Born Willard Christopher Smith Jr on October 25th, 1968, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Smith grew up amidst the middle-classes, his mother serving on the school board and his father owning a refrigeration company, installing and maintaining freezer cabinets in supermarkets. The second of four children (the younger Harry and Ellen are twins), Will was a bright child, constantly playing upon his natural charm, a habit which, at Philly's legendary Overbrook High School, earned him the nickname Prince (he'd also star at the city's Julia Reynolds Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School). His upbringing would see him experience many different social circles. The Smiths were a Baptist family, yet Will would attend a Catholic school. His neighbourhood was half populated by Orthodox Jews, and close by was a strongly Muslim area. School was 90% white, but 90% of Smith's playmates were black. He learned how to be liked by everyone.
Influenced both by Eddie Murphy and new hip-hop heroes like Grandmaster Flash, Will began rapping at the age of 12, quickly developing his own slick, semi-comic style. Then, at age 16, he met the man with whom he would score his first worldwide success. At a party in Philadelphia, he fired a fart spray into a fan (a mechanical fan, that is, not a fan of his music), impressing no one. No one except DJ Jazzy Jeff - real name Jeff Townes - who had himself been working at music since the age of 10. The pair became firm friends and began to collaborate, Jeff as DJ, Will as rapper (having expanded his nickname to Fresh Prince). So vigorous was their pursuit of musical excellence that Will even turned down a scholarship to Boston's super-prestigious MIT in order to follow his dream. At least, that's the legend built up around this sophisticated performer. Smith himself later claimed that MIT was mentioned because he had very high SAT scores and his mother knew the admissions officer there. But there was little real chance of his being accepted, he'd say, as "I was a B-student that did C-level work. Occasionally I'd pull it out the bag and get an A".