Will Smith is, objectively speaking, one of the biggest movie stars in the world; quite possibly one of the handful of true global stars of the modern era. While 1995's Bad Boys wasn't his first movie, that film definitely showcased just how much of an impact player he'd potentially be at the box office and in Hollywood in general. Most of that was due to the important choices he made as an actor during the early '90s, which include the decision to not star in 1990's House Party with his longtime music collaborator DJ Jazzy Jeff. That's right; there's an alternate universe where Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff were trying to get lit on a school night with their homies instead of Kid 'n Play.
The tale came from Christopher Reid, aka the Play of Kid 'n Play, who revealed during an episode of TVOne's Way Back When that there was an interesting series of events that led to the future castings of House Party and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which obviously launched Will career into the homes of millions. And it all started with "A Nightmare on My Street," the third single from DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince's triple-platinum sophomore album, He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper (which also birthed the undeniable classic "Brand New Funk").
As you can hear, this track heavily samples Charles Bernstein's Nightmare on Elm Street music, which eventually got to the New Line Cinema offices. The studio then sued Jeff and Will for copyright infringement, which is interesting considering Jeff and Will actually tried to talk to the studio about getting the real Freddy Kruger likeness in their clip (although they did link with The Fat Boys to let Freddy be in their "Are You Ready For Freddy?" music video). Jeff and Will's "A Nightmare on My Street" video did end up getting play on MTV in 1988, and in the subsequent lawsuit between New Line Cinema and Jeff and Will, the studio won, with one of the caveats being that all copies of the video had to be destroyed (one archivist's copy did emerge in 2018). The two parties settled out of court, with subsequent pressings of He's the Rapper, I'm the DJ having to include a sticker saying that "A Nightmare on My Street" was "not part of the soundtrack...and is not authorized, licensed, or affiliated with the Nightmare on Elm Street films." This is where it gets interesting, though.
One term of the settlement was that Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince were given the option for two films with the studio, and if they chose to sign on to a film, their salaries would be deducted from the settlement, which is pretty damn wise when you consider what the exposure from a feature film would've meant for their asking price from studios for future projects. Legend has it that the first film pitched to Jeff and Will was, in fact, Reginald Hudlin's House Party, a hip-hop-fueled tale about two high school friends centered around a party going down that night. Jazzy Jeff actually spoke on this to Radio Milwaukee years later (h/t CBR):
The first script was House Party because if you think about the premise of House Party -- one dude was a DJ and the other was a rapper. So House Party was set up for Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. We weren't thinking about doing movies back then. They were like, "What do you think about this?" and we were like, "Oh, we don’t like it." And "What about this?" "Oh, we don’t like it. Ha! We out!"
Saying that the film was "set up" for Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince isn't technically accurate, considering that Hudlin adapted it from the award-winning short film he did while attending Harvard. Plus, Hudlin has said in the past that he was initially discouraged from having Jeff and Will on the project because, if they did the film, it'd be because of their lawsuit, and not from them genuinely wanting to do it. As we know now, the roles eventually went to Kid 'n Play, and the rest is history.
In a surprising twist, Will Smith's film debut was in 1992's Where the Day Takes You, a film distributed by New Line Cinema (although it's currently not known if he took this as a part of the aforementioned settlement). That isn't even the most interesting part of this story, though!
While many of you may only know of Kid 'n Play from the House Party franchise, they were popping in their own right around the same time, with 1990 being a big year for them. Following House Party's March release, their short-lived NBC animated series Kid 'n Play ran from September-December 1990 before being canceled. Oddly enough, neither Kid or Play voiced their cartoon counterparts (only showing up for the live-action sequences), although Martin Lawrence did do some voice work for the series.
Reid revealed years later that NBC had actually pitched the series that became The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to them first, which makes sense considering they were already known to NBC at the time. Reid says that the canceling of their animated series led to them backing out before a pilot was produced.
Who's to say what could've happened if Kid 'n Play were the rappers on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. If it'd gone the same way of their animated series (no shade), the world at large might not have been introduced to the enigma that is Will Smith. On the flipside, there were some racy scenes and circumstances in House Party; Will's image was very clean back then, and this could have tanked the trajectory of what became his highly successful career. We're possibly better off for how it went down, but it would have been interesting to see Kid and Martin Lawrence blowing shit up during the first Bad Boys film, just saying.