, Freddy is even depicted as a comic book villain and his nemesis is his own mother, resurrected to take him back to hell or something I guess. The movie has a more action movie, comic book vibe and style to it. In some ways that is refreshing, in other ways it can be off putting. Part six is, to put it bluntly, a parody of the franchise. It’s basically a Warner Bros. cartoon making fun of the whole concept, and yes it even features Bugs Bunny and Wizard of Oz references and heavily relies on the 3-D gimmick. It does flesh out the mythology quite well, and features a really great cameo by the dark master himself, Alice Cooper, again really mixing the themes in a way that ensures fans will find something to enjoy. It’s the worst of the films by most accounts but still worth watching for a few things, those cameos and back story plus a surprise I won’t spoil.

Part 7, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, gets back to the Gothic horror theme by basically putting Freddy into the Hansel and Gretel story. There isn’t much else to say it’s almost a remake/reboot of the original film with a twist but it’s one of the scarier films in the series, still worth checking out. I won’t go into either Freddy Vs. Jason or the 2010 Remake as they both stray so far from the original their best left in their own world. I enjoyed them each, in their own way, but neither of them live up to the source material. Freddy vs. Jason is made for the Playstation crowd and the remake was too dark and had no ties to the fantasy mythology that the original had. Worse of all, it wasn’t even about a child murderer freed on a technicality, it was a sick perverted child molester that had no motive for murdering his victims in their dream world, which also had no fantasy elements at all, instead it was trying too hard to be dark an edgy where it really just ended up being creepy and uncomfortable.

What can I say, I enjoy Gothic music and themes, I play Dungeons and Dragons extensively and I thoroughly enjoy the fantasy-themed horror series of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Netflix recently added the original film to its streaming service, Part 2 and New Nightmare had been there before but they are not the actual best movies, the first and 3rd films are really the two to watch. Part 4 is pretty good, 5 and 6 are laughable but somewhat entertaining and the rest are different degrees of bad or too dark for my taste.

I also really enjoyed the documentary on Netflix “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy” that really delved deep into the behind the scenes of the movies.

My personal ranking, with scores, best to worst:

  1. A Nightmare On Elm Street 5/5
  2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors 5/5
  3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master 4.5/5
  4. Freddy vs. Jason 4/5
  5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child 3.5/5
  6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge 3.5/5
  7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead, The Final Nightmare 3.5/5
  8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) remake 3.5/5
  9. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare 3/5

Since I consider both New Nightmare and 2010 to be remakes, I prefer the full on reboot over the half-baked soft reboot. I know others will disagree but I just never cared for the breaking the fourth wall and taking Freddy into the “real” world making everything that came before just a movie, inside of a movie, too meta for my tastes.

There you have it, my general thoughts on the Freddy Krueger character and the films he appears in.

Delve into the mind of THE RAT… if you dare.

When I was in the first grade I started signing my school papers with my initials, R.A.T., partly because I had bad hand writing, that is a story for another day, so I was trying to save time but also partly because, well back then I was pretty lazy, and partly because once I discovered my initials spelled out a word I thought it was fun. It didn’t stay fun forever as time went on I became stuck with the name, The Rat, which I currently wish would die out. But who is The Rat? Read on to find out more.

It started in 1997. Up to that point  had pretty much stopped signing my name as such and forgot about that silly initial thing. At least until one day, when I was in the 9th grade, I turned in a paper with just my initials, just because I wrote it in a hurry and added my name last second. It was for my science class,  didn’t get long well with my science teacher anyways so I figured screw it. Well some of the jackals in my class thought it was funny, and being mostly Spanish speaking they began calling me “la rata” or “the rat” in Spanish.

But it goes just a little deeper than that. Not the name but the underlying “persona” that I would invent as a form of identity shield. When I was much younger I had gotten used to being picked up and bullied in school. As such I developed a dislike for, well, everyone. So I went out of my way to discourage other kids from associating with me because I just wanted to be left alone. During my early days I discovered I had a very strong fascination with the Nightmare on Elm Street movie franchise. I suppose much of this could be tied to my being a kid in the 80’s, which at that time Freddy Krueger pretty much dominated the media scene, from MTV to everything inbetween. In 1996 I heard a song on the radio by a fairly new band called Marylin Manson. At first I was drawn to the music, the song that played on the radio all the time was “The Beautiful People,” to this day one of my favorite’s in the heavy metal genre. Although I learned later Manson wasn’t exactly true heavy metal, I still liked his music. It was dark, thematic and reminded me a lot of those Freddy films I had become so obsessed with. During my high school years I day-dreamed of forming my own shock rock metal band, even going so far as wanting to mimic the long hair, make up and stylish clothing that went along with it. But well I didn’t have it in me to put on that public mask that bands like Manson, Kiss, Twisted Sister, and others, wore. Instead I took a different approach.

I had always been divided between my love of the dark, loud, and angry metal music, with the violent, aggressive, and severely more angry gangsta rap music. My attraction to both forms of music was still a part of that persona, if I was seen listening to loud, offensive, and very violent music I figured it would be a good buffer to keep people away. For the most part, it worked. Decent people noticed quickly that a guy listening to “Natural Born Killers” by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from the Murder was the Case soundtrack as loud as my speakers could play it, well that was a guy to avoid. I also wore a very angry expression on my face and became used to wearing torn, dirty and very rugged clothing to further cement the persona of not just an out cast, but a dark soul to be feared and avoided. I started to take the persona, or the act, onto the internet off and on. Partly because I was still trying to remain tough and distant but also because I hated confrontation. The problem is, this doesn’t work online, in real life you get the whole picture, the image, the scruffiness and you understand what I was going for. But online I just came off as a jerk, a troll even by most definitions.

After many years of justifying this dual personality/persona, it wasn’t just inspired by rock bands like Manson, it was further justified by the poster child for the image I was going for, the infamous Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, aka, Slim Shady. His dual persona image in his music fit what I was trying to do perfectly. I wanted to be seen as clean cut and respectable by those who took the time to get to know me, but feared and seen as a pretty mean dude by those I wished to keep my distance from. I had trouble taking this online and I also, eventually, had trouble separating the two in real life as well. Eventually I decided to take it a step further.

The Rat wasn’t getting the point across. So I changed my music persona name to DJ Serial Killa, taken from a Snoop Dogg song from his debut album, Doggystyle. Now as a kid thanks to the graphic, almost pornographic cartoon in the album art, it didn’t take long for me to figure out what “doggystyle” was referring to. Needless to say I figured if the good guy, or rapper, was The Rat, then the DJ, or the mysterious one pulling the puppet strings, had to be worse, thus I took on the name DJ Serial Killa. Of course I also adopted the phrase, or motto, that as a DJ I justified the name as I “murdered the competition, and there was a whole lot of competition.

I will admit as a rapper, I suck. I can, when I put my mind to it, write good poems, and by extension song lyrics. However I never applied this to my rapping, partly because I honestly never took it that seriously, partly because I kind of was “too white” deep down and there was also the matter of my voice, I hated how it sounded so I never put my full honest attention into my rapping. That being said I will freely say, and I can back this up with examples, my DJ’ing ability was pretty good. I didn’t do much of the Jazzy Jeff/Beastie Boys spinning vinyl records, but I could DJ, or disc jockey a party like no body’s business. This I developed through my years of not just making endless supplies of mix tapes, yes literal cassette tapes, but also mix cd’s, and evnetually playlists. I became skilled at telling which songs fit together in a set, or mood, and which songs blended together smoothly. And I can also show examples of music I mixed myself, using a variety of methods ranging from playing samples and keyboards using my own instrumentals, to the famous hip-hop production technique of mixing loops and samples. Still my DJ or production ability was far better than my rapping thus the DJ name had to have a much strong pull to it.

So what is the point? Just sharing a little bit of why I used to let people call me “THE RAT” and why, especially in recent years, I have shifted away from using that name. I am not ashamed of who I am, look I produced 6 underground records, some I put in stores some I only shared with friends, show me your musical works and I will say okay you can talk to me about names, until then, I can say I did something with my life I wanted to do, not everyone can say that. Lately I have been contemplating making a new musical production, or starting up a new venture online. Whatever I end up doing it will always be for the same purpose, sharing my ideas with people who might be interested for one reason or another.

Will I ever go back to being “THE RAT”? No I don’t think so. I know one thing is for sure, I might never get my chance to play in a shock rock metal band, at least I did get a chance to record an almost gangsta rap but not really gangsta rap, hip-hop record. And there is something to be said of a person doing what they want in life and not being bothered by what other people think. I never got to be as “goth” as I wanted, but I did push the boundaries of what I could get away with as much as possible. Looking back, yes I did take some things to far, something I have to live with to this day. I guess that is part of life, we all have skeletons in our closet, I just think if you dig too deep you might not like what you find. And that is okay, because honestly Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins, he made us into a new creation so while The Rat is no more and DJ Serial Killa was always just bad idea for a name, the reality is all the dark and not very Christian things I was either witness to or an accessory to, are all in the past. Going forward life has improved tremendously and I believe things will only ever get better.