clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

I Know It’s Been 27 Years, but I Have Some Notes on DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime”

Never too late to ask the hard questions. Namely: How the hell did Will Smith fit all those activities into one summer day? Investigating the logistical issues with the ’90s rap classic.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince SME (on behalf of Jive)

Declaring a definitive song of the summer is tricky stuff and requires careful consideration. The process becomes even more complicated and subjective when the conversation widens to historic songs of summer. When my Ringer colleague and On Shuffle podcast host Micah Peters asked a bunch of our coworkers for their all-time favorites, he got a wide variety of responses—from classics like “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding to current offerings like Cardi B’s latest banger “I Like It.”

Despite handling all those hot takes, no Ringer staffers were harmed in the making of that video—with the possible exception of Juliet Litman, who I fear suffered some sort of imperceptible mini-stroke that caused her to inexplicably stan for Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

Somehow, despite the array of suggestions, none of my coworkers mentioned one of the most iconic songs of summer: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s 1991 masterpiece “Summertime.” The word “summer” is in the title. That alone should get it a gold jacket in the SOS HOF (Song of Summer Hall of Fame). Not to mention that, 27 years after its release, it still makes my head bob whenever I hear it.

But while I love the song and have listened to it countless times through nearly three decades, it wasn’t until recently that I really scrutinized it. The closer I inspected the lyrics, the more I began to wonder about them. It’s created a bit of an internal crisis, one that requires me to further deep dive into the song and ask some tough questions. What follows is a thorough and overdue investigation of “Summertime.”

Summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind

Here it is, the groove slightly transformed
Just a bit of a break from the norm
Just a little somethin’ to break the monotony
Of all that hardcore dance that has gotten to be

A little bit out of control, it’s cool to dance
But what about the groove that soothes
That moves romance, give me a soft subtle mix
And if ain’t broke then don’t try to fix it

And think of the summers of the past
Adjust the base and let the Alpine blast
Pop in my CD and let me run a rhyme
And put your car on cruise and lay back
’Cause this is summertime

Summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind

So far, so good. Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith set us up with a feel-good beat and some placeholder lyrics that funnel us into the heart of the song. In the music video, people are clapping and dancing and having a grand time. When I was a kid, the beginning always made me want to adjust the bass and let the Alpine blast. Sadly, that functionality was unavailable in the cream-colored Ford Taurus station wagon I borrowed from my parents.

Anyway, we’re off. Terrific start to a song of the summer.

School is out and it’s a sort of a buzz
But back then I didn’t really know what it was
But now I see what have of this
The way that people respond to summer madness

The weather is hot and girls are dressing less
And checking out the fellas to tell ‘em who’s best
Riding around in your Jeep or your Benzos
Or in your Nissan sitting on Lorenzos

Back in Philly, we be out in the park
A place called the Plateau is where everybody goes
Guys out hunting and girls doing likewise
Honking at the honey in front of you with the light eyes

She turn around to see what you beeping at
It’s like the summers a natural aphrodisiac
And with a pen and pad, I compose this rhyme
To hit you and get you equipped for the summertime

Summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind

The first line about school being out and causing a buzz is intoxicating. It’s like Jeff and Will are injecting nostalgia directly into my veins.

For a long time, I thought the line was “sitting on Lorenzos,” and that it was a shout-out to legendary South Street pizza joint Lorenzo & Sons. I thought that was cool. I also like Lorenzo’s! Alas, it was not. I’ve since discovered that the Lorenzos referred to in the song are Lorinser rims. It hadn’t occurred to me as a kid because the aforementioned Taurus station wagon was not outfitted with Lorinsers (but it did have three of its four hubcaps). Also, if you’re ever in Philly and you’re up for something gluttonous, try the Philly Taco challenge, which wraps a slice of Lorenzo’s pizza around a cheesesteak from Jim’s for reasons surpassing understanding.

It’s late in the day and I ain’t been on the court yet
Hustle to the mall to get me a short set
Yeah, I got on sneaks but I need a new pair
’Cause basketball courts in the summer got girls there

The temperature’s about 88
Hop in the water plug just for old times sake
Break to ya crib, change your clothes once more
’Cause you’re invited to a barbecue that’s starting at 4

This is when the song starts to raise serious space-time continuum concerns. Will notes that it’s “late in the day.” How late? Because he states his intention to “hustle to the mall” for new sneaks that he can then model at the basketball court for any potential paramours who might be on hand. That’s a lot of running around—which he has to do quickly because he’s invited to a barbecue that starts at 4 p.m.

Let’s map this out. If he’s at Fairmount Park when he decides to go sneaker shopping, the closest mall would probably be The Gallery at 9th and Market. Unless he’s chosen the massive King of Prussia mall—but that’s outside the city and would require a round trip on the always congested Schuylkill Expressway. If it’s late in the day, that also means rush-hour traffic. Trying to make it out to KOP and back would be lunacy. As we’re all aware, the man was born and raised in West Philadelphia. It’s his city. He’s well aware of local traffic patterns. No way he’d risk the Schuylkill at that time of day.

So let’s assume he rushed over to The Gallery, got those fresh new sneakers, turned around and immediately beelined for the basketball court. Which court? In another song, he was famously “shooting some b-ball outside of the school.” Will went to Overbrook High, but the court used in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air video was actually Roberto Clemente Park at 18th and Wallace. Roberto Clemente wouldn’t be as close to his house in West Philly, so for the purposes of proximity we’ll say he decided to hit the courts near Overbrook to save some time. Even so, that’s a hell of an itinerary.

Screen shot of a Google Maps car route from Belmont Plateau to Overbrook High School

He’s looking at 11.6 miles and 33 minutes of drive time in perfect conditions—which it wouldn’t have been considering it was probably rush hour. And you have to factor in shopping time. Even if he knew exactly which pair of sneakers he wanted, he still had to park the car, get out of the car, go inside The Gallery, buy the sneakers, and then return to the car. And what if the shoe store he went to didn’t have his size? Then he’d have to find another store! Arggggggggh!

After all that, our Prince takes a quick rinse in the water plug and returns home to change his clothes again. Where is he finding the time? Will he be late for the cookout? And is he bringing anything to the party? A bag of ice just to be polite, perhaps? Because that could further delay his arrival.

Sitting with your friends ‘cause y’all reminisce
About the days growing up and the first person you kiss
And as I think back makes me wonder how
The smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia

All the kids playing out front, little boys messin’ ‘round
With the girls playing double Dutch
While the DJ’s spinning a tune as the old folks dance
At your family reunion then six o’clock rolls around

You just finished wiping your car down
It’s time to cruise so you head to the summertime hangout
It looks like a car show, everybody come lookin’ real fine
Fresh from the barbershop or fly from the beauty salon

Here we have a number of conflicting statements. Will says he’s sitting with his friends, but I thought he had to hustle to the mall and then get changed again. Who can afford to be nostalgic when their social calendar is so packed that day?

For a song based around the premise that summertime should be used to sit “back and unwind,” the narrator has spent much of the day on the move. When he finally makes it to his family reunion, the old folks are dancing, which is nice. But as six o’clock rolls around, he informs us that he just finished wiping the car down. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? Was he wiping the car down during his family reunion? I had a cousin by marriage who used to do chores around the house to avoid interacting with the family at gatherings, so I suppose Will could have been treating the Nissan’s undercarriage while grandma rocked out on the dance floor.

At the least, it feels like he’d get a talking-to from his relatives for not being fully engaged in the celebration—especially because he flees the family festivities for the summertime hangout, where “everybody” has just arrived “fresh from the barbershop or fly from the beauty salon.” Everybody? Does that include Will, too? Between hitting the mall, getting changed, wiping his car down, attending the family gathering, and then scooting over to the hangout, when exactly did he fit in a fresh fade?

I’m beginning to fear that our fair Fresh Prince is not on the level.

Every moment frontin’ and maxin’

That would be exhausting. Think how tired Will would be simply from the nonstop frontin’, let alone combining that with unending maxin’ while simultaneously running all over the city to complete various chores and attend sundry gatherings. The man would not only have to be a top-tier multitasker with possible time-traveling/time-slowing capabilities, but he’d also have to possess a kind of superhero stamina and recovery. I’m skeptical.

Chillin’ in the car they spent all day waxin’

Goddamnit! No! How did he spend all day waxing his car? The itinerary was already full! Consider a rough outline of a full day spent frontin’ and maxin’ to this point:

10 a.m.-ish to 1 p.m.-ish: Riding around in a Jeep, Benzo, or Lorenzo-outfitted Nissan

1 p.m.-ish to 2 p.m.-ish: Belmont Plateau

2 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Grabbing a pen and pad, composing the rhyme, getting us equipped for the summertime.

2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Mad dash from the Plateau, to the Gallery, to the basketball court.

4 p.m.: Dipping into the fire plug.

4:04 p.m.: Back to the crib to change clothes. (This has to take a second to find a fly outfit; they don’t call him the Fresh Prince for nothing.)

4:45 p.m.: Late arrival to family barbecue.

5 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Simultaneously reminiscing with friends about making out, observing little boys messing around and little girls playing double Dutch, watching old folks dance and wiping his car down.

6 p.m.: Dips out on his family and cruises to the hangout where everybody has come lookin’ real fine.

??? p.m.: Fresh cut at the barbershop.

Even with the benefit of the time stone, Thanos couldn’t have pulled off that schedule and waxed his car all in a day. And we still haven’t figured out how he budgeted a haircut. And he pulls all this off with ease and without the benefit of a modern cellphone/internet/GPS technology. This is hard for me as a fellow Philadelphian, but the Fresh Prince has a lot of holes in his story. It’s disappointing.

Leanin’ to the side but you can’t speed through
Two miles an hour so everybody sees you

There’s an air of love and of happiness
And this is the Fresh Prince’s new definition
Of summer madness

Summer, summer, summertime
Time to sit back and unwind

Here, again, I must question the veracity of his testimony. Will is in the car. He looks good. He feels good. He has decided that he must be seen. Makes sense. He is a handsome man. Of course he leans to the side and takes it slow so everyone notices the Fresh Prince is on the scene. All fine. All believable.

The 2 mph part is where I take my leave. How does he pull that off? That’s really slow! In the interest of investigative journalism, I got in my car and tried to make it go 2 mph. (I lead a full life.) It wasn’t easy. I have a stick shift. Maintaining such a slow speed nearly caused me to stall a few times. Even assuming Will is driving an automatic, he would need an impossibly light touch with his right foot—so light that it just barely depresses the gas pedal and keeps the car in motion. According to a quick Google search, Will wears size 11 shoes. That’s a pretty big foot. Is it possible for a foot that large to possess so much dexterity? I have my doubts.

Still, I have a soft spot for the 2 mph line. It had special importance at our high school back in the day. There was a guy on our varsity basketball team who didn’t play much. We called him 2 mph, because on the rare occasions when he drove to the basket he was so slow that it looked like he wanted everyone to see him. Makes me smile, even now. Actually, now that I think about it, forget everything I just wrote. “Summertime” is perfect and unassailable.