The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a massive hit TV show for NBC. Fans of the show might point to its stellar cast, great dialogue, and hilarious jokes as reasons for why it stood the test of time. They’d all be right. But another component of the show many people love to this day? The theme song. Let’s take a closer look at the show’s irresistible theme as well as the other hit sitcom theme song it was based on.
What was the premise of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?”
One of the most famous sitcoms of the 90s, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a stalwart in NBC’s sitcom lineup for six seasons. It served as a launchpad for Smith’s incredible acting career.
Smith’s character comes from the streets of West Philadelphia (“born and raised,” as he raps in the intro). To avoid getting into trouble, his mother sends him to Bel-Air to live with his wealthy Uncle Phil and Aunt Vivian Banks. They’re joined by their children Carlton, Hillary, and Ashley. The Banks’ witty, acerbic butler Geoffrey is also on hand.
The show did a great job blending consistently high-quality comedy with at times touching plot lines. It struck a great balance between being funny and also telling a compelling story. One of the reasons the show was so effective was its premise. The “fish out of water” element resonated with viewers. That’s what the show’s theme song played into.
The story behind the show’s famous theme song
According to Entertainment Weekly, the show’s theme song was created by Smith and his partner, DJ Jazzy Jeff. The duo was an immensely popular rapper/DJ team. Jeff’s catchy beats combined with Smith’s memorable lyrics combined for quite a splash. The song became an instant hit and many fans of the show can still sing it to this day. According to Jeff, it strikes a chord with many people to this day:
“One of the biggest thrills with this song I had was Will and I performed at Live Aid and there was a million people on the Parkway in our hometown, in Philadelphia. We did the Fresh Prince theme, and there was a million people singing it. I don’t care where you are in this world. If you drop the theme song in front of 50,000 people on a beach in Singapore at a festival, everybody sings it. It’s everywhere.”
How ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ inspired the ‘Fresh Prince’ theme song
The theme song of The Fresh Prince is equal parts catchy and descriptive. When you hear it, you understand exactly what the show is about. It also taps into the rapping ability of Smith. While the song itself was original, the creative team behind the series used the template from The Beverly Hillbillies theme song for this show.
According to Mental Floss, series creator Andy Borowitz saw the show as a reimagining of The Beverly Hillbillies and opted to lean into that comparison. Borowitz had the following to say about the theme song’s development:
“I was like, ‘We’re basically doing the hip-hop Beverly Hillbillies here. Let’s not run away from that—let’s just go for it.”
Both theme songs provide the viewers with a story about events that transpired within each show’s universe before the first episode. For Fresh Prince, it’s the story of Will’s journey to Bel-Air. For Beverly Hillbillies, it’s the story of how the Clampett’s came to the Hills of Beverly. While both shows were unique in their own way, it makes sense for Fresh Prince to copy the style of the theme song. It’s a format that fits both series.