Are you out there Jazzy Jeff? If so, find Will Smith, kidnap him, and make him record exclusively with you you might be able to save his rap career.
Before I go any further, let me state my stance on the Prince formerly known as Fresh. I respect Will Smith a lot and consider him one of rap's pioneers as far as getting rap the props it deserves from the mainstream. Before he and Jeff and Run D.M.C. and the Beasties and others brought it to the forefront, hip-hop was still music that didn't reach a large audience. Maybe
his raps are "bubble-gum" or "jiggy," but I think the man has skills, and has made some great music.
Of course, with his return on the scene as Will Smith, DJ Jazzy Jeff was pushed to the background, producing only a few tracks on "Big Willie Style," a huge seller but not a great album. Smith then released "Willenium," which I consider to be one of Smith's best albums of his career, with Jeff having a much bigger presence than on the previous album.
While "Willenium" had Smith reaching back to the old school for inspiration, which ended up making the album so enjoyable, "Born to Reign" has him going in a new direction. According to Smith "my desire to record had exceeded my ability." That was until he met newcomer Tra-Knox and crew, which gave Smith the ability to make this new type of music and "evolve." Well, if this album is the beginning of the evolution, I don't want to be around to see the completion.
The club tracks that are usually enjoyable from Big Will are now at their most watered down, with repetitive hooks from Tra-Knox on almost every track. "Act Like You Know" might be the only salvageable one of the lot, while "I Can't Stop," How Da Beat Goes," the too slow "Block Party" and "Give me Tonite" all can be lumped in the snooze category.
Even more droning are the introspective tracks. "1,000 Kisses," featuring Jada Pinkett-Smith is as close to unbearable us you can get (It makes "Just the 2 of Us" look like a rap classic.). "Willow is a Player" is the same old song we've heard before, as are "Maybe" and "Momma Knows."
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the only two tracks here that are semi-hot are the intro (produced by Rick Rock and a whopping 90 seconds), and the lead-single, the lukewarm "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)." File the remix of the latter track under unnecessary filler.
There isn't a word good enough to describe the letdown this album is after the return-to-form that was "Willenium." If Will Smith wants to push forward and develop a new style, than so be it. But even he has already spotted the problem - he doesn't have the talent to pull off the kind of music that he wants to make, so why not stick to what he is good at? That is, being a tight
duo with Jazzy Jeff, who seems to always bring out the Fresh in Smith.