Album Reviews

Will Smith – Born To Reign

(Columbia) UK release date: 12 August 2002

Will Smith - Born To Reign Entertainment industry suits call it synergy – using films to sell music to sell films, and so on, in a constantly circulating – and, when it works, extremely profitable – loop.

Neither an especially convincing actor or rapper, Will Smith is very much a creature of this particular marketing notion. Carefully-placed movie-related tracks have helped to sell albums like Big Willie Style and Willennium, while the success of those albums has, in turn, helped to sell the films.

And so we go round again with this latest release, a lightweight mush of syrupy ballads, unconvincing funk and self-aggrandising raps (who’s he trying to kid with an album title like that?) which, no doubt, will sell by the bucketful thanks to the strategic placing of the Men In Black II theme song Black Suits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head).

Like the rest of the album, this track sounds as though it was dreamed up in a record company boardroom, being essentially a join the dots synopsis of the new MIB movie, set to a musical backdrop of spiky guitars, funky strings and punchy horns.

How Da Beat Goes On stays with the Hollywood theme, namechecking, like some half-wit variety show host, his ‘very good friends’ Denzil Washington and Russell Crowe against a formulaic hip-hop groove.

It is not, however, the most nauseating aspect of the album. That’s reserved for a cameo appearance by Will’s daughter Jaden and a duet with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Linda McCartney she isn’t, but surely even Macca would have passed on something as cheesy as 1000 Kisses.

Like the rest of the album the song has a vaguely second-hand feeling, leaving an impression that you’d heard it somewhere before but you’re not quite sure where. Let’s hope Will’s got some good lawyers. It’s easier to place the samples of Kraftwerk on Act Like You Know, and Sly and Family Stone‘s Family Affair on Block Party, which is perhaps why those two tracks are elevated above such aural sludge as Give Me Tonite and I Gotta Go Home.

In amongst all this, the Latin groove of I Can’t Stop comes as blessed relief, but it doesn’t last for long and the least said the better about Willow Is A Player (a track vaguely reminiscent of I Shot The Sheriff), on which Will gets to extend his range beyond three notes, with predictably awful results.

If, as he insists, Will is born to reign, it’s about time someone saw through this particular emperor’s new clothes.

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Will Smith – Born To Reign