The true story behind the extremely ’90s phrase that inspired pickup lines and punch lines.
The year is 1993. A fresh-faced Fresh Prince saunters into an iconic Bel-Air living room holding the hand of an episodic love interest (who just happens to be Kim Fields). He leads her to the couch, takes a seat on the arm, and smoothly declares, “I’ve never said this to a girl before, but oh baby, you all that and a bag of chips.” In the background, cousins Hilary and Carlton watch from the stairs, Hilary mimicking the entire exchange. It’s clearly not the first time they’ve heard him say that phrase, but it’s the first time most of America has. (Myself included.)
Where did he hear it? From who? And when?
Slang is notoriously difficult to pin down. That episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air aired on February 1, 1993, before the Internet, before Twitter (more specifically, black Twitter), before Will Smith the rapper became Will Smith the superstar, and long before linguists were taking notice of—or notes on—the etymology of black slang.
Jonathon Green, a lexicographer specializing in slang, cited his dictionary: Green’s Dictionary of Slang, a three volume, 6,200-page dictionary “on historical principles.” According to Green, “In the end, it seems to be a jocular extension of the shorter, unadorned ‘all that.’” But when it comes to who coined the phrase, Green is in the dark.
The first print sighting took place in late August 1991, when The Baltimore Sun published a story about three new “slanguages” entering youth culture: Dude, Rap, and Brit. The piece concludes with a quote from Fab 5 Freddy, then host of Yo! MTV Raps. “Like people have been saying ‘all that,’ meaning something is really cool. But now they’re saying ‘all that and a bag of chips.’ So the people are putting their own twist on that.”
The story ran (word for word, with varying headlines) in nearly 20 newspapers across the U.S. and Canada. People everywhere from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Missoula, Montana, received this same crash course in “youth terminology.”
“We had to come up with stuff like that. Look at the meals that black people used to eat. We had to make dishes around something that was thrown out of the back door to us.”
By 1992, a small, select group of people were putting their own twist on the twist. That January, a concertgoer wrote in an online forum called alt.rap that “The brothers were all dat and a bag of chips, pretzels and Doritos,” after Naughty by Nature’s performance in the “Greatest Rap Show Ever” concert at Madison Square Garden. Other variants found in early Internet archives include “bag of Cheetoes [sic],” “bag of grits,” “bowl of grits” (more than once), “slice of government $cheese,” “cherry on top,” “bowlful of jelly,” “can of tomato soup,” and “warm banana bread with some butter.
Shortly after its prime-time debut, like most things attached to Smith (Bad Boys, Men in Black, Aladdin), the phrase “all that and a bag of chips” exploded across pop culture, appearing in the pages of People Magazine (1994) and The New York Times (1998) and movies like Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), where a bald-headed, scar-faced Dr. Evil, played by Mike Meyers, tells the president of the United States via video chat, “You ain’t all that and a bag of po-ta-to chips,” in front of a room filled with his closest advisers.
It reached critical mass and then got stale, save for the occasional ’90s tribute.
Which brings us to 2019. Early this year, ice cream company Enlightened launched a limited-edition “All That & a Bag of Chips” flavor with, what else, potato chips dipped in chocolate. And in one of the more recent ’90s tributes—this one a promo video for Reebok’s Aztreks—a fresh-faced Cardi B swivels around in an office chair, in what appears to be a high-school auditorium. She puts her feet up, turns on the Toshiba television, and “takes on the ’90s in a series of hilarious challenges,” including translating ’90s slang phrases.
“I’m all that and a bag of chips. I’m all that and I’m more, like I got boobs, ass, brains,” she says after slapping slap-on bracelets and dancing the Macarena.
Professor Griff, of Public Enemy, uses a food analogy to explain how the slang came about. “We had to come up with stuff like that. Look at the meals that black people used to eat. We had to make dishes around something that was thrown out of the back door to us. How do we make that fun? How do we make that cool?”
He first heard it just being in and around the hip-hop scene, at the club or the youth center, parks, and outdoor festivals, but says that a search for the phrases origin would be futile. “You will get embarrassed by the black community if you ever said you were the first one that said this—they’ll laugh at you. They’ll laugh you right on out of the hood,” says Griff.