Willow Smith is sick of music being linked to race.
Mainstream music has typically associated Black female vocalists with R&B, while rock has been dominated by white men. In a way, the very idea of a Black female rock star is so radical, it’s punk rock — and Smith would like to change that.
In a candid conversation published in V Magazine Monday, Smith discussed the racial complications that come into play when one is Black and just freakin’ loves rock with Alexis White of metal band Straight Line Stitch.
The “Whip My Hair” singer — who recently released the pop-rock single “Transparent Soul” featuring Blink-182’s Travis Barker in April — spoke openly with White about how she was hesitant to pursue the more gritty and aggressive music genre.
“I’ve always wanted to do this type of music and always been so afraid to do so,” Smith told White. “Because I saw the hate and verbal abuse that my mom had to go through, that stuck with me.”
Smith spent her formative years on tour with her mother Jada Pinkett Smith’s band, Wicked Wisdom.
Watching her mom front a metal band certainly had an impact on Smith — so much so that Smith recently surprised Pinkett Smith by reuniting her old band and performing their song “Bleed All Over Me” for her mom on Mother’s Day.
Smith also expressed how watching Pinkett Smith perform inspired her.
“My mother was Superwoman, she was a rockstar, she was a warrior and a nurturer all in one. So unapologetically badass,” Smith recalled during an episode of “Red Table Talk.”
But Smith noted in her V Magazine conversation with White (whose band Smith was introduced to through Pinkett Smith) that although the experience was empowering, it also had a dark side. Smith told White that her mother received a lot of harassment just for fronting a rock band.
“She actually got lots of death threats,” Smith said. “It would be mostly through letters, though. When she was on stage, people would say violent things and throw shit at her.”
Smith said that luckily she and her brother, Jaden Smith, “never got caught in any physical crossfire” while on tour with their mom. But the negativity was palpable.
“I never saw anything violent be done to her, it was a lot of verbal harassment,” Smith said.
Smith also admitted that when she was a kid she received harassment herself merely for liking emo.
“Being a Black woman in the metal crowd is very, very different on top of the pressures that the music industry puts on you,” Smith told White. “Now, it’s like an added pressure of the metal culture, the metal world, and just rock in general. I used to get bullied in school for listening to Paramore and My Chemical Romance.”
Smith also recalled a time where she posted a video of herself playing a guitar riff from one of her favorite bands, System Of A Down.
“One of the bassists reposted it on his Instagram, and I was so excited,” Smith explained. “Then I’m looking at the comments, and it’s just a lot of hate. It’s just a lot of white men, and I’m not going to throw shade because it is what it is.”
But ultimately Smith doesn’t want these barriers to hold back other Black girls who enjoy her music.
“You’re not alone,” Smith said. “You’re not the only Black girl who wishes she could flip her hair to the side and wear black eyeliner, you know what I mean?”
Head over to V Magazine to read Willow Smith and Alexis White’s conversation in full.