Wicked Wisdom This Way Comes

Jada Pinkett Smith is quite the hyphenate.

In addition to being the wife of rapper/movie star extraordinaire Will Smith, the mother of their three children, an investor in a cosmetics company (Carol's Daughter), and a talented film actress in her own right (Collateral, The Matrix Reloaded), the 34-year-old superstar is adding a different kind of role to her résumé: hardcore metalhead.

That's right, the Fresh Princess serves as the front woman for Wicked Wisdom, a progressive rock/metal fivesome that's embarking on its first nationwide tour, visiting Scottsdale's Martini Ranch on Tuesday, December 13. So far, Smith has dealt with plenty of surprises from her fan base, but she says she comes from "an eclectic musical background," which provided the influence for her current gig.

"Growing up, I raided my uncle's record collection, which included stuff like Queen, The Who, and Led Zeppelin," Smith tells New Times. "At the same time, this has really thrown a lot of people off guard, which is really understandable. I think a lot of people are starting to realize that I have a band, but nobody really knew. It's just something that we've kinda been doing on the DL."

Smith joined forces with renowned guitarist Pocket Honore (Shai, Ice Cube) to form the band in 2002, and Wicked Wisdom kicked around the L.A. scene for a few years, enduring numerous lineup changes until settling on its current membership, which also includes bassist Rio Lawrence, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Korel Tunador, and drummer (and Fishbone co-founder) Phillip Fisher.

Wicked Wisdom has faced an uphill battle for credibility among metal fans, who've derided the singer's celebrity status and the fact that a majority of the band is African-American. The band was booked on the most recent Ozzfest (albeit on the second stage) after Sharon Osbourne witnessed a gig at L.A.'s Viper Room. Shortly thereafter, metalheads began dissing the move, filling the Internet with racist vitriol and even starting an online petition to have Wicked Wisdom removed from the mega-tour.

While Smith admits that "the first few shows were really rough-sounding," she says that by the end of the tour, the crowds "started to come around and [were] truly with us." They began digging the band's roaring combination of hardcore guitar riffs, soulful funk stylings, and nü-metal aesthetic, she says.

Such blendings are nothing new to the world of nü-metal, says Smith, citing such genre-mixing acts as Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock.

"Bands like Slipknot have a lot of hip-hop influences. Their lead singer [Corey Taylor], his get-down is very much like Chuck D," says Smith. "When you listen to Pantera, you hear influences of funk, jazz and country. All music is a compilation of many different influences."

Wicked Wisdom bassist Lawrence dismisses the haters by saying people often fear anything strange or unusual.

"Even in the metal world, which is supposed to be more open, there [are] people who think we don't look like the average metal band, and it becomes a problem for them," says Lawrence. "People like to put things in an understandable, organizable box in their mind, and when something doesn't fit that, it takes them a while to digest it."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.