On will Smith's first album since he attained international stardom as an intergalactic savior, the Artist formerly known as the Fresh Prince portrays an amiable, well-raised Philadelphian caught between the late-'90s worlds of hip-hop street cred and mainstream glamour. Big Willie Style is wickedly well-conceived: The songs are framed by an ongoing exchange between Smith and the hilarious Keith B-Real, a magazine editor and motivational-tape artist who suspects that Smith is "a big-time bourgie Hollywood sellout." But in Will Smith's view, hip-hop needs flash or, as he puts it, "You gotta Prada."
The album crackles with the lucid energy of early-'80s rap hits. Smith leaves the cutting-edge street mathematics to Nas or Jeru the Damaja. Instead, he prefers delicious party jams like "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It," which jumps with the rhythms of Sister Sledge's "He's the Greatest Dancer," and "Yes Yes Y'All," which taps both the outsize power of the Isley Brothers' "Here We Go Again" and Lisa Stansfield's "All Around the World."
Still, lest he be seen as a shallow '80s holdover, Smith takes pains to make clear that there is indeed life beyond the bottom line. "Miami" is a nod to that town's multicultural scene, and "Chasing Forever" is a celebration of romantic commitment. "Gold diggers going to hear this song driving," he raps, "and crash at the wheel."
Will Smith tells the story of his recent life with top-flight perspective. "You won't be bumping Big Willie in your jeep," he says on "Don't Say Nothin'," but from "Bangkok to Madagascar, they want to see me." Throughout, he displays the confident craft of a screenwriter and the unthreatened bounce of a guy with little to prove. In doing so, he tells the larger story of rap values tweaking the American dream, of how he's come to terms with the conflict between the neighborhood and the global cineplex. The result is an exceptional megacelebrity album. (RS 775)
(Posted: Nov 24, 1997)
Click the play button.
Register or enter your username and password.
Let the music play!