Fresh King of Hollywood
He’s been a Bad Boy, a Man in Black, a Fresh Prince, a rapper, an antihero, and much more throughout the years, and his roles just continue to change as he extends his horizons! What hasn’t he done? Take a look back at this Legend’s legacy in honor of his recently passed 50th birthday and get ready for everything else he has set for the future!
A few months ago, Will Smith made the biggest leap of his career, at 50 years old. He was in a helicopter staring down into the Grand Canyon, preparing for a jump that would change his life. Taking a deep breath, he fell backwards into the vast canyon, with only a bungee cord to save him from plummeting to the bottom. He later described the event as going “from pure terror to absolute bliss.” By conquering his fear, he had inspired millions (YouTube Originals’ live broadcast of the event reeled in 17.5 million views), and even helped a good cause in the process—Smith had teamed up with Global Citizen to have the proceeds benefit education access for children in poverty-stricken countries.
This fearless attitude has always been a part of who Will is. After all, he dove into all of his projects in much the same way that he dove into the canyon: with confidence and comfort in the fact that he would come out victorious in the end. It’s what helped him to explore every outlet of entertainment, from music to TV to movies, and now to YouTube vlogging. He truly has done it all, but everyone has a starting point. As it is famously known, it all began innnnn West Philadelphia, where he was born and raised!
In the 1980’s, violent West Coast rap was taking over. On the street, the influences of N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, and more could be heard blasting through car speakers as they zoomed by. In West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Smith had been rapping since he was 12, and while he was aware of the widespread “gangsta rap” music, he had a different style and flow in mind. He instead decided to include comedic rhymes and lyrics that soon became his trademark. In 1985, at a house party near his home, Will met D.J. Jazzy Jeff (Jeff Townes), a local D.J. who had been spinning tables since he was 10. The two hit it off, became best friends, and soon got together to form the group D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.
A year later, the duo’s first single, “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble,” was released while Smith was still in his senior year of high school. “Thirty days before I graduated from high school, my record came out. I had a month of having a record on the radio and being a high school student. It doesn’t get too much better than that,” he says as he reminisces. In addition to Smith’s playful lines and D.J. Jazzy Jeff’s famous “transformer scratches,” the song was well-liked for another reason as well: It had no expletives in it. This was rare in Hip- Hop at the time, and although some members of the community criticized Smith’s choice, it ended up working out for him, as his music appealed to the masses due to its clean and safe nature.
Riding off of the wave of their successful single, the pair dropped their debut album Rock the House, in 1987, which found a spot on the Billboard 200. Then two years later, they went on to release He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, their most popular album, and the first double album in Hip-Hop music. One of the three singles from the project, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” went gold, rising up to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also remains a remarkable achievement, having won the first ever Grammy award for Best Rap Performance.
However, things took a turn for the worse in 1989, when the duo’s third work, And in This Corner…dropped. The album failed to receive as much attention as the pair’s previous efforts, with critics ultimately deeming it a flop. Smith started to find himself in a hard situation as he realized he was now all out of money, and in trouble with the IRS for tax evasion. One night, his girlfriend at the time, attempted to set him straight, demanding that he attend The Arsenio Hall Show to see if he could catch someone’s eye. It turns out that Smith has a lot to thank his ex-girlfriend for; while at the show, he was approached by the real “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” Benny Medina, who pitched him an idea for a show about a street-smart Philadelphia teen; he wanted him to play the part!
Will’s life was soon flipped right-side up as he found himself as the main character on the NBC show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where he played a young Philadelphian who was sent to live with his rich family in California to stay out of trouble. The admired show ran for six seasons, from 1990-1996, and in between filming, Smith busied his schedule with other endeavors. He released two more albums with D.J. Jazzy Jeff, earning some hit singles like “Ring My Bell,” and “Summertime,” which both landed spots on the Billboard Hot 100. Following his last album with his best friend in 1993, Smith also took a dive into the world of film. 1995’s Bad Boys saw Smith alongside Martin Lawrence as two hip police detectives, and in 1996, he struck gold once more with Independence Day, a Sci-Fi movie about an alien invasion.
As Smith’s interest in acting and the big screen grew more intense, his time as The Fresh Prince came to an end. In 1997, he landed another win in the movie industry for the third time in a row with Men in Black. One of his most recognized roles to date saw him playing Jay, alongside Tommy Lee Jones (Kay), as they policed extraterrestrials on Earth. It was the third highest grossing film that year with over $589 million at the box office, and was nominated for a Golden Globe and three Academy Awards, winning in one of the categories for Best Makeup.
That same year, Smith also had his hands full getting back into music, but this time, he performed under Will Smith. His debut album as a solo artist, Big Willie Style, dropped that year to much acclaim; it was evident that his fans had missed him in the music world. The work became his most commercially successful album and even found a spot at #10 on the Billboard 200, which also sparked his third and fourth Grammy award wins for Best Rap Solo Performance through his songs “Men in Black,” and “Gettin’ Jiggy With It.”
Will’s back to back hits and success came to a short halt in 1999 when Wild Wild West was released in theaters. It was a Western, Sci- Fi movie that was slammed by critics, and even Smith acknowledges it wasn’t the right move to accept the role. “I had so much success that I started to taste global blood…I wanted to win and be the biggest movie star, and what happened was there was a lag — around Wild Wild West time — [where] I found myself promoting something because I wanted to win versus promoting something because I believed in it,” Smith admitted.
By restructuring his thought process and creating new goals, Smith was able to move past the slight bump in the road. In 2001, it was clear that he had revised his role selecting process, as his next film, Ali, was far from being like the Western comedy. In the biographical movie, he played sports legend Muhammad Ali and was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award. From there on out, Smith would rise to even more stardom as each movie he carefully picked became box office winners and critic favorites, making him “the most powerful actor in Hollywood,” as claimed by Newsweek in 2007.
Men in Black II and Bad Boys II closely followed Ali, and then after, even more triumphs, with Sci-Fi Crime/Drama I, Robot (2004), Rom-Com Hitch (2005), and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), a biographical film about a struggling salesman who begins a new life with his son. The Pursuit of Happyness featured Will’s own son, Jaden Smith, playing the part; the first time, but certainly not the last, that they would collaborate on a project. In 2013, they teamed up again for After Earth. More recently, Smith has remixed his now 20-year-old son’s popular song “Icon;” his son has a rap career, following in the steps of his father, and released his debut album, SYRE, last year.
It seems like these days Smith is letting the current drift him to wherever he feels most fit. He’s leaping back into music again, 13 years after his last album, Lost and Found, hit shelves. This year he released two high profile songs, “Live It Up,” and “Está Rico.” “Live It Up” featuring Nicky Jam and Era Istrefi became the official song of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, and “Está Rico” featuring Bad Bunny and Marc Anthony, was perfect timing considering the current popularity of Spanish music, and Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny himself.
“For two years, I’ve been trying to find that way back in [to Rap]. I quit working for like two years and did a serious deep dive on finding that flavor, that new me, that new life,” he recounts excitedly.
However, he’s not forgetting his devotion to the big screen either. In 2016, he received his second most successful film to date since Independence Day with Suicide Squad, where he played antihero Deadshot. The year after, he accepted a role in the Netflix-released movie Bright, and now he’s got his plate full when it comes to the exciting movies he has in the works! The most anticipated, a live action remake of Aladdin with Smith as Genie, will premiere in 2019, and other projects include Gemini Man (2019), Spies in Disguise (2019), Bad Boys for Life (2020), and of course, Suicide Squad 2, which has been announced but without a release date. If you can’t wait that long to get a dose of Will Smith, follow him on YouTube along with his over three million subscribers, where he vlogs about family, relationships, and taking that challenging leap into the Grand Canyon!
By Selene Rivera