Will Smith Says Grandmaster Caz Was The 'Prototype of the Fresh Prince'

By Kiani Belgrave

Will Smith and Spike Lee took over Brookyn’s Kings Theater on Tuesday (November 9) as part of the “Will Smith: An Evening of Stories with Friends” book tour as he promotes his new memoir, Will. The book was written over three years with Mark Manson after Smith reached a pinnacle of success and was ready to “give back” to his fans. The book follows Smith’s road to success and all of the speed bumps on the way as he navigates from a kid from West Philadelphia to the world-renowned household name we know and love today.

Smith read through the opening chapter, called Fear, telling the story of his tumultuous relationship with his now-deceased father, who he reconciled with before his death in 2016. 

At another one point, the Smith was joined by his longtime friend, collaborator, and  Fresh Prince of Bel-Air castmate DJ Jazzy Jeff. The two were the first hip-hop artists to win a Grammy for Best Rap Performance for their single “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in 1989. 

The Philly emcee gave a heartwarming shoutout to hip-hop pioneer and Rock The Bells icon, Grandmaster Caz. Smith expressed his appreciation for Caz's contributions to hip-hop, crediting him as the sole influence of the Fresh Prince.

"Grandmaster Caz was singlehandedly, undeniably the greatest influence of my hip-hop life. He was the prototype of the Fresh Prince," Smith explained. "He was one of hip-hop's first storytellers. Caz was witty, he was clever. His verses took you on a journey. You'd be on the edge of your seat listening to him rap, always wondering what was gonna happen next. Most of all, my dude knew how to land a punchline. I wanted to be just like Caz."

Smith went on to explain that his first hit single, "Girls Ain’t Nothin' But Trouble," was inspired by the Cold Crush Brothers emcee. "I studied every single line of Grandmaster Caz's mixtape freestyle called, 'Yvette,' and then I wrote my own version of his story," he read from his memoir.

Smith explained that Quincy Jones urged him to audition for Fresh Prince at a birthday bash at the Thriller producer’s mansion. NBC executives Warren Littlefield and Brandon Tartikoff, who were both guests that night, got Will to sign the contract by the end of the party, changing Smith’s life forever. 

Smith and Lee spoke about their love for each of their grandmothers. He called her Gigi. “She taught me about faith about god about love, what it looks like, what it feels like,” Smith said. He recalled what happened after she found a book of his early teenage rap lyrics and wrote a note inside. It said, “Dear Willard, truly intelligent people do not have to use words like this to express themselves. Please show the world that you are as smart as we think you are.”

“That’s why in my early rap career, I didn’t curse in any of my records, and I got bashed for that. Soft and corny and not black enough and all of that. But the thing is there was no peer pressure that was more powerful than Gigi pressure. She missionized me in the world in a way I knew I wasn’t going into the world just for me.”