Willard Christopher Smith Jnr., 25 September 1968, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Rap musics most successful crossover artist, Smith started his career as one half of DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince. Although it was lightweight in comparison with the threatening street style of Public Enemy and N.W.A. , the duos inoffensive, bubblegum rap made them a crossover success, with 1988s Hes The DJ, Im The Rapper going double-platinum and Parents Just Dont Understand winning the duo a Grammy. Smiths inventive and charming rapping style brought him to the attention of NBC, who cast him in the starring role of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Smith shone as the streetwise tough suffering culture shock in affluent Beverly Hills, and the situation comedy went on to become one of the stations most successful series, running until 1996. Movie stardom beckoned, with Smith making his debut in 1992s Where The Day Takes You. He gained further acclaim for his role in 1993s Six Degrees Of Separation. The same year he released his final album with DJ Jazzy Jeff, topping the UK charts with Boom! Shake The Room.
A string of acting roles followed which pushed Smith into the superstar league, beginning with 1995s Bad Boys and reaching a new high with Independence Day (1996) and Men In Black (1997), two of the most successful movies ever made. Smith also recorded under his own name for the first time, topping the US and UK charts with the infectious theme tune from Men In Black. He also found the time to release his solo debut, Big Willie Style, a smooth pop rap production which featured Gettin Jiggy Wit It, another ridiculously catchy hit single which topped the US Hot 100 chart. The album took up a long residency at the top end of the US charts. Further hits followed in 1998 with Just The Two Of Us (UK number 2/US number 20) and Miami (UK number 3/US number 17). In July 1999, the theme tune from Smiths new movie Wild Wild West, based around Stevie Wonders I Wish and featuring vocal contributions from Dru Hill, topped the US charts. Released, predictably enough, at the end of the millennium, Will 2K and Willennium, whose titles took some beating for sheer chutzpah, were also huge US and UK successes.
The start of the new millennium saw Smith tackling a heavyweight movie project with his acclaimed portrayal of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali in Michael Manns Ali. The 2002 release of his third album, Born To Reign, coincided with the lucrative second instalment of Men In Black. Further blockbuster hits followed with Bad Boys II and I, Robot, although Smiths musical career took a downturn when he was dropped by Columbia after disappointing sales of Born To Reign. He signed a new recording contract with Interscope Records and attempted to toughen up his image on the misguided Lost And Found, which was released to muted applause at the start of 2005.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.