Before he was Big Willie, Will Smith was a star rapper—the first hip-hop artist to win a Grammy—but beyond that he was all potential: charismatic but coming off a stalled album, And In This Corner.
Once The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air hit NBC, the Philly kid became a supernova, exploding onto the pop culture scene. We all know what followed: global box office superstardom, a musical resurgence, Jada. Today (September 10), marks the 25th anniversary of Will Smith stepping into the Timbs, Umbro shorts and cocked hat that would redefine his career. In honor of the achievement, REVOLT revisited five scenes that made the show stand out.
Let Me Start From The Start Of The List
“First things first rest in peace Uncle Phil. For real, you the only father that I ever knew.”—J.Cole, Role “Modelz”
The ending to the pilot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air set the tone completely for me as a viewer. I watch TV for one of two reasons: to be entertained and watch a life that is nothing like mine (i.e. why I watch Narcos), or one that I can relate to and learn from. For me, "The Fresh Prince" was the latter.
Will arrives in Bel-Air and instead of recognizing his relocation as an opportunity, he mocks everything around him. Will looks at Uncle Phil and his family as people who have lost their culture and forgotten who they are. Phil quickly checks him after they finish with dinner saying “You have a nice poster of Malcolm X on your wall. I heard the brother speak. I read every word he wrote. Believe me … I know where I come from.” It was eye opening for me to see conversations like this taking place on prime-time television.
I love this scene and episode so much because it’s exactly how I felt when I first got to my high school. I went to a private Catholic high school in a rich suburban town in New Jersey and felt the same way Will did. The episode ends with Will and Uncle Phil getting into one of their many arguments and as Uncle Phil leaves, Will sits at the piano and begins to play "Für Elise" by Beethoven— an obvious influence of his new surroundings.—Law K. Jackson
Back On The Block
I remember the episode "Someday Your Prince Will Be in Effect: Part 2,” was when Al B. Sure, Kadeem Hardison and Quincy Jones all made appearances on the show. That, plus the episode with Heavy D, where the Fresh Prince took his mother to a Heavy D concert, was amazing. It was a real good look for that show to consistently showcase music artists who probably would never have gotten that type of national exposure anywhere else on television.—Rahman Dukes
"Bullets Over Bel-Air"
Comedic and dramatic moments aren't entirely separate entities, seeing as how they usually coexist in most, if not every, situation in life. In this case, “Bullets Over Bel-Air,” by far one of the most underrated episodes in the series, is a great example.
Most sitcoms in the early '90s featured poignant gun violence episodes, but nothing hit home harder than this. Will and Carlton are at an ATM when someone attempts to rob and shoot Carlton. Will ends up taking the bullet, and from there we find Carlton taking on one of his most serious turns ever in the series. Whether you knew of, lost, or heard about someone who suffered a similar fate, this episode takes you through the whirlwind of emotions that follows. From Will doing his best to guard his inner shock, paranoia and pain to Carlton getting his own weapon in hopes of never going through the same ordeal. And, of course, their heart-wrenching embrace in the closing scene—this episode takes you there.—Ralph Bristout
Bank Is Open
During the forth season viewers were introduced to a new recurring cast member, Miss Tyra Banks. Tyra and Will's characters reconnected from their romantic days back in West Philly. Reluctant to light a new flame in Bel Air, Banks, as Jackie Ames, gives Will a ton of attitude while solidifying her acting talents. Her appearances on Fresh Prince gave viewers a glimpse of the young model in a way that was innovative for models of color on a daytime sitcom. Returning to her booming modeling career after her episodes aired, it became clear that her television days were not in vain.—Taylor Cross
“How Come He Don’t Want Me, Man?”
You could have blinders on and still see that this was the scene during the show’s run. When the show premiered, Smith was all rapper—he used his music skills to memorize his lines and the lines of his co-stars, too; you could even notice him mumbling their lines as other actors spoke on the first few episodes.
As the series progressed, however, Will started to stretch into his role, glimpses of the future leading man peeking through. It was no more evident than during the episode when his birth father returned and took his son on a trip that had more up and downs than a stripper at work. We smiled at their reunion, buoyed by the long-lost bond that was instantly apparent. But then we grew suspicious as Ben Vereen became more slippery, hemming and hawing with Uncle Phil before he split on Will with no notice. Then.
This is why it has become most people’s favorite episode. Will gives a speech about all the things he’ll be, because his father wasn’t. It’s impassioned, it’s heartfelt and it’s heartbreaking. “To hell with him,” he yells, Uncle Phil trying to console him as Will grows unhinged. Then.... “How come he don’t want me, man?” The two embrace, Smith’s hat toppling off and he heaves with tears. Then. The camera pans to the uncollected statue Will bought for his father and we all realize, the man grasping his young son in the piece of art is a replica of what we see on screen as the credits roll and our tears stream.—Jayson Rodriguez