In my world, Will Smith can do no wrong. He lives through my random Fresh Prince of Bel-Air watching sessions and two greatest hits albums on my iPod. The criticism of some of his more recent roles doesn't exist, because I've never seen them. I couldn’t even tell you what the critics were slamming, and I prefer to live life this way. The last time I saw Will in a movie was Men In Black 3, and before that was Seven Pounds (excellent, depressing movie).
It’s been much easier to ignore any criticism regarding his musical career since there hasn’t been a single album released in over 10 years. March 29, 2005 was the last time we heard Will on the microphone. Lost & Found wasn’t his best album, but it wasn’t bad. The 1960s Spider-Man sample flip on “Here He Comes” was magnificent. Since then, Will’s only focus has been acting. This isn’t a Dr. Dre situation, where he’s been in the studio carefully crafting a masterpiece and we know it. Will has essentially ditched the recording booth for many years without any explanation. Even getting a guest feature out of him seems like a price tag with “impossible” written on it.
As a young’n, I was introduced to solo Will Smith through Big Willie Style. This was before I knew about Fresh Prince, DJ Jazzy Jeff and all that great stuff. Since I was under 10, my dad didn’t play explicit albums in the car. My mom wouldn’t let him, so Will Smith was a safe, kid-friendly choice. I’m not calling him the best rapper, there were certainly some corny lines not ghostwritten by Nas, but he had skills. The man made hits! As I grew up, I just discovered more. Willennium, Born To Reign and then back in time to his work with DJ Jazzy Jeff. “Freakin’ It” might very well be a top 20 hip-hop song ever. “Summertime” is a necessity every June 21.
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At one point, it didn’t feel like we’d be a decade removed from Lost & Found with nothing new. Things began to change in 2013, when pictures surfaced of Will Smith and Kanye West working in Brazil. During a promo run for that movie that doesn’t exist (After Earth), Smith told Hip Hollywood: “[Kanye and I] went in the studio a couple times, so I might get the bug. I'm not going to do it unless I'm truly inspired, but Ye's been pushing me a little bit.” There it is. One word: inspired. All these years going musically uninspired as the climate changed. Will wasn’t dependent on the music anymore. 1987 was a long time ago.
Two years later, this past February, Will says that he did seven or eight songs with Kanye. “I’ve recorded a lot, but I don’t have anything I like yet,” he told Hollyscoop. “I’ve recorded around seven or eight [songs] and it’s not for certain, it’s just explorative.” Without saying it directly, Will Smith is scared. He’s scared that his sound won’t fit into this generation. Scared that whatever he makes won’t live up to his distinguished, slept-on catalog. He’s avoiding making the musical equivalent of that movie that doesn’t exist (After Earth).
You know what, I’m scared too. For the same reasons that Will seems to be. What role could he possibly still play in our generation, when Jaden Smith is in the headphones of teenagers that don't even know Will ever rapped? D’Angelo was welcomed back after a decade plus hiatus, but people were still checking for him that entire time. Will is a different story. A few times a month, tweets hoping for a new album are written and sent out to the vast social media world. Many of the tweets are also Kanye related, since another rumor suggests Yeezus secured a guest feature with big Willie. One person is even hopeful Kanye will influence Will to make an album that surpasses the influencer. I can’t imagine my circle of followers who listen to hip-hop opening their arms to embrace and enjoy a fifth album. My survey went over exactly as I expected it to.
Even if inspiration strikes, Will Smith can only hope that his album gets the attention it deserves. It’s like Jagged Edge releasing The Remedy, a perfect R&B album that isn’t even remembered four years later. His past catalog is vastly underrated. He has hits, hidden gems sprinkled on every album, and made some really creative concepts. Scarface has cancelled a highly anticipated collaborative album with Beanie Sigel because of the over-saturation of rap music. His reasoning is fair, does Smith feel the same way? It would seem so. Seven or eight songs with Kanye West has to have produced at the very least one record worth sharing with the public.
The source of excitement for another Will Smith album can only come from two places: his collaboration with Kanye and a rumor that DJ Jazzy Jeff would be heavily involved. Jazzy brought out the best in Will. A creative side that we witnessed change when Will became a solo artist, or maybe it was simply growing up and not being able to do another “Nightmare On My Street” or “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” If Jazzy is indeed going to be a part of this, and Kanye was once pushing for him to return, Will has two great minds to help inspire whatever it is he needs to make this comeback album a reality.
I’m equal parts anticipating a new album and scared of it. As a listener and fan, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the album receives the love and attention it could earn. I’m going to listen. If I like it, I’ll share my thoughts with the world in hopes they can experience the same. On the flip side, I waited years for Sisqo’s The Last Dragon, and it became one of the most disappointing R&B projects ever created. A bad album would warp the perception that he can do no wrong in my world. It would, indeed, be his musical Last Earth. I don’t want Will to fall into that same trap by trying to relate to the times. Will Smith over Metro Boomin’ might seem like a hot idea, but Will and Jazzy Jeff, or Trackmasters, would last in the long run.
If an album is to happen, the earliest would be sometime in 2016. After Suicide Squad, Will isn’t currently signed on to any other movies. Could this be a sign of hope for new music, or merely him being picky about the roles he plays? It’s more than likely the latter, but I’m going to hold onto the hope of new music until further notice.
[By Sermon, aka The Randy Savage of VMG, aka @SermonsDomain]