Will Smith transitioned from successful rapper to Hollywood A-lister, starring on 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' before headlining such films as 'Independence Day,' 'Men in Black' and 'Ali.' After Will Smith met Jeff Townes at age 16, the duo launched a highly successful rap career as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Smith starred on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for six seasons, before establishing himself as a Hollywood A-lister with Bad Boys (1995) and Independence Day (1996). He has since headlined such popular films as Men in Black (1997) and Hitch (2005) and earned Oscar nominations for Ali (2001) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). Smith also earned acclaim for Concussion (2015), before returning to action fare with Suicide Squad (2016).
Smith was born Willard Carroll Smith Jr. on September 25, 1968, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to mother Caroline, a school board employee, and father Willard C. Smith, a refrigeration company owner. His middle-class upbringing saw him attend the strict Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, despite his family's observation of the Baptist faith. He went on to attend Overbrook High School.
His West Philadelphia neighborhood was a melting pot of cultures where Orthodox Jews co-existed with a large Muslim population. Smith was a good student whose charming personality and quick tongue were renowned for getting him out of trouble, a trait for which he soon gained the nickname "Prince.''
Smith began rapping at age 12, emulating heroes like Grandmaster Flash but tingeing his rhymes with a comedic element that would later become his trademark. At 16 Smith met future collaborator Jeff Townes at a party. The pair became friends, and the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince was born.
As teens, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince began producing music but steered clear of the gangsta rap sound that was emerging from the West Coast by groups like N.W.A. The Fresh Prince rapped about teenage preoccupations in a clean, curse-free style that middle America found safe and entertaining. The pair's first single, "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble," was a hit in 1986. Their 1987 debut album, Rock the House, hit the Billboard Top 200, and made Smith a millionaire before the age of 18. The early success put any thoughts of attending college out of Smith's mind.
Early on, it was reported that Smith had turned down a scholarship to Boston's elite Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but Smith later dispelled the rumor when he told an interviewer: "My mother, who worked for the School Board of Philadelphia, had a friend who was the admissions officer at MIT. I had pretty high SAT scores and they needed Black kids, so I probably could have gotten in. But I had no intention of going to college."