Editor’s Note: Thanks to a long night with the lucha libre squad (the Maryland Marauder, the Michigan Madman, the Guinea Pig-Consuming Terror and the Man Who Would be Korean (+ Pooh and Laker Fan)), my weekend was less productive than I had hoped. Basically I flushed Saturday down the toilet as I spent entirely too much time trying to get home from some random bar at 3:00 AM. I was all fired up to write this incendiary post, and now it’s Tuesday and this shit still ain’t written. Brutal. Then I decided the best course of action for a Sunday 6:30 AM flight was to stay up all night – landed in LA and went pretty much straight to Dodger Stadium. Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium in the same week – I am a baseball fan! Too bad I root for the Braves. Anyway, California is awesome, I cannot recall why I don’t live here full time. I’m at the beach right now. So I’ve got that going for me – anyway, on to the previously scheduled inanities.)
It goes without saying that Will Smith is a certifiable movie star – he’s one of a handful of actors/tresses that can open a movie of any type (although that Seven Pounds went in the toilet pretty quickly). Most are pretty well aware of his remarkable ascent: family-friendly rapper to family-friendly sitcom star to family-friendly tentpole movie-starrer. And he’s managed to stay relevent for ten-plus years. That’s pretty fucking incredible, no doubt. But what of Jamie Foxx? He of the recent Oscar win, the hit songs and the indelible memory of his luminous portrayal of Bunz in the all-time classic, Booty Call? How does his career stack up to Will Smith’s?
These guys are both clearly multi-talented and have been found success across a number of genres and appeal to as many different demographics as Ferris Bueller during his heyday. I broke this career comparision down into four categories: music, television, movies and pop cultural appeal – looking at not only historical accomplishments but “momentum” in these areas. How do they stack up?
This seems like a category that Smith should dominate: he burst onto the scene in 1986 with partner Jeff Townes as D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (hopefully history will also reflect the contributions of Ready Rock C, their beat boxer). They achieved one of the earliest crossover successes with “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and won the first Rap Grammy. Later smash hits included “Summertime” and “Gettin Jiggy Wit It.”
Jamie Foxx’s musical career is less historically significant than Smith’s, but he has been musically inclined and focused since childhood. In Ray he received warm reviews for his Ray Charles’ covers, although he was mostly lip-synching in the film. He parlayed the Ray Charles’ sound into a coveted “featuring” role in Kanye West’s massive smash “Golddigger.” His recent song “Blame It” (“on the alc-calc-a-calc-a-alcohol”) inspired me to write this post because it’s been fucking running through my fucking head nonstop since I put it on my MP3 player and I’m trying fucking anything to fucking get it to fucking stop.
Historical Achievement: Smith in a walkover. BUT, as someone who was an early rap afficionado, I can honestly state that in the early days it was Jazzy Jeff who was the musical attraction, not Will Smith – his scratching was phenomenal back in the day. (Hip hop legend Nas bears this out in “Can’t Forget About You” – “the first rap Grammy went to Jazzy”). Smith didn’t have a lot to offer as an MC in the early going, and “Parents Just Don’t Understand” was horrible. “Summertime” was his strongest effort (he’d grown into his voice then) and it will likely go down as his greatest song. It’s an awesome song and there’s an 80% chance it’s going through your head right now.
Momentum: Jamie Foxx is more prominent on the music scene these days; maybe it’s the autotuner, or maybe it’s the alc-calc-a-calc-a-alcohol, but he’s been involved with more recent hits than W.S. and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. And it’s not just a hobby – he put out his first album in 1994 and has several Grammy nominations to his credit.
Winner: Will Smith, but it’s far closer than it should be. Foxx narrowed the gap faster than should’ve been possible – it’s like i wrote a book about David Blaine and then suddenly I was able to submerge myself in a tank of water for five days. Actually, I probably could do that. Whatever.
As WS should’ve justifiable crushed JF on the music front, Foxx does DESTROY Smith on the television front. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was lame, and arguably Carlton left a more indelibal cultural imprint than Will (indeed, the dorky “Carlton dance” is still in vogue today – ironic given Alfonso Ribeiro’s background. Also ironic – that I spelled his name correctly the first time). In Living Color, on the other hand, churned out more success stories during its limited run than Saturday Night Live has in thirty plus years. Even the fucking dancers on ILC have Oscar noms, for Christ’s sake (although you don’t hear much from Rosie Perez these days – a good thing given how horrific her voice sounds). Foxx came aboard during season three of ILC, so he doesn’t get plankowner cred.
Momentum: N/A. Neither of these guys (rightfully so) gives two shits about the small screen these days, unless it’s to shock the world by appearing in a scene in drag on SNL (the same week one of their movies premieres).
Winner: Foxx by a landslide; ILC will be remembered warmly for both its edgy content and its stellar, talented cast. Fresh Prince will be remembered for the fatass judge with the hot wife and annoying kids.
This is the real battlefield. And movies are definitely Big Willie terrain, with eight consecutive #1 openings and eight consecutive movies grossing over $100 million, Smith has taken over Tom Cruise’s mantle as the surest thing in Hollywood. He’s also got the chops, with two Oscar noms (Ali and the horrendously saccharin and preposterous The Pursuit of Happyness). Foxx, however, also has two nominations (for Ray, and a supporting nom for Collateral) – and he has a walkover win among them. While Smith generally prefers middle of the fairway stuff that will bring in the audiences (with the Bad Boys franchise being his nod to older audiences). Foxx, however, has taken on some riskier material and still garnered strong reviews (no The Kingdom pun intended) in Miami Vice, Jarhead, The Soloist and others. (He should’ve won some award just for enduring Collin Farrell’s stupid fucking haircut in Miami Vice.)
Momentum: I credit Foxx for taking on better roles less likely to be huge commerical successes. Smith will throw out some Oscar bait every couple of years, but it always seems to be part of a Grand Plan, premeditated to conquer the box office, the critics and mainstream America, offending no one in the process. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you can pull it off.)
Winner: Foxx. Have you seen Booty Call? The first 30 minutes or so are perhaps the funniest shit I’ve ever seen. It’s like The Maltese Falcon + The Summer Olympics + The Wire + Gone With The Wind. I cannot recommend this highly enough – it was just on HBO and I’m saving it on our DVR like it’s a June 2008 vintage Yellowtail Reserve.
Pop Cultural Appeal:
Everybody loves Will Smith – we all know that. He’s safe, attractive, appealing, even funny on the margins. Not dangerous. JF is a little more dangerous – there’s more of an edge, a sense that you don’t know exactly what’s coming next. Not a studio production. And, he’s also a stand up comedian. Holy fuck! That guy is talented – is he also a magician? That’s really the only frontier left, if you lump singing/dancing together. Jesus. I guess you could kind of throw Eddie Murphy into this category if you made a couple of huge compromises (ie that “Party All the Time” made for a legit singing career and that the Oscar nod for basically bringing his James Brown impersonation to the big screen was more than a career achievements award).
Overall Winner: Surprisingly, despite Will Smith’s position as the #1 box office draw of the moment (and of the last decade, really), I came to the conclusion that Jamie Foxx’s career has not only been more remarkable, but has a better trajectory at the moment. My SO just told me she likes Will Smith better, and that’s kind of my point, Smith is appealling to a broad spectrum of people. It’s like if there’s a catered group event, and you need one galvanizing, non-offensive food item, what do you get? A turkey sandwich. Will Smith is a turkey sandwich. A well-marketed, calculated turkey sandwich, but a turkey sandwich nonetheless.
Jamie Foxx is like a gyro – not everybody’s cup of tea, but frickin delicious for those that take the leap. (And that’s like a metaphor and shit, not some literal gheydom.) From an artistic perspective, I’ll take some Jamie Foxx – as long as there’s a Booty Call sequel on the horizon. (And given that Vivica Fox is hosting The Cougar instead of being The Cougar, I’m assuming she’s available for the sequel. Tommy Davidson is probably not busy either).
If you disagree, well, it’s probably not the only time you’ll be wrong today,