Most people know Will Smith as the star of the ‘90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and action blockbusters Men in Black, Bad Boys, and Independence Day, but does he have any other talents up his sleeve – such as rapping?
Before finding success in Hollywood, Will Smith used to be a rapper. He started his hip-hop career as a member of the Grammy-winning duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Smith also recorded four solo albums, and he still enjoys making music and collaborating with other artists.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Will Smith was interested in hip-hop from an early age, and even told Wired that he never went to college because he wanted to rap. He found the perfect partner in crime in Jeff Townes, and the two men realized they had an instant chemistry after performing at a house party together.
They formed a group called DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince in 1986, and their big break came two years later, when their sophomore album He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper came out. They soon went on to win a Grammy for their smash hit “Parents Just Don’t Understand”.
Despite the enormous success of this hip-hop duo, Smith was struggling financially because he was careless about money and failed to pay his taxes. This was part of the reason why he accepted NBC’s offer to build a sitcom around him, despite his initial reluctance due to a lack of acting experience.
The role in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air boosted Smith’s profile, and DJ Jazzy Jeff joined him in the recruiting role. They kept working on new music, released two albums during the run of this show, and won another Grammy for “Summertime”. They officially parted ways in 1994, because Smith wanted to focus on his acting career, but stayed on good terms and performed together on several occasions.
Will Smith resumed his music career in 1997, when he recorded the theme song for his new movie Men in Black. This track was an instant hit – it topped the charts in several countries around the world, and won Smith a Grammy Award for the best rap solo performance.
He used the success of this track to promote his debut solo album Big Willie Style, which came out a few months later and produced several more hits. “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” became his first single to reach no. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and won him another Grammy in 1999.
Smith scored another no. 1 single with “Wild Wild West”, which was featured in his 1999 film of the same name. It was included on his sophomore album Willennium that came out later that year. It was followed by Born to Reign in 2002, and Lost and Found in 2005, but he eventually decided to put his music career on hold, and fully focus on acting.
Back in 2015, Will Smith told Billboard that he has “a bunch of songs” and that he’s looking for “a really clever and creative way to release the music.” Two years later, he joined forces with his old pal DJ Jazzy Jeff, and dropped his first song in over a decade titled “Get Lit”. He also discussed the possibility of doing a full-length tour together, but these plans never materialized.
Back in 2018, he shared a video titled “Messing around in the studio…” on his YouTube channel, showing his fans that his rapping game is still strong. Later that year, he was featured in the official song for the 2018 FIFA World Cup called “Live It Up”, and collaborated with Marc Anthony, and Bad Bunny on “Está Rico”. He also joined Joyner Lucas in a remix of the hit track “Will”, which is an obvious tribute to his career.