At this point, what differentiates the hip-hop that tops the UK charts from the stuff which peeks in lower down is legibility: not too much slang, metaphors spelled out, a flow any kid could follow. At a time when the public face of rap in Britain was Snoop Dogg on the front page of the Daily Star – “KICK THIS EVIL BASTARD OUT!” – the material crossing over commercially wasn’t likely to cause any moral panics. So the “harder edge” promised by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince on their final album, Code Red, was highly relative.
Of course it’s easy to look at the glories of hip-hop in 1993 and draw harsh comparisons with “Boom! Shake The Room”. In the USA, the radio-driven singles chart trailed the Billboard albums list, where Snoop’s Doggystyle and Cypress Hill’s Black Sunday both went to number one. But Will Smith was playing a different game in any case, and as pop-rap “Boom!” is a roaring success. The bits that don’t work – “Many have died trying to stop my show”, oh really – are hugely outnumbered by the bits that somehow do: the patiently explained football metaphor (“in response to the way that I was kicking it”), the Jekyll/Hyde stuff, the stutter-rapping, and tying it all up Smith’s bustling enthusiasm.
The Fresh Prince’s style is not world-beating, and his lines aren’t startling. But as a training level tutporial for what rap does – still needed even at this point – “Boom! Shake The Room” is a lot better than “Ice Ice Baby” or the Turtles ever were. Not just the MCing, either: that squiggle of turntable garnish on a big walloping break is more important to the song’s charm than anything Smith does. Anyone with the slightest sympathy for it then probably has a massive personal fondness for “Boom!” now. I certainly do.