20 Albums 20 Years Later

Will Smith Set The Standard As A Positive Male Role Model In Hip-Hop That Has Yet To Be Surpassed

Will Smith's "Big Willie Style" turns 20 this year.

Will Smith already had a "fresh" start to his acting and music career before releasing his debut solo album Big Willie Style in November of 1997. Our beloved American sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had just ended a six-year run the year before, and Smith stepped away from collaborating with longtime partner Jazzy Jeff to jump right into film projects such as Independence Day in 1996 and Men in Black in 1997. It was also a very busy year for Smith having just gotten married to current wife Jada Pinkett Smith (and still going strong 20 years later). But Smith returned to music, and began working with producers on Big Willie Style in 1996, and collaborating with artists like the late Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of the group TLC and Larry Blackmon of Cameo.

After an era of long-reigning East Coast vs. West Coast rap featuring rhymes that glorified the "gangsta" lifestyle, Will Smith took an entirely different approach to his lyrics by becoming a role model in the music industry. Smith showed us that the rap game doesn't have to be about how many hoes a thug can get, nor how many F-bombs you can spit. Smith preached monogamy in his songs and represented multiculturalism instead. This became indicative of Will Smith's style — Big Willie Style.

"Men in Black"

"Men in Black" was originally released as a single and on the soundtrack for the motion picture of the same name back in June 1997, but it was also included on the Big Willie Style album, bringing the total to 16 tracks. It features the amazing vocal range of the talented singer-songwriter Coko (Cheryl Clemons) from one our favorite vocal trios, Sisters With Voices (SWV).

Having a backdrop of disco with a twist of bass guitar funk, a dash of soul music a la Coko, and what would become Will Smith's signature pop-rap, you have the recipe for a No. 1 hit, which is exactly what became of this song.

Part of what makes Will Smith's music so enticing is that it's all-inclusive. The lyrics are easy to sing along with, and even if you can't dance, you get a lesson in rhythm from "Big Willie" himself. He teaches you some dance moves and makes it fun and simple with instructions like "just bounce with me," "slide with me," "take a walk with me," "and make your neck work, now freeze," and a little clap-clap for added measure. This wasn't the only "get up and dance" song on the album, though.

"Gettin' Jiggy Wit It"

This track made it to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and everyone was "gettin' jiggy wit it" at home, in front of the television, out at the clubs, and on dance floors across America. In fact, the term "gettin' jiggy wit it" became a popular catchphrase for letting loose on the dance floor.

We get a taste of Will Smith's role model mentality in the lyrics of this track: "Ciga-cigar right from Cuba-Cuba / I just bite it," as he reminds us, "It's just for the look / I don't light it," because we all know smoking is bad for your health. Smith also takes the high road when it comes to the "haters" as he raps "Never see Will attackin' 'em / Rather play ball with Shaq and 'em," which is good advice for any musician dealing with haters.

"Miami"

"Miami" was a summertime and even a spring break anthem of sorts. This hit not only made you want to dance, but also buy a first-class ticket to Florida where you could spend "all night on the beach 'til the break of dawn."

Another all-inclusive beat celebrating multiculturalism where "Big Willie" appreciates "Dominican women with cinnamon tans," and paints an image of the perfect summer vacation spot where people of "All ages and races / Real sweet faces / Every different nation, Spanish, Haitian, Indian, Jamaican / Black, White, Cuban, and Asian" come to play.

"Just the Two of Us"

Without a doubt, this track has an evergreen feel to it that still holds strong today — an homage to the men out there who make it their life's purpose to be a good father and role model. Smith's touching rendition of Bill Withers' and Grover Washington Jr.'s 1981 R&B hit single of the same title, with added lyrical advice to his son Trey Smith, was a testament to his reputation and squeaky-clean image.

The video features Smith's son Trey, along with celebrity fathers playing with their children, and even has a cameo of wife Jada, who was pregnant with son Jaden Smith at the time.

Although we have yet to see this father and son collaborate on an album or song together, Will Smith was on The Graham Norton Show on BBC a few years back with Jaden, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Alfonso Ribeiro. They performed a mash-up of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, "Switch," and a couple of songs that evoke nostalgia for old episodes of the sitcom's dance numbers between characters Carlton and Will.

Watch the mash-up here, and try not to get up and dance with them:

Smith continued to set trends in the following years with dance-punk and disco-inspired hits such as "Will 2K" released in 1999 and "Freakin' It" in 2000. Let's not forget that Will Smith has made a career of commercially successful soundtrack hits to the movies in which he's held the lead role. First there was "Men in Black," followed by "Wild Wild West," "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)" from Men in Black 2, and who can forget the 2005 release of his foot-stomping song "Switch," which although it wasn't a soundtrack hit, was released around the same time as his movie Hitch.

Will Smith turned out to be a triple threat with his music, acting, and dancing skills, but his greatest role of all time has been that of male role model to young men in hip-hop — and everywhere. To this day, we have yet to see another in the music and film industries who has proven that you can be funny, entertaining, and successful without lowering your standards.

Big Willie Style is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Spotify.

Cover image: Columbia Records

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.