Theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

by William Smith



Context
Theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
was the song that played over the opening credits of the popular NBC sitcom “The Fresh-Prince of Bel-Air” from 1990 through 1996. The song was written and performed by series star Mr. Will Smith. The song laid out the premise for the entire series and it did so in a popular musical style of the day known as “rapping”. This marked the first and last time rapping was ever heard on NBC.

Characters
Will Smith - The main character and protagonist. He serves as narrator for the story as the song is told from his point of view. He is quite fresh.
Mom – Will’s mother. A very fearful person; perhaps a bit overprotective
Holmes – A cab driver; has a odor problem
A Couple of Guys – up to no good; start making trouble in the neighborhood

Setting
West Philadelphia – birthplace of the protagonist. An unsafe neighborhood filled with brightly colored graffiti.
Bel-Air – An affluent kingdom on the West Coast of the United States; lacking a proper heir to its throne

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Themes
The impermanence of present conditions
One minute the protagonist finds himself enjoying an easy life of chillin and basketball, then in an instant his life is flip turned upside down. One minute he is whistling for a cab, the next minute he is somehow halfway across the country in Bel-Air. The author clearly wants to demonstrate that one can never take life’s present conditions for granted.

Motifs
Freshness
The main character identifies himself as being fresh. This idea is then seen again when the cab appears and its license plate reads “fresh”. During the early 90’s when this story is set, freshness was seen as very important. Things that were old and/or stale were not hip. A two-month-old loaf of bread for example, would be seen, during that time, as very uncool. To refer to a human being today as fresh though would not be advisable. People would likely laugh at you.

Symbols
The Dice
In the mirror of the cab there are dice. These represent the idea of risk and taking a chance. The character realizes when he sees the dice, that by moving to Bel-Air he is taking a large risk. He might be seen as unsophisticated and uncouth in his new surroundings, yet he is willing to take that chance. He might find that he has a cousin who enjoys performing a terrible and ridiculous dance that becomes inexplicably popular and well known, yet he is willing to take that chance too. He might discover that he has an aunt who after three years and without explanation becomes an entirely different person, and yet he is willing to take that chance as well. The protagonist is unafraid to roll the dice that symbolically appear in the cab.

Prologue-Chapter 1
Summary – Prologue
Will Smith speaking from the present day, uses direct address to the audience to explain the significance of the story we are about to be told. As he tells it, this tale will explain how his life got turned 180 degrees. He also orders the audience to remain seated for the duration of the tale, and assures them that it will be no longer than 60 seconds in length.

Summary – Chapter 1
The story opens in the western section of Philadelphia where our protagonist was both brought forth into the world and where he spent his formative years. Most of his time during these years, we are told, was spent on the playground. On said playground he engaged in such activities as chilling out, relaxing in a cool a manner, and also maxing. In addition, much time was also spent participating in basketball games. Suddenly this idyllic calm though was shattered by a collection of males who had ill intentions. Trouble ensues and amidst the troubles Mr. Smith engages the gentlemen in a bout of fisticuffs. Afterwards, his mother becomes concerned for his safety, and even though this is only the first time any conflict has arisen in the neighborhood, she sends Will off to live with his affluent relatives in Bel-Air.

Analysis Prologue-Chapter 1
In a device clearly borrowed from Shakespeare’s Henry V and Lucas’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the author has chosen to include a prologue. It adds little to the story though and can be viewed as somewhat inessential. Although the narrative begins peacefully, this peace is inevitably shattered by the eternal conflict of man versus man. Once one man has been comically spun over the head of another man how can either of their lives ever be the same? Such violence always leads irreversibly to change and this case is no exception.

Chapter 2-Chapter 3
Summary – Chapter 2
Mr. Smith whistles for a taxicab and when it approaches out of nowhere, he notices that the cab has many elements about it that make it unique. Rare even. He gets in the cab and asks the driver, Mr. Holmes, to take him to his new house in Bel-Air.

Summary – Chapter 3
Around 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening the cab pulls up to the front of Mr. Smith’s new house. He gets out, insults the cab driver, and then surveys his new surroundings. He is then made a member of the nobility and assumes his rightful throne.

Analysis Chapter 2- Chapter 3
As a black urban youth, Mr. Smith is luckily able to find a cab rather quickly. Why he feels the need to comment on the cab driver’s apparent odor is never made clear. Upon arriving at his destination he adopts a rather arrogant and presumptive tone. Surely if further chapters to this tale had been written, such hubris would lead to his downfall. In this section of the story the author is clearly influence by Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Study Questions
Did Will win or lose the fight against the couple of guys? Is “couple” in this case meant to signify more than two? And how did his Mom find out about the fight?

In the cab, were the dice actually in the mirror? How is this possible?

What exactly is the definition of “maxin”?

Suggested Essay Topics

The classic Frank Capra film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington also features a protagonist with the surname of Smith. Compare and contrast that Mr. Smith’s journey to Washington with this Mr. Smith’s journey to Bel-Air.

Explain how Will was able to find a cab that would apparently, judging solely by the lyrics, take him from Philadelphia all the way to Bel-Air.

Get jiggy with it.