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Will Smith’s book tour kicks off with Queen Latifah and DJ Jazzy Jeff in Philadelphia

Here are five great moments from the Fresh Prince’s book tour premiere in Philly.

Will Smith smiles after performing for fans at The Met on North Broad Street before a conversation about his memoir "Will" on Monday.
Will Smith smiles after performing for fans at The Met on North Broad Street before a conversation about his memoir "Will" on Monday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Will Smith ended the first stop of his book tour at the Met in North Philly on Monday night the same way he began his career in Philadelphia — by rapping with DJ Jazzy Jeff at the turntables.

Except this time, he did it in a turtleneck.

The hometown crowd erupted in screams when Smith brought Jeff on stage for a surprise half-hour set following an honest and emotional discussion about his new memoir Will with his special guest, Queen Latifah. The Fresh Prince and the Queen, who’ve been friends for more than 30 years, spent 90 minutes discussing topics in Smith’s book from his beginnings in Philly to fame and family.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Will,” Latifah said. “You got a foot in the door and helped so many other people.”

Fans at the show, some of whom came in neon-green Fresh Prince sweatshirts and matching Bel-Air track suits, were treated to stories about how Smith was a “weird kid” who used to wear cowboy boots with shorts (“as you can imagine ... in West Philly, it’s not going to go well”) and how he landed the lead role on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (by auditioning on the fly at Quincy Jones’ birthday party one year).

Smith, 53, gave shout-outs to his mother and sister in the audience, as well as to his longtime Philly friend and former bodyguard, Charlie Mack Alston. At one time, Smith said “I’m still from Philly!” and dropped a casual “jawn” shortly thereafter, as if to prove his point.

For one day, Smith was Philly’s again, and Philly was his. Here are five Philly highlights of the first stop in Smith’s five-city book tour.

1. Patty and Harriett’s

Prior to his show at the Met, Smith called into local R&B radio station WDAS-FM to speak with on-air host Patty Jackson, a staple on Philly’s airwaves for more than 30 years.

Later, he dropped by Harriett’s Bookshop in Fishtown for an Instagram Live session with owner Jeannine A. Cook and her sister. It was the first time, Smith said, that he saw multiple copies of his book on shelves.

“It’s a really liberating process to just tell your truth and let it live,” Smith said of penning his memoir, which he cowrote with author Mark Manson.

Fans who gathered outside Harriett’s asked Smith to sign everything from their old records to their new shirts. Meanwhile, fans on the Instagram Live chat asked whether the goateed Smith was sporting was “a Philly beard.”

“It’s definitely not a Philly beard,” he said. “It is a New Orleans 1863 beard.”

The facial hair, he revealed, is “a character beard” for his part in the upcoming film Emancipation.

2. One brick and the wall

Among the first stories Smith shared at the Met, and the story that opens his book, is one of how his father made him and his brother build a brick wall at his refrigerator repair and ice shop at 56th and Arlington in Overbrook when Smith was 11.

“I remember one day me and my brother complaining about it, and he comes out and he’s like, ‘Stop worrying about the damn wall! There is no wall. You concentrate on this one brick. You work on this one brick. You lay this one brick perfectly and then you move to the next brick and you lay that brick perfectly. Forget the damn wall! Lay one brick,’ ” Smith recalled.

It took them almost a year, but Smith and his brother finished that damn wall.

“When things get hard for me, when things get too big for me… It’s like, ‘Will, relax. I know it looks big, I know it looks impossible — one brick, just lay one brick,’ ” he said. “And the basis of my discipline in my life has been that brick story.”

3. ‘Gigi pressure’

Smith’s grandmother, whom he called “Gigi,” lived on North 54th Street and was such a faithful member of Resurrection Baptist Church that she was pretty much “Jesus’ homegirl,” Smith said.

When he was 12, Smith’s Gigi found his composition book of his raps, which were filled with swear words.

“I was letting it rip in there,” he said. “I was making up my own curse words.”

Gigi never said anything to him about finding his notebook, but on the inside she wrote a note to her grandson, which said, in part, “God has blessed you with the gift of words, please be sure that you are using your words to uplift others.” and “Please show the world that you are as intelligent as we think you are.”

“So if you all wonder why I wasn’t cursin’ in none of my raps and stuff, it’s cause there was no peer pressure that was as strong as Gigi pressure,” Smith said.

4. ‘Jeff’s Flavor Flav’

The duo who would one day go on to win the first Grammy for best rap performance met in Philly when DJ Jazzy Jeff “stole a party from me on my block,” Smith said.

For two years, Smith had deejayed Judy Stewart’s birthday party, but the third year, when he didn’t get the call, he learned that “some dude” named DJ Jazzy Jeff had gotten the job instead. Smith showed up to the party, intent on battling Jeff, but when he realized Jeff didn’t rap (”You can’t battle a DJ”) they decided to perform together that night.

“It’s just one of those rare things,” Smith said, of the inexplicable vibe they shared.

Jeff was one of the most-disciplined people Smith knew when it came to his craft, but he was also really shy, so Smith said he took it upon himself to get crowds hyped up and help them understand the “depth and creativity” of what Jeff was doing.

“I was the hype man,” Smith said. “I was Jeff’s Flavor Flav.”

5. Group participation

At no point in the show was the mutual Philly love on greater display than when Smith performed some of his biggest hits — and the audience proved they still knew every word.

From a solo middle-of-the show performance of “Just the Two of Us,” where Smith asked fans to join him in the chorus, to his closing set with Jeff, where they performed “Brand New Funk,” “Switch,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and Philly crowd favorite “Summertime,” Smith illustrated that he’s still got it, and the Philly audience showed they still have him.

Whether as a rapper or actor or author, Smith’s groove has slightly transformed, but here in Philly, he’s always a bit of a break from the norm.