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It’s been a while since Will’s Smith musical career was as hot as his acting gigs, so it would be easy to forget the man’s capable of bringing a lot to the table in the way of music. In the case of Disney’s live action Aladdin, Smith has revealed that it was through the movie’s musical components that he was able to channel and pay homage to late actor Robin Williams.
Previously, Will Smith has talked about how he was able to lend a hip-hop influence to songs like “Friend Like Me,” but in a recent interview he took this explanation further, explaining how playing with the BPM range allowed for both his vision and Robin Williams’ original to shine through. He said:
The music was really how I saw my way in to be able to play the Genie. That first day messing around with ‘Friend Like Me,’ I noticed that it was in the BPM range of old-school hip-hop. So when I started playing with it, it was like, ‘Oh man — this really lends itself to a tempo and a flavor that I really understand.’ And that showed me how I could pay homage to Robin and not change the songs so much, so people would have the nostalgic value, but then also be able to come with my own flavor.
Of course Robin Williams’ version has a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It’s a big number and it even won a nod for best song at the 65th Academy Awards, so it's no real surprise Will Smith would tell Variety that he looked at the iconic performance and what it did while he was crafting his own version. But first, here's the Williams version:
Along with the in-movie song, a separate rap version with DJ Khaled is incorporated into the end credits of Aladdin. Will Smith also brings his own energy to the performance, as he has shown to the press in the weeks leading into Aladdin.
The original animated Aladdin was one of Robin Williams’ most notable performances, winning awards and nods when it came out back in 1992. With Disney remaking a lot of its live action properties, it was only a matter of time before Aladdin got the call.
It would have taken a pretty special performer to even try to measure up to the voice work Robin Williams put in. Of the choices, Will Smith is a big, bold personality with his own ideas.
Will Smith has also mentioned that he almost said no to taking on the role, specifically because Robin Williams knocked it out of the park when he played the Genie nearly thirty years ago. Ultimately, the hip-hop narrative is what drove the actor to say “yes” and the rest is history.