Will Smith

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About Will Smith

It would be fair to wonder which is the primary Will Smith and which is the alter ego: The self-assured family man who's one of 21st-century Hollywood's highest-grossing actors, or the affable, self-effacing dude who unassumingly surfaced in the late '80s as a rap pioneer. Born in Philadelphia in 1968, Smith formed DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince with DJ Jeff Townes after the two killed it in an impromptu set at a house party. They signed to Jive Records, and their 1988 sophomore album, He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, stood out in the rapidly burgeoning rap scene—it steered clear of the raw, subversive energy of fellow class of '88 acts like N.W.A. and Public Enemy, with Smith's whimsical, family-friendly bars drawing pop audiences and signalling hip-hop's sales potential. Congenial image notwithstanding, Smith and Townes were radical in spirit: The hilariously knuckleheaded single "Parents Just Don't Understand" earned the first Grammy for Best Rap Performance, but the duo boycotted the ceremony because the award wouldn't be broadcast. They split in 1993 as Smith turned his attention to acting, though it wasn't long before he returned to music. His solo debut, 1997's Big Willie Style, proved his clean, fun-loving charisma and legit rhyming skills were undiminished, and launched an expression into the lexicon with "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It." Rap stars-turned-celebrity impresarios aren't so rare anymore, but Will Smith was the first, and proved that you don't have to be one or the other. "All I have to do is be authentic," he told Apple Music. "All I have to do is be me, and live in a space where I'm inspired, and I have to trust that my inspiration will translate and hopefully inspire others."

Philadelphia, PA, United States
September 25, 1968
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