Before Will Smith ever won an Oscar award, the actor won several Grammys, thanks to his hit music in hip-hop. Smith received two Grammys as part of the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince and two more as a solo artist.
However, his music never featured any curse words, something Smith made sure of following advice his grandmother imparted to him years ago.
That said, the Grammy winner opened up to David Letterman about how he hated “being called soft” because he never cursed in his rap songs.
Will Smith opens up about his music career
Ahead of the 2022 Oscars, former late-night show host David Letterman interviewed Will Smith for his Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.
Letterman brought up Smith’s music career, mentioning how his early work with DJ Jazzy Jeff involved a lot of humor. It was something that differentiated them from many other artists in the genre.
“That was really our major distinguishing quality at the time,” Smith told Letterman. “It was comedy, it was punchlines, it was fun. We stood out in a really good way. We sort of had our own lane.”
Among Smith’s early hit songs with DJ Jazzy Jeff were Parents Just Don’t Understand and A Nightmare on My Street, both of which came from their now three-times RIAA-certified platinum album, He’s the DJ… I’m the Rapper. Their released songs typically included humorous videos, which helped with their popularity during MTV’s era of music videos.
The group won a Grammy for Parent’s Just Don’t Understand and followed it up with another for 1991’s Summertime, the duo’s biggest hit ever.
During the Netflix interview, Letterman asked Smith if he ever faced pressure to quit music.
“Not pressure as much as it was always that I was soft. I hated that, being called soft,” Smith said.
Smith’s grandmother gave him advice on not cursing
Will Smith also admitted that it was powerful advice his grandmother gave him that led to him choosing not to swear in his song lyrics. He explained to Letterman that when he was younger, his grandmother found his notebook containing some explicit rap lyrics he’d written.
After discovering the notebook, his grandmother wrote him a letter, suggesting it wasn’t necessary to use those words.
“Dear Willard, truly intelligent people do not have to use words like these to express themselves. Please show the world that you’re as smart as we think you are. Love, Gigi,” his grandmother wrote.
“That was the reason I never cursed in any of my records,” Smith said during the interview.
In addition to his early hits with DJ Jazzy Jeff, Will Smith ventured out on his own as a solo artist, with four studio albums, including Big Willie Style, Millennium, and Lost and Found.
His solo career brought him his first No. 1 hits on the chart with Gettin’ Jiggy wit It and Wild Wild West. The latter featured R&B group Dru Hill and rapper Kool Moe Dee, who had released his song Wild Wild West years before that.
Smith also got into acting, including his wildly popular sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and landed roles in blockbuster films, including the Men in Black and Bad Boys franchises.
He gave critically-acclaimed performances with his roles in Ali, Pursuit of Happyness, and Concussion. This past March, he claimed his first Oscar for portraying Venus and Serena Williams’ father, Richard Williams, in 2021’s King Richard.
During the ceremony’s live telecast on ABC, Smith was part of what is now a much-discussed incident where he walked up to the stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock, following a joke Rock made about Will’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. After the slap, Smith returned to his seat in the audience.
“Keep my wife’s name out your f*****g mouth!” Smith shouted at Rock several times from his seat, with censors muting his comments during the live telecast.
In the Netflix interview, Smith also spoke about the trauma he endured as a child, admitting to Letterman he felt like a “coward” for not defending his mother from his father’s abuse.
Following the Oscars incident, Will Smith apologized to the Academy, Rock, and others and resigned as a member of the Academy. In addition, the Academy handed down a punishment of their own, banning Smith from their events for 10 years.