Always cheerful, rarely flustered and never a hair out of place. Will Smith is one of those Hollywood celebrities who exudes professionalism and class. But where did he attain the qualities which made him a success in both music and film? Kreol takes a closer look.
If it was ever unfair for an entertainer to be pigoen holed by one project they have been involved with, perhaps it is in the case of Will Smith. Despite his numerous Hollywood blockbusters, so many continue to see Smith as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
The recent request for him to rap the much loved theme tune alongside British rapper James Corden spoke volumes about the enduring, and global appeal of the hit TV series, and its accompanying song.
And it’s obvious that Smith himself isn’t in the least bit angry (have you ever known Will Smith to be angry about anything?) to be typecast sometimes. Not only was he happy to film the Carpool Karaoke advert for Apple Music, but he is also reportedly in talks to make a ‘rebooted’ series of Fresh Prince.
An unfortunate brush with money
Let’s face it, he isn’t doing it for the money. Estimates value his fortune at over $250 million. So it must be the love. That is a notion which explains much about Smith’s life and career.
Smith hasn’t always been good as far as money is concerned – in the mid 1990s, the inland revenue stripped him of some assets when he was found to owe over $2 million to the state. You feel after hearing the story that the error probably had more to do with oversight, than a deliberate ploy to cheat anyone. Smith has always been so wrapped up in his passions, be they music or acting, that it is easy to imagine him forgetting to settle up his tax bills.
Go for broke with Rap Music
His upbringing in Philadelphia wasn’t always easy – Smith’s parents were separated when he was 13 – but his story is the classic tale of somebody dedicated to their craft, who grips onto a dream, and won’t let go. Smith could have gone to college, but he just wanted to get paid for the lyrics he rapped, so decided to chase the dream as one half of the hip-hop duo Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
Throughout his career, Smith has done something almost none of his contemporaries from either the music or film industries have managed. He has transcended colour, but also been an important figure for his own race. As the mischievous teenager who got sent away to live with his grandparents in Los Angeles (the theme of the famous Fresh Prince of Bel Air series, for those who don’t know), he became a symbol for teenagers everywhere. But he has also fulfilled an important role as an example for young black males in particular.
Going back to his music, Smith has done something else which is rare – carved out a respected hip-hop career entirely from clean rap, with little to no swearing, advocating violence, or belittling women – if you will excuse his innocent early hit: ‘Girls are Nothing But Trouble’.
A quote he gave to Essence magazine reveals Smith’s outlook on the rap game, and the decent family which raised him: “In the beginning, following the fashion of the day, my raps had a small amount of profanity. I’ll never forget what my grandmother said when she read them: ‘He who is truly articulate shuns profanity.’ Man, I didn’t even know what articulate meant, but I knew I wanted my grandmother’s approval, just as I wanted my parents’ approval.”
There are also other clues in Smith’s upbringing which hint at how he was able to demonstrate the qualities which made him who he is today. While few have the charm and charisma which Smith exhibits on a daily basis, many who reach the very top of their field have the same characteristic in common – determination. So how did Smith develop the single mindedness to excel in two fields, and keep hold of his integrity while he scaled heights few can even dream about? Judging by an interview Smith gave to the Metro newspaper in the run up to the release of the After Earth movie, his father is responsible.
Smith revealed to the publication: “My father was in the air force, so there was a very serious focus on military precision. That’s what he demanded and so that’s how I began in my career and in my life. There’s been a certain obsessiveness to my career and to the things I was trying to accomplish. It was like: ‘We’re going to get that flag to the top of the hill no matter what. It doesn’t matter that your ankle is hurt or it doesn’t matter that somebody is sad. Imagine how sad you are going be if you have no food.’ That’s what’s driven me.”
The Family man
From the outside it might seem that Smith is the perfect family man, but like all of us, he has experienced a fair share of trials and tribulations in his personal life. It took Smith a while after divorcing Sheree Zampino, the mother of his first child, to meet his next soul mate, Jada Pinkett. It seems as though Pinkett, who he met when she auditioned for a role on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, was more prepared for the rollercoaster ride which can accompany being married to a Hollywood superstar. Smith suggested this might be the case when he told Ebony magazine: “Jada is the first person I’ve been with willing to accept that it’s not always going to be great, but that’s okay.”
Looking at Smith’s family unit today, it is clear to see he has passed on a fair share of his talent, drive and love of the entertainment industry on to two of his children. His 18-year-old son Jaden has already put his name to two films; The Karate Kid and The Day After Tomorrow, while 16-year-old daughter Willow had a worldwide pop hit with the catchy song ‘Whip My Hair’.
In the Smiths’ case, success really does run in the family, but not without a heavy emphasis on the hard work which allowed the Fresh Prince to become the Hollywood King.