Will Smith has been a wearer of many hats. A rapper, an actor, and a Chris Rock slapper, he got his start as a sort of novelty songwriter. In fact, as he got more famous for appearing in blockbuster Hollywood productions, it seems people forget his lovable "rapper next door" persona that actually launched his career, and his disarming rap songs which no doubt played a role in mainstreaming rap and hip-hop culture. Oh, and he also latched onto a slasher franchise for one of his songs.
Released on August 1, 1988, "A Nightmare on My Street" is a song by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (comprising DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith, also known as The Fresh Prince). It is known for its horror-themed lyrics and playful storytelling, and one might suspect the duo was trying to emulate the success of Michael Jackson's “Thriller.” The song is a humorous take on the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series, specifically referencing the character Freddy Krueger, who is a fictional character known for haunting and terrorizing dreams. In the song, Will Smith recounts a nightmare he has about
encountering Freddy Krueger, describing the fear and chaos caused by the menacing character.
References made in "A Nightmare on My Street"
Oddly enough, "A Nightmare on My Street" doesn't appear to refer at all to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, suggesting it may have been written and recorded before that film's release. However, the song refers to Nancy and Tina, who are characters in the first film, and it also references the extreme heat problems prominent in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge. In fact, Smith even says the Freddy line: "You've got the body, I've got the brain," which is absolutely prominent in the second film. There is also the ultra-cringe line, "I'm your DJ now, Princey!," which is a spoof of Freddy telling Nancy "I'm your boyfriend now, Nancy!"
Legal problems caused by "A Nightmare on My Street"
It's worth noting that the song "A Nightmare on My Street" faced legal issues as it was initially intended to be part of the soundtrack for A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The filmmakers decided not to use the song, however, leading to a legal dispute between the filmmakers and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince over the song's release and its association with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. They even needed to make a disclaimer reading: "[This song] is not part of the soundtrack...and is not authorized, licensed, or affiliated with the Nightmare on Elm Street films."
It probably doesn't help that the song sampled Charles Bernstein's musical motif from "A Nightmare on Elm Street (and let's give that a shoutout for its catchiness).
Obviously, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince aren't the only musical entity to face legal problems over sampling. For example, The Verve's “Bittersweet Symphony" got them in trouble with The Rolling Stones (or at least their record label), and The Verve isn't even a rap group. New Line Cinema was also (perhaps understandably) extra-protective of the Nightmare on Elm Street brand because New Line is even known as "The House that Freddy Built."
Despite the legal issues, "A Nightmare on My Street" became a popular song and was included as the opening track on DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's album "He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper," whose other single, "Parents Just Don't Understand," won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance.
So the success of "A Nightmare on My Street" helped solidify the duo's reputation in the music industry.
- Though it's pop rap, "A Nightmare on My Street" also qualifies as "horrorcore," proving that not all music in that subgenre comes laden with curse words or particularly gory rhymes. At his worst, the Freddy in this song just seems like an intruder with light maniacal tendencies.
- The song's success was primarily due to its zany lyrics, which are set to a bouncy beat.
- Though the song isn't quite as emotionally impactful as a song like "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie (as a random example), it is still a part of hip-hop history, and its cuteness and novelty helped bring rap music into the mainstream, while also appealing to horror fans.
- Though Kurtis Blow was the first commercially successful rapper, Will Smith obviously didn't do so badly for himself. Yes, he is currently still controversial for that scandalous Chris Rock slap, but shouldn't it still be easier emotionally to listen to his material than to watch The Cosby Show?
- Let's be honest: This novelty tune is not nearly as memorable musically as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, though the music video has a fair amount of likes on YouTube.
- The spoof version of Freddy in the music video actually looks pretty bad, and not "Michael Jackson bad," but bad bad.