”Smart folks don’t need to put no cursin’ in their rhymes,” Will Smith raps on ”I’m Comin’,” the opening track on Willennium, the follow-up to 1997’s multi-platinum ”Big Willie Style.” He’s as good as his word, even reining in the normally foulmouthed Lil’ Kim, who guests on ”Da Butta.”
It’s no secret that since rekindling his rap career, Smith has opted to go the MC Hammer/Puff Daddy route, building his hits on other artists’ hooks. It may not be classy, but it’s effective. ”Willennium”’s first single, ”Will 2K,” samples the Clash’s ”Rock the Casbah,” while ”Freakin’ It” recycles Diana Ross’ ”Love Hangover” for the umpteenth time. (Of course, it’s entirely possible many 14-year-old Smith fans have never heard either song, so complaints from disapproving old coots may well be moot.)
Covering all bases, the Jiggy One essays a Latin number (”La Fiesta”), shares mic time with ’80s contemporaries Biz Markie and Slick Rick (”So Fresh”), duets with newcomer EVE (”Can You Feel Me?”), and kicks it old-school style with his not-exactly-equal former partner D.J. Jazzy Jeff (”Pump Me Up”). ”Eclecticism is a virtue,” he declares on ”Uuhhh,” and, in truth, ”Willennium” is far more sonically diverse than, for instance, the latest No Limit release.
Hardcore types may dismiss him as a lightweight, but only a fool would deny Will’s skills. No, he’s not ”the hip-hop Moses” he calls himself here, but he is a lyrically fluid rapper with deep roots in hip-hop culture and a clearly defined artistic vision. B+