Will Smith - WilleniumPop Rap
There I was, browsing the internet, wishing I wasn't so let down with hip hop in 2013, and all of the sudden I realized I miss Will Smith. I miss when a new Will Smith film meant a new Will Smith theme song, which was always just as, if not more, exciting. Now, nostalgia trips aren't really my thing, but after singing the chorus to “Freakin' It” for the umpteenth time, I gave into Willenium.I Am Legend
is one of the most depressing films I've ever seen. I think watching Will Smith kill his own dog is the moment that I grew up. It really bothered me. Furthermore, I fell asleep watching it when it came up on my college's film channel one day and I had dreams about it, and I woke up to the campus on lock down because of a blackout. That shit was intense. I blame Al-Qaeda for all of this. If “I Am Legend” would have been made in 1999 Will Smith would have been punching vampires and said something like “Vampires be testin' me/but I pass 'em every time/'cos they burn up in the light that shines/from my incredible rhymes” or something like that.
I got Willenium
for Christmas in 1999. I still have never heard Big Willie Style
the whole way through. My parents were still two years away from a car that had a CD player so I asked for the casette version. I still know every single word to these songs, and my parents probably do too, because I listened to this obsessively. We used to go visit my grandmother in Pennsylvania, which was about a 3 1/2 hour trip, and if this wasn't playing I was bugging my parents to throw it in.
Present day, present time. Will Smith is no longer on top of the world. Most of his recent (and his most decent) films have been mad depressing, and like I Am Legend
are mostly a product of a world that has become increasingly paranoid. Kid Cudi wrote the theme for Pursuit of Happiness
. Am I equating the success of Will Smith to the success of the world? Not quite, but if I were a smarter man I bet a could make a case for it. I think the biggest thing with Will Smith was that he was someone everyone can enjoy. He was a celebrity who felt like a real person. He extended beyond his filmography and his discography. There's no Will Smith in hip hop anymore really. With some really obvious exceptions (Kanye), hip hop doesn't really have any big personalities anymore. In the mainstream, it's really split between really dumb party jams and confessional downers. Not that Will Smith's party jams were necessarily intelligent, but it at least sounded like he was trying. He never made anything as lazy as “I Gotta Feeling”. I'm really trying not to sound like an old fogey here, I swear. Willenium
was always destined to be a product of its time (if the title wasn't obvious enough), and it doesn't try to be anything more than that. The beats are big, poppy glossed-up versions of everything from De La Soul through Tupac and Biggie with some jazz rap influence (with a healthy nod to '80s funk). At the center, of course, is the star of the show. Will Smith is actually a pretty neat rapper to listen to. I'm sure he's not a good rapper to purists, but I consider a good rapper to how well they can work a beat, and damn
can Will Smith work a beat. Even one of the lesser beats on this album, “La Fiesta”, he just sounds like he's having the time of his life.
There's a lot of songs on this album that just don't work, and I could probably pick out something from every single song that is kinda wack, but at the same time this album isn't really aiming to be high art. This is party rap in the truest sense. The slower tracks just really don't work, even if the melodrama of “Afro Angel” is oddly touching from a storytelling perspective. Really though, the only track this album should have cut was “The Rain”, which is like watching paint dry after the circus that is “Wild Wild West”. Will Smith's best moments here are the party tunes and the odes to old school hip-hop, even if the best part about “So Fresh” are the guest spots from Biz Markie and Slick Rick. “Can You Feel Me?” is a call-and-response come-on (to dance of course!) between Smith and Eve. “Pump Me Up” is a shining moment for DJ Jazzy Jeff. At the end of the day, Will Smith knows his place, and he his response to his critics is “Yeah, I know, but that's why I'm famous though. What what, what what.”
Will Smith has always been accussed of being soft, and that's just because he sticks to good, clean fun. He paid his dues long before this album dropped and he's got bragging rights that are actually measurable: “Once and for all let's get this straight/How you measure a rapper, what make an MC great?/Is it the sales? 20 mil/Is it the cars? Bentlys/ Is it the women? Jada/Is it the money? Please.../ Mr. Clean yet the fact remain/Got girls that don't speak English screamin' my name”. Or how about “Heard you screamin about cream in your rap/yo my last check for Wild Wild West came on a flat bed”. Even if he is soft, he makes a pretty compelling case on why he doesn't need to be hard.
Call me crazy for this, but I wouldn't say Willenium
sounds dated. It sounds like it captured a moment between Biggie and Kanye. When the world wasn't imploding. Before 9/11. It's a pretty foreign world nowadays if you think about it. I was in 5th grade when I started listening to this. I didn't have any political concerns at that time. Where was I when the world stopped turning? Listening to this cassette probably. Looking back though, I think Will Smith existed in a very important place that he'll probably never get the credit for. Eh, but what I know? Now it's time for me to shut up so we can party like it's 1999.