In West Philadelphia, born and raised… Yes, the intro to what is possibly the catchiest theme tune ever, but also the real start of Will Smith’s very fruitful life.
Will was born on this day, September 25, in 1968, meaning he is celebrating the big 5-0 today, and I don’t think anyone could argue that he’s achieved some incredible things with his life.
But of course, he didn’t just wake up a huge Hollywood movie star. Will entered the entertainment industry step by step – and that first step was labelled ‘rapper’.
The I Am Legend star grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a place where he has previously explained ‘everybody is a rapper’. As such, the environment no doubt influenced his decision to get into the music scene.
Will met Jeff Townes at a party when he was 16, and from there the pair launched their hugely successful rap career, crowning The Fresh Prince.
Appearing as DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, the duo subverted more typical ‘gangster rap’ lyrics and instead chose to express their thoughts on a wide range of topics, for example life as a teenager and fighting Mike Tyson, with clean and relatable lyrics that audiences went wild for.
Check out an early interview with the pair here:
Will and Jeff’s interview appeared on a show called Switchback, a talk show which ran from 1981 – 1990. Despite it being one of their earlier interviews, the pair actually didn’t appear that determined to promote their music, and instead just seemed really chilled out about the whole thing.
Explaining the origin of DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Will said:
He threw a party on my block and we hung out together and played around, stuff like that.
I grabbed a mic and he was on the turntables and we started doing shows and things like that around the city.
In Philly [rapping] isn’t really something you have to look for. Everybody’s a rapper.
The pair’s first single was Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble, which appeared on their 1987 debut album Rock The House.
The album reached number 83 in the Billboard Top 200, resulting in a wave of wealth that turned Will into a millionaire at the very fresh age of 18.
The successful musicians went on to release their second album He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper just eight months later in January 1988, which featured the hugely popular single Parents Just Don’t Understand – a song which no doubt appealed to the majority of teenage listeners, because who doesn’t get frustrated when their parents buy them ‘bell-bottom Brady Bunch trousers’ and ‘double-knit reversible slacks’?
Check out The Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff at work at the He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper release party:
In 1989, 31 years after the Grammy Awards began, the ceremony introduced a new category; Best Rap Song. Parents Just Don’t Understand made history by becoming the first rap song to win the category, when Will was just 20 years old.
It would be the first of many awards he would go on to lift.
The money kept rolling in, and Will lived his best life buying motorcycles, cars, and designer gear, as I’m sure any 20-year-old would, if they suddenly had millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, Will’s bubble of riches soon burst. The rapper came face to face with huge tax payments, and the IRS took all of his shiny new expensive things in order to get what was owed to them. Will suddenly became a very famous person with very little money.
Luckily the next step into the world of entertainment lay in wait; ‘TV star’.
Will shared a video on YouTube telling the story of how he moved from being The Fresh Prince the rapper to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
The Hollywood star explained he was motivated by his girlfriend at the time to ‘go where people is doing it’ instead of laying around the house all day.
Taking her advice, Will went to The Arsenio Hall Show, a late night talk show that ran from 1989 – 1994, where he met music producer Benny Medina.
Medina pitched the idea for the TV show that would later become The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and introduced Will to Quincy Jones, who would produce the show.
Jones took a liking to Will’s rap name, and decided that the series would be named after him. After having 10 minutes to prepare for an audition, the megastar wowed his audience and was handed a contract for the show that started his huge acting career – or rather, the show that made his life flip turn upside down.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air began airing in 1990, just before the actor’s 22nd birthday. The role made him even more widely known through the entertainment industry, and no doubt changed the course of his life by building his acting career.
As well as fuelling his rise to Hollywood, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air gave Will some hints as to what his future family life would look like.
According to Biography, Will first met his wife Jada in 1995 when she auditioned for the role of Will’s girlfriend on the sitcom. While she didn’t get the part, she got the real life one.
Will and Jada started dating, and married in 1997.
Will’s circumstances and successes in life seem to have had a domino effect which has allowed him to turn into the man we know and love today.
Growing up in Philadelphia inspired The Fresh Prince’s rapping, which made his name known and allowed him to land his TV break with a show named after his musical persona.
The TV acting career lead Will to his next step of entertainment, the big screen, where he has excelled. Will is currently the only actor to have eight consecutive films gross over $100 million in the US domestic box office.
Take a look at his most memorable roles here:
Moving from strength to strength, his role in movies gave Will the power to influence others and express more of his own ideas behind the camera.
Will has worked as a film producer while continuing to keep his foot in the music industry, producing the well known theme song for his 1997 movie Men In Black and still putting on impressive musical performances when he has the chance.
Check out Will with his son Jaden and former Fresh Prince co-star on The Graham Norton Show:
The Seven Pounds actor has climbed to the top and stayed there, so much so that Newsweek’s judgement of him being ‘the most powerful actor in Hollywood’ in 2007 still has some weight today.
Will has definitely had an outstanding life, and it doesn’t look like he’s planning on slowing down anytime soon.
In fact, to celebrate his 50th birthday the actor will be bungee jumping out of a plane over the Grand Canyon in a stunt that sounds like a blockbuster movie all by itself – Will Smith: The Jump.
That’s certainly a memorable way to kick start your 50th year!
Happy Birthday Will Smith!
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.