Just two days after Willow Smith’s kid-friendly club banger “Whip My Hair” leaked online, Jay-Z and his petite protégé called in to “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest” to confirm that he had signed her to his Roc Nation label.
Describing Willow’s debut as “a hit,” Jay-Z said on Thursday morning (September 9) that he first heard the track before he knew it had been recorded by a 9-year-old. “I was like, ’Man, that record’s a smash.’ And then [Roc Nation partner] Jay Brown said, ’She’s 9,’ and I was like, ’Whoa!’ And [then] he was like, ’She’s Will and Jada’s daughter,’ and I was like, ’Whoa!’ and it just went from there.”
Hov first met with Willow in Japan, where she was traveling with her family for big brother Jaden’s film “The Karate Kid.” Jay-Z was impressed with the youngster’s natural confidence.
“She walked in and the first thing she said was, ’I’m really nervous,’ and I thought, ’That’s maturity to explain exactly how she was feeling when she walked right into the room.’ I knew right then she was a star,” Jay said. “I believe in superstars. I believe in big records and superstars, and I think she has both.”
Despite admitting that media attention is often “very overwhelming,” Willow credited her mother for her being able to feel confident with paparazzi.
“My mom teaches me to say how I feel all the time,” Willow explained. “My mom and me are very strong individuals and I just know that, because lots of people, they don’t act like themselves, so they’re not happy.”
Responding to Seacrest’s question about the meaning of “Whip My Hair,” Willow said that “it means just be an individual. Like, you can’t be afraid to be yourself, you have to be yourself, and you can’t let anyone tell you that that’s wrong.”
Jay-Z agreed. “If you sat with [Willow] for half an hour, she’s just a wealth of information and ideas. She has child innocence but she has a clear vision of what she wants and who she wants to be.”
Although Willow only started working on her music this year, Jay-Z — who drew comparisons to another young pop star he discovered, Rihanna — said he sees great things in the young artist’s future.
“I don’t want to go so far, but I can imagine that’s how Mike [Jackson] was as a young kid — he knew exactly what he wanted,” Jay said, comparing Smith to the late King of Pop. To critics who question Willow’s early start, Jay-Z pointed out that music stars often have early beginnings.
“I believe that you have to start somewhere, and when you have that sort of talent and vision, there’s no such thing as too young. Again, I heard the record without knowing who it was. … We all danced to Michael Jackson records when he was 8. Stevie Wonder started at 8, it’s just what it is, who she is.”
Willow’s debut video will be shot in Los Angeles at the end of September.
Do you agree with Jay-Z comparing Willow to a young Michael Jackson? Sound off in the comments!