Willow & Jaden Smith Talk Driving Lessons With Dad Will Smith and Saying No to Auto-Tune

Olivia Malone
Willow and Jaden Smith photographed in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2015.

When Will Smith was a teenager, he rapped about how parents just don't understand -- but his 14-year-old daughter Willow and 16-year-old son Jaden aren't singing the same tune. "My dad is awesome. I wouldn't be where I am right now if it wasn't for all of the things he's taught me," Jaden, who recently got his learner's permit, tells Billboard. "He's taught me a lot about driving and just about life. And I love his songs, I go back and re-listen to those songs and the newer songs he's made in the studio too." 

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Though the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air hasn't put out an album since 2005's Lost and Found, Willow and Jaden have been subtly releasing new music on their SoundCloud accounts. In late October Willow, who will tour later this year, released the EP 3 and Jaden dropped Cool Tape Vol. 2 before uploading Beast Mode at the end of February. "Everything that I talk about in my music is pretty much just trying to evolve consciousness in the world and help everything become better and brighter," Jaden says. "I've never written out my lyrics before, I just go in and freestyle and say what's on the top of my mind."

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Like her older brother, Willow takes a similar "natural" approach when she hits the small studio in their Hollywood home. "I don't like having any effects on my voice, I feel like putting a lot of Auto-Tune on it really covers up the essence of you and is like putting a cloud over real true emotion," she says. Her woozy R&B tracks with metaphysical references are at times reminiscent of SZA and Erykah Badu, and a stark contrast from "Whip My Hair," the single she released at age 10 that hit No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The songwriter has since cut her whippable braids but notes that it wasn't just some teenage act of defiance. "Shaving my hair made my inner light grow and shine even more," she says. "I really like who I'm evolving to be."

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The open-minded siblings and creative cohorts muse on some of their other inspirations to Billboard:

Mom (a.k.a. Jada Pinkett Smith):
"When I was younger, my brother and I toured with my mom's band, Wicked Wisdom, so heavy metal was one of the first types of music I heard a lot and I'm still really inspired by it," says Willow. "I'm into Lolawolf, Tune-Yards, the Runaways, Pink Floyd, and I freaking love Bikini Kill! My mom listens to my playlists on Hype Machine all the time and I listen to hers -- that's how I found out about Radiohead and Lamb of God."

Mountains:
"High-fashion nomad," Willow says of her style aesthetic. "I could literally climb a mountain and survive a couple nights in nature. That's a requirement for my clothes because one day I was on the freeway and I saw a mountain, so I literally just pulled over and climbed it. If you're an artist, the way you dress also gives people a vibe of how your music is and your personality."

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Einstein:
When asked if he ever felt fashion pressure, Jaden says he, "has an 'Einstein uniform.' Einstein didn't really like to change clothes because he had too much other stuff to worry about and I'm the same. All black is pretty much my go-to look. If somebody is just wearing something for the blogs, that's really sad because they're not living for themselves, versus someone wearing a kimono who's having an awesome time. I really look to see, do you care more about what other people think, or are you having fun?"

Batman and Robin:
"People have ideals and they have a certain thing that they expect because of growing up in a certain society and I'm just trying to break those ideals," says Jaden who recently designed unconventional looks for his men's MSfTS line. "Fabrics definitely inspire me and superhero comic book characters inspire my clothes. That's why I like to wear long drapey things because I want to look like Batman and Robin. I want to hit the polarities of life, show people that there's a duality; there's two sides to everything."

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'The Beauty Of Life':
"When the sun goes down, when the song comes up. When I'm in nature. When I'm just by myself and walking around and just looking at the world happening around me, those are the moments that really inspire me," says Willow. "Those moments where the mind is completely gone and you're just looking at the beauty of something. When I'm crying and I'm sad about something, I'll just sit there and be like; this is the beauty of life. When I'm happy and I'm joyful about something with my friends, I sit there and am like, this is the beauty of life. When I'm hurt and I'm crying I say yes, this is the beauty of life. Someone sent me down here to experience all of these things. So that's what really inspires me with my music."

Each Other:
"Kanye, Jay Z and Willow -- those are all people I watch out for," says Jaden. "The music Willow listens to is really really interesting. She's really amazing, probably my favorite artist and we collaborate any time that we can."

An edited version of this story originally appeared in the March 14 issue of Billboard.