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Will Smith broke a lot of barriers in his career. He transitioned from music to acting with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He became the biggest box office star in the world with blockbusters like Independence Day and Men In Black. But first, his rap career with DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince was already monumental. The Grammys finally made a category for rap in 1989, and they were the first to win it, but they didn’t even attend the ceremony. 

Will Smith gestures towards camera while DJ Jazzy Jeff wears sunglasses
L-R: Will Smith and Jeff Townes | Al Pereira/Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives

Smith writes about his entire life and career in his autobiography, Will. When he describes the early success of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Smith explains why they boycotted the first ever Grammys to award rap artists, even though they won the Grammy. 

Will Smith was in good company at the first rap ‘Grammy’ Awards 

1989 was a big year for music. Smith writes that it was the year Bobby McFerrin won Record of the Year for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” George Michael won Grammys for Faith and Tracy Chapman won for her debut. The newly conceived rap category had some strong contenders, too.

“It was announced that the 31st annual Grammy Awards would be the first to include a rap category,” Smith wrote. “And ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand’ was nominated alongside Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It,’ ‘Going Back to Cali’ by LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee’s ‘Wild Wild West,’ and ‘Supersonic’ by J.H. Fad.”

“Parents Just Don’t Understand” came from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s second album, He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper. It humorously described Smith’s battle against his mother’s fashion sense, and getting into a traffic altercation with his parents’ car. 

“The winner for Best Rap Performance was DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince for ‘Parents Just Don’t Understand,’ making us the first rappers ever to receive a Grammy Award,” Smith wrote.

The reason DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince boycotted the Grammys

While 1989 was a pivotal year for the Grammys including rap, there were still barriers to break. The televised Grammy broadcast still relegated rap artists to off camera awards, so Smith joined his brethren taking a stand. 

“We ultimately ended up boycotting the actual ceremony because NARAS, the Grammy committee, refused to televise the presentation of the rap award,” Smith wrote. “We felt like that was a slap in the face. Rap music had outsold the industry that year. We deserved to be there.”

Will Smith was in good company in the Grammy boycott

As stacked as the Grammy nominees were in the rap category, even more joined the boycott.

“Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen organized the boycott for Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, along with Salt-N-Pepa, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, Stetsasonic, and many others,” Smith wrote. “And even though we weren’t at the Grammys, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were everywhere else.”


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DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince did attend the American Music Awards where they won two awards, for favorite rap/hip-hop artists and favorite rap/hip-hop album. Smith recalled that night. 

“Jeff’s mom planned a celebration dinner for Jeff and me after our first American Music Award,” Smith wrote. “We showed up on the block as returning hometown heroes — people were coming out of their houses to cheer and applaud and shake our hands. It took us twenty minutes to get into Jeff’s mom’s house. When we finally made it in she threw her arms around us, gushing pride and joy. Then she handed Jeff five dollars and a shopping list.”