Review Summary: Big Willie is still getting jiggy.
Will Smith is an icon. In fact he’s a darn site more than this. His last two blockbusters (Hancock and Seven Pounds) took a massive $800m at the box office alone and he is the only actor in history to have eight consecutive films make a gross profit of over $100 million in the American box office. However before becoming a world famous actor Willard Christopher Smith Jr started out as MC in a successful partnership with friend Jeff Townes. From this musical background Smith started a solo career off of the springboard success of The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. His first solo output, 1997’s Big Willie Style
showed that Smith hadn’t lost his talent in the rhyme department. However despite the obvious ability shown in lead singles Miami
and Gettin’ Jiggy
the quality throughout the rest of Big Willie Style
was inconsistent at best. Although some of his best material came in single form, the rest of the album was filled with large amounts of filler and for every Just The Two Of Us
there were two duds leading to a lack of continuity throughout. While these inconsistencies remain, his second album Willenium
shows an improvement in almost every facet of Big Willie Style
generating a record worthy of his talents.
Until this point Smith’s professional career had been turbulent at best. The success of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince was soon shattered through overspending and youthful exuberance. The eventual bankruptcy caused by this looked to be the end of any lingering hopes that Smith had of becoming the biggest movie star in the world. It wasn’t until the NBC television network stepped in, offering him his own sit-com, that Smith got back on his feet. This turned out to be the catalyst to success for the young Smith, and from here he went on to star alongside Martin Lawrence in Bad Boy’s and take the lead role in the genre defining Independence Day. He released Big Willie Style
on the back on this newly established popularity and the rest is history. The multi-platinum sales of Big Willie Style
gave Smith a new found freedom in his career and whereas beforehand he was simply a promising actor/artist, afterwards he was perceived almost unanimously to have made it. It is this achievement that Smith so noticeably celebrates throughout Willenium
and the fun factor this brings to the album is a major factor in the quality of the record.
Of course Smith shows this characteristic off almost ubiquitously throughout starting with the contagiously catchy opener I’m Comin’
. After a brief build-up the bassy beats soon commence and before long Smith’s fluid rapping joins to the mixture. The lyrics here are as good as they get, with Smith proclaiming that the event “Ain’t the second coming of Christ/It’s the first coming of me”
. Such self-promotion is part of the cut and thrust of the rap game, but such statements coming from Smith are as entertaining as they are hyperbolic. Entertainment is a key part of Willenium’s
charm and no track epitomises this as well as the title track Will 2K
. Completely over the top with its ostentatious party atmosphere, the track is as enjoyable as it is fit for purpose. Acting predominantly as a new years eve party song, it samples The Clash’s Rock The Casbah
to great effect; rap and punk have never combined so well.
Speaking of sampling, Smith showed his inclination toward adding his own contribution to other’s hooks in Big Willie Style
and once again he opts to take this route. As well as Rock The Casbah
both Diana Ross’ Love Hangover
and the late Michael Jackson’s Working Day And Night
get a Big Will makeover. The former provides us with the exceptionally cheerful and up-tempo Freakin’ It
while the latter transforms into the slower Can You Feel Me
. While the former works considerably better than the latter, the combinations are both surprising and endearing. Samples aren’t the only thing used well though as Smith’s rapping has increased in stature exponentially with his rise to fame. Though the songs range from fast paced dance beats to slower ballads, Smith is more than capable of changing his style at will, and although the slower paced songs don’t match the faster ones in terms of quality, it is not usually Smith’s fault.
Of course, Smith isn’t infallible, and just as he has made bad movie choices in the past (Wild Wild West anyone?) his judgement over a 15 track album isn’t always watertight. As delightfully nostalgic the inclusion of long time friend DJ Jazzy Jeff is, the majority of the tracks to which he contributes are far from the excellence set by the rest of the tracks. The scratching may be to some listeners tastes but the positioning of both So Fresh
and Pump It Up
incorporates disastrously to the flow of the album as a whole. Similarly the slower ballad-like track Afro Angel
and the latino inspired La Fiesta
fail to bring anything particularly outstanding to the record and once again contrast poorly with the surrounding tracks. This lull is thankfully redeemed a few tracks later with through album highlight Potnas. The irresistible, hook-ridden chorus is not only monumentally fun but contains within it a positive message, “Everybody need a partner to stand right by their side/Not only down through the good times/But also down through the bad times”
. Postive messages seem to be a trademark of Smith’s rhymes, with Freakin’ It
discouraging from swearing, even daring others to follow him with the words “Hey all you rappers, do me a favour and write one verse without a curse.”
may not have achieved the commercial success that its predecessor Big Willie Style
did, but unlike its counterpart it is a much more varied listening experience. Smith clearly learnt from mistakes made on his debut, and while the album is still despairingly inconsistent, both the highs and lows are of a better standard and crucially more equally dispersed throughout. Infectiously catchy tracks such as opener I’m Comin’
and lead single Wild Wild West
provide the pop sensibilities that one would expect from Smith, but beyond this is a layer of equally well crafted hip-hop that was evident in parts on Big Willie Style
. The consequence of this is that at times the album loses some of the flow that the early tracks promise, and while Smith’s indisputable charm makes up for some of this, Willenium
still comes off as a little disjointed in the crucial middle section, a hitch that is regrettably made worse by the introduction of Smith’s one-time partner DJ Jazzy Jeff. On top of Jeff, a multitude of guest stars are paraded throughout the album generally giving good quality performances, and it is credit to Smith that he is never outdone. Despite its flaws, Willenium
remains both catchy and outrageously fun throughout and while it is not an album for all occasions surely there are few better ways to embrace a new millennium.
Wild Wild West
Overall 3.0 Good