Rappers, world is hearing you

U.S. black culture is huge, Will Smith says
He's promoting shift from gangsta themes

June 28, 2005
Toronto Star (AP)

LOS ANGELES—Will Smith has one big introduction to make at tonight's BET Awards: gangsta rappers, meet the rest of the world.

Smith said he hopes to sell to all the global significance of U.S. black culture.

"The kids that are making these trends, making these songs, don't understand the level of effect that black Americans have around the world," he said. "Black Americans are so elevated, it's almost worship.''

Smith, co-host of the show with wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, said he witnessed the phenomenon recently while in Mozambique, where he came across a shack on which someone had scrawled the name of slain rapper Tupac Shakur.

"I was asking the kids: What is it about Tupac? Why is that there? They were saying we want to dress like you dress, wear all the things you wear, talk how you talk.

"The impression is that black Americans are the dragon slayers. Here we are 13 per cent minority in a foreign land and yet, we can make laws, change laws. If Jesse Jackson shows up at Coca-Cola, something changes.''

Smith, who won the first rap Grammy in 1988 for his squeaky-clean "Parents Just Don't Understand," said he wants rappers to recognize their stature and shift away from thuggish themes.

"It's real important to have balance of the imagery. Yes, there are people who fire guns in the street, but there's also doctors who go to work in those areas to feed their children.''

The gangster lifestyle is celebrated in black communities for its strength, Smith said. "The dude that sells the drugs or has the guns or is most willing to kill somebody is the dude that has the greatest potential for survival, or at least that's the perception.

"What I'm trying to present ... is a more sound approach to survival, based on intellect and skills that can't be taken away from you: the smartest dude survives the best.''