When Comedians do Music Legitimately: Will Smith

This is an article series that will take a look at how some successful comedians or comedic actors have tried to branch out in to music. But non-comedic music.

I sometimes forget that Will Smith, the only actor to have eight films gross over $100 million in the domestic box office in a row, who was named The Most Powerful Actor in Hollywood in 2007, and who has earned a couple Oscar nominations for his dramatic movies, started as a rapper. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, formed in West Philadelphia, was the name of a rap group, which featured Smith (The Fresh Prince), Jeff Townes (DJ Jazzy Jeff), and Clarence Homes (known as Ready Rock C). The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (which started in 1990) is based on Smith’s actual rap personality, which had been popular in the preceding years. The group even received the first rap Grammy ever (EVER) in 1989 for the song “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

The Fresh Prince and co. released three successful albums before Smith even began acting. Their songs were known for being profanity-free and light-hearted. They have a few songs about stranger topics, though, like having a fictional confrontation with Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare On Elm Street (“Nightmare on My Street”), or Smith thinking he could literally beat Mike Tyson in a fight (“I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson,” another subtle title). The group found multi-platinum success with their second album, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper (1988), but began to lose popularity by their next album, And in This Corner (1989). Their initial fan base felt they had become too accessible and were latching on to new radio stars like Tone Loc and Young MC, or non-radio stars like Ice-T and 2 Live Crew.

(OK, actually I can’t tell if those two songs are supposed to be funny or not…)

Smith had spent money lavishly and owed nearly $3 million to the IRS for underpaying taxes by the time Bel Air was built around his rap personality. His rap group released two other albums in the early 90’s, attempting a comeback, which reached platinum and gold success, respectively, before Smith began to focus on acting in the mid 90’s. Smith returned to rapping in 1997, this time solo and under his real name. His first album, Big Willie Style, earned him two Grammy Awards and featured the hugely popular and unintentionally hilarious “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” Take a look at some of the most ridiculous outfits possible below.

1999 saw the release of Willenium (which deserves a groan for being one of the many Y2K-themed album, and for one of the more punny ones), which was met with giant, giant, silly popularity, and had the single “Wild, Wild West,” which was the opposite of the film it shard a title with: successful.

Smith released Born To Reign in 2002, which wasn’t as big a deal as his previous two albums. It only reached gold status. This album features the lead single to the Men in Black II soundtrack, and also some song called “1,000 Kisses,” featuring Jada Pinkett Smith, which I hope I never ever hear. Then he released Lost and Found in 2005, his newest to date, which is interesting because much of the album focuses on how he was “lost” when he stopped rapping to act, and how he is now “found” because he’s rapping again. The album references Smith’s own earlier work, and even the comedy film Hitch, which came out the same year. At age 43, Smith has not made any more albums, but has continued to make movies comedic and serious, some decent and powerful, some really lousy. He’s grossed over $5.7 billion from his movies alone (that is, not including his album sales—and he’s been multi-platinum several times in his various rap releases), so even though he’s not rapping anymore, I think he’s doing OK.

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