Why Will Smith's Rap Songs Almost Never Contain Swear Words

Will Smith's decades-long acting career has positioned him as a blockbuster king and mainstay of the public's collective memory. However, music is definitely his first love. Long before Smith graced the big (and small) screen, he was a rapper from Philly making hits with DJ Jazzy Jeff. The duo's 1988 hit, "Parents Just Don't Understand," landed Smith his first of four Grammy wins, cementing him in history as the first rap artist to ever win a Grammy. Over the next couple of decades, Smith continued to rack up radio hits, including "Summertime," "Miami," and "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It." As Smith's film career grew, he eventually branched off from his efforts with Jeff to pursue solo music, starting with 1997's "Men In Black" (via Song Facts). 

Even as Smith evolved musically, one aspect of his music remained consistent: unlike many mainstream rappers who've achieved similar success, Smith's music was largely devoid of curse words and often involved family-friendly themes. Given that Smith's never shown any aversion to using coarse language while in character for his films (or stirring up controversy at the Oscars), it's hard not to notice the distinction in this music. However, the reason why Smith chooses not to curse is super relatable (if not kind of sweet).

Will Smith doesn't curse because of his grandma

Will Smith revealed the reason why he doesn't curse in his music in 2020. While appearing on "Late Night With Seth Meyers," Smith addressed Meyers' inquiry into his unusually clean lyrics. "I was 12 years old and I started rapping," explained Smith. "So, I had my rap book, and I was writing my stuff and I had all my little curse words in my rap book. And my grandmother found my rap book." He continued, sharing that his grandmother flipped to the last page of his notebook and wrote: "Dear Willard, truly intelligent people do not have to use words like this to express themselves. Please show the world that you're as smart as we think you are. Love, Gigi." Ironically, his reaction prompted Smith to reply, "F***" (via E! Online).

Smith told a similar tale during an appearance on "The Graham Norton Show." "Is it true that you shocked your granny when you were starting out with your music?" asked Norton. Smith, who thought Norton has said "shot" instead of "shocked," dove into a string of jokes about being a "hardcore rapper," then recounted the actual story. "I wanted to be a rapper, so I had all of my curse words and my four letter words and everything in there," said Smith. After Smith's grandmother chastised him, "From that point, I never put profanity in my rap music."

Will Smith's clean lyrics led to a feud with Eminem

Prior to Will Smith's 2022 Oscar debacle, it was hard to find any negative press about him. However, Smith was once embroiled in a feud with Eminem, which stemmed from Smith's decision to abstain from cursing in his music. Or, rather, it stemmed from Smith's 1999 VMA acceptance speech, where he separated himself from artists who do curse. "I want to say to all my fans out there, I never killed nobody in none of my records," said Smith during the speech. "I don't use no profanity in none of my records, and still I managed to get up here. Peace."

Eminem's response to Smith's slight was to jab him in his 2000 hit "The Real Slim Shady," in which he had a line that says, "Will Smith don't gotta cuss in his songs to sell records / well I do, so f*** him and f*** you too" (via Genius). Given Eminem's history, that line was actually pretty tame (especially compared to how he addressed other artists during the same verse). However, the "Lose Yourself" rapper explained his reasoning for his stance on Smith. "First of all, I used to respect Will Smith, [but] he's dissed the whole genre of rap. He dissed gangsta rap music," Eminem shared during an interview (via LAD Bible). "I respect him for saying his opinion, but not everybody is as happy as Will Smith," he added.