Over-Analyzing DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime”

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by Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck

in Funny, Songs Overanalyzed

Some songs are timeless.

 

Other songs may not quite stand the test of time as well, but they still have that magical ability to instantly take you back to a moment or time frame of your life. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” fits into both of these categories.

Released in May of 1991, “Summertime” perfectly captured the excitement and anticipation that comes with that time of year and captivated the imaginations of the listeners. Every May, school students of all ages begin the short countdown to summer vacation and start to map out their forthcoming freedom. 1991 was no different, and the fact that MTV still played music videos all day everyday helped this track quickly take root in the hopeful minds of America’s youths.

We all wanted our summer vacations to be as cool as DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s.

From the album Homebase, the song only spent one week at #1 on the Billboard charts, but it was on our minds and our radios all summer long. From “Drums, please!”, it had such an infectious opening that from the second it begins playing you are hopelessly hooked, and when the song ends it seems like it had only been playing for a few seconds. Go ahead, relive the magic:

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To this day, “Summertime” is a song that I rarely call to mind; but when I happen upon it, it comes with an instant smile and mood change. I heard it today (by wonderful accident) and decided it was time to revisit this wonderful romp through a summer day in the life of Jeffrey Townes and Will Smith. The only caveat – we analyze the shit out of every lyric.

Here we go:

 

Intro/Chorus:

Summer summer summertime
time to sit back and unwind

OK, they set the agenda right off the bat. I like that. Nothing worse than a song that takes forever to get to the point (lookin’ at you, Coldplay). If I wanna have to think, I’ll watch a Spanish soap opera on mute. When I’m mindlessly driving I want my song meanings spoon fed to me. Even Adele is too much work sometimes. What’s the rumor? Hurry up and make with the goods woman. Don’t hook me with the promise of a ‘rumor’ and then string me along for 4 minutes.

Here it is, a groove slightly transformed
just a bit of a break from the norm

Excellent. They really are serving this thing up on a silver platter. Before I wade knee deep into this song I am armed with the knowledge that it can be classified as a ‘groove’, so if I’m not in the mood, I can check out before investing any more precious time. It’s like this song has a 4 second teaser trailer. Every song should have one.

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 a groove that soothes, that moves, romance?
give me a soft subtle mix
and if ain’t broke then don’t try to fix it

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about keeping things fresh, shakin’ it up a little – but personally I wasn’t aware of the developing situation with hardcore dance. I had no idea it was getting out of control, or that monotony had set in as a result. I’m certainly glad the Fresh Prince is keeping an eye on the situation and swooping in to rescue us with slightly transformed grooves before we reach a crisis point.

and think of the summers of the past
adjust the base and let the Alpine blast
pop in my CD and let it run a rhyme
and put your car on cruise and lay back cause this is summertime

Brilliant move. This is no ordinary songwriter here, we’re dealing with a lyrical strategist. Instructing me to ‘think of the summers of the past’ just completely took me out of the game for at least 25 seconds. My mind instantly wanders to a place filled with wiffle ball, Kool-Aid, and sleepovers. Instructing me to harken back to past summers just bought him temporary immunity. The next few lines of the song could be about beef jerky and geraniums and I’d have no idea. Well done, sir. But don’t try it again – I’m on to you now.

NOTE: If you follow the Fresh Prince’s advice and activate your vehicle’s cruise control function, please continue to monitor changing road conditions and do not recline your seat beyond a safe, reasonable angle.

Chorus

School is out and this is 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

Let’s stop here for a moment. It’s now been 21 years since this song came out and I still have no idea what the hell he says right there. Every lyric resource shows it differently, from the above ‘but now I see what have of this’, which is gibberish, to ‘but now I see what habit is’, which is slightly less incoherent but still doesn’t seem to fit. Why would he pronounce ‘habit is’ “habbadus”? Can someone verify this lyric once and for all? It’s slightly angering. Perhaps this is the ‘summer madness’ he’s referring to.

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 stting on lorenzos

I still don’t know what ‘lorenzos’ are. Tires? Portenza? One of these people?

back in Philly we’d be out in the park
a place called the plateau is where everybody goes

I like this. A little insight into the local habits of native Philadelphians. If I ever find myself in a conversation with one, I will remember to reference ‘the plateau’ – surely that will impress them! Oh, what a hoot that will be.

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

Uh oh, sounds like she’s mad.

it’s like the summers a natural aphrodisiac

Oh, nevermind- it’s summer so honk away! Toss in a sexually charged comment too if you like, just keep it between May and September.

and with a pen and pad I composed this rhyme
to hit you with and get you equipped for the summer time

Nice! A little “behind the scenes” action. Cool to know he used a pen and pad, as opposed to a crayon and a cereal box turned inside out. Invaluable insight into the process of songwriting.

Chorus

It’s late in the day and I ain’t been on the court yet
hustle to the mall to get me a shorts set

I miss having free time and disposable income. The only reason I ‘hustle to the mall’ now is to get my kid in line to see Santa or the Easter Bunny before the lines are past Foot Locker. While we’re on it, would it kill them to wash the Santa and Bunny suits once a year? It always looks like they’ve been stored for 11 months in a dumpster behind Chipotle.

yeah I got on sneaks but I need a new pair

That seems wasteful.

cause basketball courts in the summer got girls there

Ahh, OK. Carry on.

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 barbeque that’s starting at 4

Seems like a lot of time and fuel spent on commuting. First we drove around aimlessly with cruise control enabled just to listen to a song, then I assume we drove to the plateau (if everybody in Philadelphia goes there it can’t be within walking distance from everywhere), we made a trip to the mall, back to the basketball courts, home, and then back out to a barbecue?? Maybe pack a change of clothes next time and try to do all of your shopping at one time instead of making special trips just for shorts sets.

sittin’ with your friends as y’all remincise
about the days growing up and the first person you kissed

Nothing wrong with this. Shockingly.

and as I think back makes me wonder how
the smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia

It would be weird if the smell from the grill reminded him of the first person he kissed. Although it’s not like we all haven’t made it with someone who smells a little like charred sausage.

all the kids playing out front
little boys messin’ round with the girls playing double-dutch

I bet those girls wanted nothing more than to play an uninterrupted game of double-dutch, and those little assholes just couldn’t leave them alone.

while the DJ’s spinning a tune as the old folks dance at your family reunion

Hah. Old people dancing. Nice.

then six o’clock rolls around
you just finished wiping your car down

The one you used to waste a tank of gas already today?

it’s time to cruise so you go to the summertime hangout
it looks like a car show

Jesus more driving?? Does anybody car pool or take advantage of public transportation in Philadelphia? This song single-handedly ruined the ozone layer.

everybody come lookin’ real fine
fresh from the barber shop or fly from the beauty salon

More errands = more driving.

every moment frontin’ and maxin’

This song does take me back though. I haven’t fronted or maxed in years.

chillin in the car they spent all day waxin’
leanin’ to the side, but you can’t speed through
two miles an hour so everybody sees you

More wasting gas.

there’s an air of love and of happiness
and this is the Fresh Prince’s new defintion of summer madness

God I love this song.

 

Howie Decker is the editor of UnderScoopFire.com. He likes fantasy baseball & taco night. You can read his “Letter from the Editor” here. Follow him on Twitter @HowardtheDeck.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian Morin June 7, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Awesome post. Every year I set this song to play as soon as I start my car on the way home after the last day of school (today) . A timeless classic and inspiration for my next UnderScoopFire article: The Top Ten Songs About Summer. Stay tuned.

Reply

Howie Decker June 7, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Nice! Crazy that today happened to be your last day of school. I just happened to hear it this morning and ran w/ it

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Jason G June 7, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Nicely done, Howie. The best article I read today! Was a huge Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince fan back in the day and Summertime is one of their best. Wore out the Homebase cassette album.

My other memory of that album is my mother hearing “You Saw My Blinker” and threatening me within an inch of my life if she ever heard it again. So that cassette had that distinctive clicking sound right before the song from all the times I hit fast forward. The next year when I started to drive, Blinker came back to life in the car stereo.

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Armando June 7, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Ok, I only have one problem with this whole thing…the whole “hustle to the mall to get me a shorts set” thing has to be wrong. I always thought it was “It’s late in the day and I ain’t been on the court yet, hustle to the ball to get me a short set.” Like a set shot?? Maybe I’ve been singing that part wrong like I’ve been saying ‘habbadus’ for 21 years.

Anyway, this was awesome. I didn’t even need to listen to the song. You set me up perfect and I had the beat running in my head. Great job!

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Corey Pung June 7, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Fun article! Please analyze the Will Smith song “Candy.” He raps about candy bars for a full minute near the end.

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Jeremy Michael Nealy Esq. June 8, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Huge fan of yours. This is your best compilation of words thus far. Awshum. Awshum. Happy Best Friends Day.

Reply

Howie Decker June 9, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Thanks! Was it really Best Friends Day?

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BroJohnTheLeo June 11, 2012 at 10:21 pm

The fact that the backing track of this anthem is a Kool & The Jazz Gang original, though never mentioned, has not made me like it any less.

As a radio and club DJ, I was in possession of two 12″ discs, which had the house, street, etc versions. They worked with the likes of Sly Stone’s[“Hot Fun In The Summertime”]as well as The Lovin’ Spoonful’s[“Summer in The City”]and The SOS Band’s[“Tell Me You Still Care”].

I never spin it until the approach of the summer season, and only run it a few weeks, post-Labor Day. Classic Tune. No redux needed.

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Jolly June 10, 2016 at 9:59 am

I thought for sure this article would give me the answer I’ve been searching for for over 20 years. What is the background chorous? It’s driving me nuts that I can’t figure it out. Like Marc A, I need to know!

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Howie Decker @HowardTheDeck June 10, 2016 at 10:06 am

Summa summa summa time… time to sit back and unwind

That chorus?

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Jolly June 10, 2016 at 10:20 am

No, the one that goes on behind the whole song. Sounds like a group of guys. Maybe I’m the only one that hears it?

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Kevin Sullivan June 12, 2016 at 9:29 am

Guys in the back are singing and it sounds like ‘Summertime….time to Go!’ over and over throughout the song. It’s more distinct during the chorus. ‘They’ start it at the 18 second mark of the song. Can’t miss it.

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Jolly June 10, 2016 at 10:18 am

No, the one that goes on behind the whole song. Sounds like a group of guys. Maybe I’m the only one that hears it?

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happened_its August 25, 2016 at 9:39 pm

It’s “happened it’s”.

School is out and there’s a sort of a buzz
but back then I didn’t really know what it was
but now I see what HAPPENED IT’S
the way that people respond to summer madness

Reply

Ains W April 21, 2017 at 12:03 pm

Playing this tune right now. Helped me through a ton of bad times. Always my go to to lift my mood.

Reply

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