I don’t think anybody doesn’t like Will Smith. He’s just a super nice guy, his music is catchy, and he makes blockbuster movies. He’s been part of American popular culture for almost 30 years now, and I’m pretty sure he’s not going anywhere.
By the time DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in 1988 I was already pretty much over contemporary music, but I liked that song. I was not a regular viewer of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air a few years later, but I had seen some episodes. I was more interested in Alfonso Ribeiro because he used to be on Silver Spoons with my future ex-husband Ricky Schroder, and of course, he was in the Pepsi commercial with Michael Jackson.
When “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” came out in 1998 I was still not really listening to many radio-friendly unit-shifters; I was heavily into Oasis, and still a year away from the genesis of my Dave Grohl fixation, and most of what I listened to was older stuff. This song was everywhere that year, and it caught me. I bought the cassette single and constantly played it in my car. I thought I was pretty cool to be able to rap the whole song.
Listening to it now I am compelled to compare it to what rappers and pop stars are doing today. Will Smith wasn’t gangsta, was never considered dangerous or outrageous, and since he had been on an incredibly popular TV show he had a much different image than the rappers of the day. White people felt comfortable watching him and listening to his music. But there were those who didn’t like him for being so non-controversial, as if it were a crime to simply make fun music. The line that speaks directly to his universal, squeaky clean appeal?
Just bite it
Just for the look
I don’t light it
Because smoking is bad, mmkay? He bought his mom a crib on the outskirts of Philly, so you know he is a family man. The phrase “gettin’ jiggy wit it” has sexual and racial connotations, so Will was at least sneaking such references into his music even if they went over some heads.
The world was a very different place in 1998. Music was different, the way we consumed was different, the way we communicated was so unlike 2015. Videos made a huge impact on audiences, and MTV still mattered. “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” like “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” was very much of its time. The video for each song is perfect. The first thing I thought when I watched “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” before writing this was that it looked like every Missy Elliott video ever—and I don’t mean that in a negative way. So I looked up Missy’s early videos, and immediately noticed how much it resembled her 1997 “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” video. Turns out that Hype Williams created both. But I also saw some of Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video. And I’m okay with all of that. I mean, the song itself is a sample of Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer.” Will even references Michael Jackson and one of his own old songs in the lyrics. Everything is fair game in music.
I recently added “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” to my workout mix, and I still rap along with Will when I hear it in my car. It has been voted one of the worst songs ever and one of the best of the 90s. It topped the Billboard charts, won a Grammy, and the video was nominated for a bunch of MTV Awards. You can say that Beyonce is sort of the Will Smith of today, because all the basic bitches love her and nobody can really say anything bad about her. I am definitely a fan of both, and I understand that not every song has to start a revolution. Sometimes you just want to sing and dance and get jiggy wit it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.