Will Smith Tells The Crazy Story Of How He Became The Prince Of Bel-Air (Video)

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Hi. We recently created AFH TV, Ambrosia For Heads’ streaming video service, because we believe real Hip-Hop deserves its own dedicated TV home, but we need your help to make it great. Please subscribe to AFH TV. It is only $1.99/month or $12/year, and already features some amazing content, but the best is yet to come. Thank you for all of your support.

The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air was a popular show, and it still is. For six seasons, Will Smith, Alfonso Ribeiro, James Avery, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali, Joseph Marcell, and others entertained audiences with humor, family values, and a host of guest stars.

The NBC series explains its premise in the iconic intro music. However, the events were not all that different from Will Smith’s real-life trajectory in the late ’80s. In the latest edition of his “Storytime” video series, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native explains how his Rap career was not keeping up with his spending.

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Will points out that 1989’s In This Corner… by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince was a commercial and critical flop. The Grammy Award-winners had been riding high just a year prior with He’s The DJ, I’m The Rapper, but did not bode nearly as well for the pair’s third LP.

In his look-back, Will says that he had not prepared for the big tax bill that was coming up in 1990. Despite owning cars, motorcycles, and a closet full of Gucci, the Fresh Prince says he was broke. In the animated segments of the video, Smith recalls riding the bus and looking bummy.

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He says that a girlfriend at the time refused to watch him settle or sit idly. Smith attended The Arsenio Hall Show, to network backstage. There, the MC met Warner Bros. executive Benny Medina—who Smith calls “the real-life Prince of Bel-Air,” given Medina’s move from Watts to the stately L.A. suburb. “I meet Benny, and he pitches me the idea for this show. I’m like, ‘Alright…I’m not an actor…cool…” Medina then introduced Will to Quincy Jones, who was producing the concept.

In December 1989, Smith visited Q at his crowded mansion. “Everybody was at Quincy’s house. It was like The Wiz, without the costumes,” he remembers. Quick into their introduction, Smith says a wine-lubricated Q handed him a script to “a failed Morris Day pilot.”

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Smith says he was less than enthused. Meanwhile, Quincy wanted an on-the-spot audition in the midst of his crowded mansion. “I want you to take 10 minutes, study the script, and I’m gonna clear all the stuff out of the living-room. We gon’ have everybody sit down in the living-room; we gonna do an audition!” The Dude said. Uneasy, Will suggested they punt a week on the audition.

Quincy, politely said that NBC head Brandon Tartikoff happened to be there that evening. His schedule may turn a one-week punt into weeks and months. Quincy said, “Three weeks from now will be good. Or, you could take 10 minutes, right now, and you can change your life forever.”

Smith said, internally, “I was like, ‘F*ck it, man.'” He told Q, “Alright, give me 10 minutes.” He tells cameras now, “I said yes, and I let it rip.” After the audition, Jones put the pressure on Tartikoff, in front of everybody. “Did you like it?” chided the famed producer, Jazz musician, and VIBE magazine founder. Upon the late NBC exec’s approval, Q badgered the lawyers in the room to set the show in motion. Smith, who says he was without a lawyer and “broke” in late ’89, was afforded counsel by Quincy Jones. “If I had a lawyer taking 5% [of what I had], he’d owe me money,” jokes Will today. In a limousine outside, the lawyers involved drafted the contracts to make The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air a thing. “Three months later, we were shooting the pilot. And that’s the story on how I became the Prince of Bel-Air,” the media mogul closes.

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Notably, Will Smith’s account differs greatly from reports that the part was originally written for Cold Chillin’/Warner Bros. artist MC Shan. Instead, the derailed script was about the front-man for The Time.