Willow Smith stays woke. The young singer and actor—daughter of Will and Jada, sister of Jaden and Trey—is on a journey to open her mind’s eye, and yours. “The government, they’re trying to do all this stuff, and I’m speaking that out in my art a lot,” Willow says over Skype from her manager’s office, dressed in her summer uniform of a short blonde ‘fro and tie-dyed T-shirt. “I’m just trying to get everyone else to see it.” She speaks with earnest enthusiasm, her spindly arms waving to underscore important points. The rigid media training that often suffocates the speech and mannerisms of pop stars of her caliber is nowhere to be found.
Since 2010’s glossy, destined-to-go-viral “Whip My Hair,” a PG self-empowerment anthem that marked the beginning of Willow’s public emergence at age 10, she has confidently moved from novelty celebrity-offspring to a bonafide personality in her own right. Over the past few years, there have been precocious TV appearances, preternaturally cool red carpet looks and a slow drip of music. “I’m transitioning from being someone I thought I was to, like, ‘Wait, that’s not me,” Willow says. “I wanna transcend personality. I wanna transcend all of that and go into a higher state of being.” Recently, she bowed out of a major film adaptation of Annie to focus on being a kid and to attend school for the first time. Unfortunately, Willow says, seventh grade turned out to be one of the worst experiences of her life—“They teach you to just go to school, go to college, and then get a job,” and thereby “repress creativity”—but the decision to bail on Hollywood still speaks loudly about the person her father identifies as his family’s biggest star. “There’s something really incendiary about a 12-year-old girl who says and does what she wants,” he said in an interview with New York magazine last year.
Now 13, she’s most excited when talking about her so-called “journey of self.” In conversation, she casually references Drunvalo Melchizedek’s The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life, a New Age-y self-enlightenment guide based on a sacred geometry that’s said to hold a wellspring of ancient knowledge. On the one hand, her pursuit of enlightenment is somewhat stereotypical teenage fare, maybe a little pretentious and weird. On the other, it’s endearing for a 13-year-old with nearly four million Twitter followers and a Roc Nation record deal being so intent on sharing her curiosity about a better life. Willow’s newfound spirituality coincides with a healthy skepticism of authority and an admirable dedication to combat society’s “repression of creativity and repression of the naturalist.”
Unsurprisingly, Willow has outgrown the musical language of her early work. Inspired by current obsession Erykah Badu, she’s replacing the kid-friendly dancefloor bombast with a more organic sound she describes as “rule-breaking” and “pioneering.” Recent efforts, like last year’s piano-driven ballad “Drowning” and the drone-y R&B of “8” are reflective of the stripped-down direction Willow’s heading in. On the latter, she sings over steel drums in a sweet, fluttery falsetto: Take the money, take the fame/ All I want is truth.
A forthcoming EP, called 3, will feature her “big sister” SZA and be produced mostly by AzZi, a friend and frequent collaborator of Willow’s older brother, Jaden. Through the project, which she'll debut this month at The FADER FORT Presented by Converse, Willow intends to further spread her gospel of higher consciousness. “I don’t think it’s that different from what I was saying before, cause I was saying ‘Love yourself’ and ‘You have to live your life for yourself.’ Now I’m just coming to the spiritual and consciousness aspects of it,” she reflects. “My lyrics are probably what’s gonna be packing the most punch, and my tracks are in the background just coolin it, like, ‘Hear what she just said?’” A sample lyric from an unreleased song—Goodbye to our third eyes when the authorities keep coming down on us—confirms she’ll hit hard. For Willow, the point is for each one to teach one.