At 31, Will Smith has conquered television and film, and he's achieved commercial longevity in a genre known for the disposability of its performers. But Smith's success has come at a cost. With the exception of the 1993 film Six Degrees Of Separation, he's taken few chances with his career, choosing safe roles in surefire blockbusters and releasing two solo albums that sound like they've been test-marketed to reach the largest possible audience. Hip hop's Mr. Congeniality returns with Willennium, an album that—no surprise here—is more notable for its commercial calculation than its artistic worth. It's no crime to want to sell records, but does Smith have to keep releasing singles that double as press releases ("Wild Wild West," included here), travel brochures (Big Willie Style's "Miami"), or greeting cards ("Will 2K," which features lines like, "May the future hold more joy than pain")? On Willennium, Smith takes the offensive, lashing out against critics who've labeled him a soft sell-out with smarmy, cringe-inducing lyrics like, "I read in Rap Pages, they referred to me as soft / Yeah, Microsoft, Will Gates." Similarly, there's nothing wrong with criticizing gangsta rap and violence in hip hop, as Smith does here, as long as you have something substantial to offer as an alternative. Sadly, all he's got are slick, soulless party jams, old-school nostalgia, chemistry-free duets with Li'l Kim and Eve, and cheerful materialism. Smith's talent shines through in spots ("The Rain," "Afro Angel"), but until his desire to make good music overcomes his desire to offer something for everyone, he'll continue to make commercially overachieving, generic fare like Willennium.
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