As an auditorium full of students soaked in her every word, Smith used Beyoncé as an example of how to achieve success. “You all get to see the glamorous side of Beyoncé, but she is the hardest working woman in this industry!” she said, noting that “Bey is not sitting around on Instagram all day and not willing to work hard. You know what she’s doing? She’s looking at all the up-and-comers and going, 'I’m coming for all of you all.'"
Wale, who accompanied Smith on a panel discussion, backed her up. “A lot of people show you the money or the clothes," he said. "They don’t show you how they get there. They don’t show you the race. They just show you the finish line and the trophy. Always remember there is a race. Always.”
After the event, Billboard caught up with Smith about what she and Will have learned from watching their children navigate today’s music industry, and her new musical collaboration with her daughter, Willow.
How rewarding has it been for you to be able to take the Careers in Entertainment Tour to different cities?
It’s been awesome because we’ve been able to reach marginalized communities all over the country and educate them on aspects of the entertainment industry that a lot of these young people don’t even know about. Some of those youth don’t know about opportunities like the chance to be an art director or a graphic designer. So it’s been great to expose them to new ideas of career opportunities.
It’s such a different industry from when you were first starting out. What is your advice for people trying to break in today?
It’s still a grind. I watch my son and my daughter and their friends that are in this industry. It’s grinds of different kinds but in all honesty when I see successful people, it is no different than what my generation had to do. You have those few people who are lucky enough to get that instant fame of being viral or having that Instagram fame that the youth are really looking for. But there are only a few people who can actually make careers out of that. If you want to have a successful career in this business, you have to know how to work hard. Period. There is no way around it. You have to know how to be persistent and you have to work hard to get your skill set to a level that you can break through all the noise. Everybody has access to be seen now through Instagram and YouTube and all of that, so I feel like to actually stand out and create a solid career is even more difficult now than during my era.
The music industry in particular is so hard. It is one of the most difficult industries, I think. With what we have all gone through as a family and just watching Jayden right now -- who is really taking his music career very seriously, and seeing the amount of work that it takes to sustain a music career -- is crazy. At least in our era, you got a hit song and you are selling records. You’re out for a while. Sometimes you might have a record that can sustain you in a way where you can tour once and sit around for a little while. And now, you gotta stay on the road. It’s really rough -- and with all the record sales going to streaming. I also see a lot of artists now that use music as an entry to get into other careers. A lot of people feel as though they have to have other things going on as well.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve seen your kids have to navigate in today’s music industry?
It’s so loud and it’s so busy. There is so much traffic in regards to everybody [wanting] to make music and be musical stars of some kind. I think the thing that I figured out with my kids’ experiences is that you have a lot of people who can get in and they can start with a gimmick but that won’t last you. So I’ve always told my kids you have to have a movement, a belief of something that people can feel like they can devote themselves to. Just like when you think about the Grateful Dead or if you think about the Rolling Stones. Musicians or groups had movements of some kind. It wasn’t a gimmick. That might get you a couple of hits but it isn’t going to sustain you, even for those that are super talented. So for Will and I, that’s always been our advice to our kids: “What are you offering to the world through your music?” It can’t be a gimmick. It has to be a message of some kind that creates a movement.
Do you have any plans to release any new Wicked Wisdom music anytime soon?
I actually have a song with Willow that we did together. It’s called “Dear Father” and we are still working on it. But it’s pretty dope. Willow has always wanted to do some stuff with me. She grew up with Wicked Wisdom on tour so it’s always been her dream to play with the band and play with me on stage. It’s really fun. So we’re thinking about doing four songs or something.