Eminem's Feud With Will Smith Explained

After the "Independence Day" star apologized for the 2022 Oscar ceremony slap heard 'round the world, here's hoping the air is finally clear between actor and musician Will Smith and comedian and Oscars presenter, Chris Rock (via CNN). If that's not the case, though, it certainly won't be the only celebrity beef Will Smith has had in his career, as the Daily Record explains. 

In the late '90s, in fact, another feud erupted between Smith and the rapper Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem. In his own time, Em's been known to start stuff with other celebrities such as Mariah Carey, electronic musician Moby, and even the rock band Limp Bizkit, based on reporting from Billboard.

Both Eminem and Smith, who began his career rapping as the Fresh Prince, make music in the hip-hop genre. In most other ways, though, the two stars are far apart both in style and temperament. Up until 2022, Smith's image was for the most part squeaky-clean, as MTV noted in 1999. Meanwhile, Eminem, who as a musician is equally if not more successful as Smith, is far more controversial, as E! News explains. Nonetheless, both musicians who enjoyed the pinnacles of their success in the late 1990s were up for the best male video award at the MTV VMAs. It was at that awards ceremony that year when the Eminem-Smith feud got started.

Will Smith won the VMA for best male video that year

The video that Will Smith was nominated for in the best male video category that year was for the song "Miami," off Smith's release "Big Willie Style" from 1997, as the Daily Record goes on to note. Both the lyrics and video for the song are a fun-loving ode to having a good time in the Sunshine State (via IMDb). The video that Eminem was nominated in the same category for that year was "My Name Is" from the Detroit rapper's breakthrough album "The Slim Shady LP" released in 1999 (per IMDb). In the video, Eminem is seen impersonating then-President Bill Clinton as well as an adult film actor. 

This, combined with a number of Eminem's public persona, made the rap star a much more contentious figure, and Eminem was often criticized in the media for foul language, as well as violent and sometimes misogynistic content in his music. When pressed on the explicit nature of his material, in 1999 Eminem told Rolling Stone that his songs are not for young children and that his CDs all have parental advisory stickers on them. At that time, Eminem also added, "That doesn't mean younger kids won't get it, but I'm not responsible for every kid out there. I'm not a role model, and I don't claim to be." 

According to Eminem, Will Smith dissed him on stage

Eminem controversy aside, Smith was also an actor known for starring in such family-friendly fare as 1997's "Men in Black" and "Wild Wild West” (via IMDb). Still, both Smith and Eminem were up in the same category at the VMAs that year. And when it came to announce the winner, Smith's name was called. While receiving the award for Best Male Video at the  MTV VMAs ceremony, Smith made a comment that Eminem perceived as a slight toward his music. Smith mentioned from the stage at the VMAs that, as a rapper, the award that he just won proved that he didn't have to curse in his music in order to get attention, according to the Daily Record

No other artists in the same category that year were known to cuss or engage in controversial topics or imagery in their music, so Eminem thought that what Smith said was directed toward him. What Smith truly meant, though, is unclear. A well-known battle rapper, Eminem is not one to let things go easily (per Billboard). Em clapped back at Smith when, the very next year, he picked up the Best Male Video at the VMAs for his song "The Real Slim Shady."  In the song, Eminem spits 'Will Smith doesn't have to cuss to sell records," after which point he proceeds to drop a string of expletives in the lyrics.

It reportedly ain't no thang for Smith, according to DJ Jazzy Jeff

Soon enough, the beef between Smith and Eminem spilled over from the VMA stage and into Smith's music as well. In the year 2000, in fact, the "King Richard" actor shot back at Eminem in his own song called — appropriately enough — "Mr. Niceguy" from the album "Lost and Found" (via AllMusic). With a video available to watch now on Youtube, Smith claims he's innocent and that he didn't mean to start anything with the "Eight Mile" star. In the song, Smith raps, "Dissed by Eminem, but didn't bother him ... I'm a nice guy why y'all harassing me, huh." 

Before that, the Smith-Eminem feud also showed up in Dr. Dre and Eminem's cut "Forgot About Dre," in which Em is heard sarcastically dropping Smith's name (via IMDb). So how seriously was the Eminem-Will Smith feud, really? Not very, according to Smith's long-time music collaborator DJ Jazzy Jeff, who worked with Smith when he performed as the Fresh Prince. At one point, according to Hip Hop 24X7, Em even asked DJ Jazzy Jeff if Smith was really mad about what had happened, to which Jeff responded, "Nah, [Smith] doesn't care about that stuff."