‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’: Will Smith Said DJ Jazzy Jeff Turned Down His Role ‘Literally 10 Times’

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air remains one of the most beloved TV shows of the ’90s thanks to its iconic characters and relatable stories. The Fresh Prince put Will Smith on the map and changed the landscape of TV forever, and often approached serious topics that other sitcoms never dared to touch.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith
Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (Will Smith) | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

DJ Jazzy Jeff has been with Will Smith since the beginning

Before he became Will Smith the actor, Smith was a young rapper from West Philadelphia named The Fresh Prince. He performed and worked with DJ Jazzy Jeff, and together they formed the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.

In 1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance for their song “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” Their most successful single, “Summertime,” won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group two years later, and the song peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith
DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith | GAB Archive/Redferns

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‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ is back

DJ Jazzy Jeff joined The Fresh Prince on his journey to Bel-Air. Jazz became a recurring character on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, often accompanying Will on his hijinks and getting thrown out of the Banks’ house.

The cast of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air got back together for a special reunion event on HBO Max, and it was as if no time had passed. In addition to Smith and Jeff, beloved cast members including Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons, Tatyana Ali, and both Aunt Vivians, Daphne Maxwell Reid and Janet Hubert.

For fans, the HBO Max reunion is just a taste of what’s to come. In September 2020, Smith inked a deal with NBC’s Peacock streaming service for two full seasons of a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reboot series. Unlike the beloved sitcom, it’s going to be a more serious dive into Will’s journey from West Philadelphia to Bel-Air.

DJ Jazzy Jeff | Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
DJ Jazzy Jeff | Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

DJ Jazzy Jeff really didn’t want to be on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’

In the HBO Max reunion, the cast talked about everything from what it was like being on set to their memories of the late James Avery, who played the iconic character Uncle Phil. At one point, Jazzy Jeff spoke about how he got involved with the show. It turns out it was all Smith’s doing, and he dragged him into it.

“I had no aspirations to act,” Jeff told the group honestly. “Will is very good at talking me into things.”

Smith confirmed Jeff’s comments with evidence from that time. “Jeff turned down the show literally 10 times,” he added.

Jeff spoke more about the experience of getting roped into The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in an interview on The Tamron Hall Show. “I was actually terrified,” he recalled. “I had no desire to do television.”

He recounted the way Smith convinced him to hop on board. “He basically said, ‘They want you to do three episodes. If you do one and you like it, you got two to look forward to. And if you do one and you don’t like it, you only have two more to do,'” Jeff remembered Smith saying. “And six years later [here we are].”