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Happy Birthday, Will Smith!

Will Smith
Michael Kovac, Getty Images

Here’s a factoid that will surprise anybody under the age of 12: Will Smith used to be a rapper. Not a theme song rapper, but a rapper rapper. Smith was Philly’s great hope in the late ’80s before becoming one of the most bankable stars of the past 20 years. He turns 49 years old today (Sept. 25.)

DJ Jazzy Jeff was Will Smith’s DJ before he got thrown out of the Bel-Air house on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The duo released five albums together as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, and He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, their second, is the biggest of their career. The project went triple platinum and featured the timeless hit, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

Smith’s hip-hop career got put on hold because of his acting career. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is now a hallmark sitcom in black culture. He couldn’t miss when it came to movies either. Yes, Smith made the unfortunate decision of turning down Neo in The Matrix, but he was doing fine with Bad BoysIndependence Day and Men in Black under his belt.

Before he ended the decade on a sour note with the reviled Wild Wild West, Smith rekindled his hip-hop career. Although his family-friendly raps are still punchlines, Smith’s success easily cushions the jabs. Big Willie Smith featured “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” and the Men in Black theme song, nearly went diamond and won Smith a Grammy. Willennium had a fraction of that success — going “just” double platinum — but Smith won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance over Eminem’s “My Name Is.” The upset would get alluded to on “The Real Slim Shady.”

Watch DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand” Video

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