If Will Smith's last two albums made him the acceptable face of hip-hop, then Born to Reign is most definitely his rebellion against the pop-rap persona that he has willingly (how's that as a title for the next album) or unwillingly carried for the last few years. Don't get me wrong, there's no profanity or political message here but his delivery and production is far more aggressive than before causing the Prince to raise his voice and even shout on the odd occasion. The opener and title track sums up the new Willie--a crusading tirade on how righteous and good he is with a lyrical flow ironically (intentionally or not) in the style of his nemesis Eminem. But jiggy fans don't despair, there is at least one to get you "bouncin' wit it", a cover of Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" called "1000 Kisses" is Will at his finger popping, bubble-gum best. Other familiar territory comes in the shape of "Jaden's Interlude", not quite like many of the skits you get from other artists but far more cutesy and you could play it to your mum with no fear of embarrassment. Last but not least, amidst the commercial G-funk and breezy summer pop hits, there's the customary tune from one of his movies, this time it's the in-yer-face funk-rock of "Black Suits Comin'" from MiB2. Despite efforts for a rougher edge, Born to Reign is still extremely accessible and, though unlikely to win him a credible nod from the streets, it shouldn't discourage his army of loyal supporters. --David Trueman

Eonline: B- Our Review: Will Smith is more than just a rapper or just a movie star. He's the kind of guy who'll make sure Top 40 stations are getting jiggy with his new tunes, oh, right around the time his big summer blockbuster falls to Earth. Yes, Born to Reign reeks of crass overpromotion, and it's about as vanilla as rap can get without Marky Mark behind the mike. But darn it if Big Willy doesn't know how to have a good time. Relying heavily on R&B crooner Tra-Knox to supply the hooks, Smith uses his Ali-size arrogance for clubby pop-rap tracks like "I Can't Stop" and "Born to Reign." That head-rattling song from MIB II is there, too, as is a surprisingly palatable duet between Will and wife Jada (that basically details their daily schedules). Hey, if you were Will Smith, you'd want to sing about it, too.

Even though his last CD, Willennium, failed to sell as well as 1997's Big Willie Style, Smith's G-rated ladies (and family) man persona is infectious, even when he's coasting a bit on his well-earned rep. Such is the case on this exuberant but somewhat pedestrian CD. Smith gives it his all on cuts like the hip-shaking "Block Party" and the jittery "Gotta Go Home," but the slickly produced tales of good times and wicked women are way too familiar. Luckily, Smith stretches a bit with the heavy dose of R&B delivered by his vocal protégé Tra-Knox and on the rock-injected single (and promo tool for the film Men in Black II) "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)." The stinging guitars give Smith an excuse to strut, and the ensuing bravado gives him an edge he often lacks. --Amy Linden

All Music Guide

It'd be inaccurate to call Will Smith's third album the musical equivalent of Ali — a bid for artistic credibility from an artist so assured and smooth, it's been easy to pigeonhole him as merely a pop artist — but given the range and harder edge on Born to Reign, it's hard not to think of it at first. Make no mistake, this is not as serious as Ali, nor is it a record whose first intent is to enlighten and educate (this is not a KRS-One or Wyclef Jean project). It's a fun, pop-leaning record, much like his first two records, and never is it afraid to return to the sounds and styles that brought the former Fresh Prince (deserved) big hits, but among comfortably familiar jams, Smith stretches his legs. Some of the hip-hop hits harder; there's a touch of reggae; he even appropriates a bit of a Ricky Martin vibe on "I Can't Stop." It's a small but significant change, and while it doesn't result in a record that flows as effortlessly, or giddily, as Willennium, it's easy to appreciate the effort to stretch, because even if all the experiments aren't necessarily successful (sometimes, the idea is better than the execution), it does reinvigorate the Smith signature pop-rap sound (apart, oddly, from the theme for Men in Black 2, "Black Suits Comin'," the only cut in this vein to fall flat), and results in another solid record from Smith. Maybe not as consistent as its predecessors, but still enjoyable in its familiar turf, while provoking admiration for its ambition, even when it's not always satisfying. Not a bad way to stretch. [This is a copy-protected disc, which on the average computer doesn't mean that you simply can't copy the disc — it means that it will freeze your computer if you just want to listen to it via your CD-Rom. Not realizing this, I lost work when trying to write and listen at the same time, so buyer beware.] — Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Will Smith has been lapped so many times by better wordsmiths and hipper stars in recent years that he's actually benefited from not keeping up with the Nellys, remaining a sort of nostalgic icon whose simple delivery and chaste lyrics reflect hip-hop's long since lost innocence. And, hey, he's a movie star -- so who cares if he still thinks it's 1988? The Fresh Prince, though, remains a fascinating niche unto himself, a lone rapper who brags about his lack of profanity, a guy who continues to get older while his audience stays the same age. He's the master, if not the progenitor, of the cheesy, summer-movie accompanying anthem; his albums of the '90s were built beat-by-beat with them and even without them (see "Get Jiggy with It"). No surprise, then, that there's plenty of the same on Born to Reign: "Block Party" updates his classic "Summertime" to a 112-like R&B jam; "Maybe" does the "Thanks for the Memories" bit of "Just the Two of Us"; and Men in Black II's theme song, "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Your Head)," gets two treatments, the rock-oriented original and a J.Lo-style remix.

Once you rid yourself of any pretense of "art" here, Reign settles in well as a fine piece of guilty pleasure pop, certainly the best thing Smith has done in years. Rid of the reliance on cheap samples that demeaned previous efforts, here he's got sharp, modern beats, and the backup harmonies by trio Tre-Knox (which sounds like a cross between Sisqo and R. Kelly) allow his songs a more melodic bent. This is certainly the most diverse record he's made: "Willow Is a Player" mixes a reggae vocal flow with a stuttering, Timbaland-style beat; "I Can't Stop" sounds like DMX attempting salsa; and wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, should surprise just about everyone on the fun disco tune "1,000 Kisses." It's escapist fare that won't leave any lasting memory except for good times -- and isn't that what summer is all about?

Brad Cawn
CDNOW Contributing Writer

''Time off to be an Oscar nominee/Now it's back to the M-I-C!'' Detractors might append that couplet with a ''...k-e-y M-o-u-s-e.'' But Smith's third post-Jazzy Jeff album, Born to Reign, is perfectly pleasant -- if somewhat jiggy-deficient -- Radio Disney-friendly rap. R&B crooner Tra-Knox commandeers the choruses way too often, but Mrs. Smith displays surprisingly sweet pipes on the couple's agreeably self-involved duet, ''1,000 Kisses.'' EW Grade: B-

Barnes & Noble
"You've seen me with Denzel and Russ Crowe/But yo, the movie's just the chick on the side/I'm in love with the flow," proclaims Will Smith on "How the Beat Goes" -- setting straight anyone who thought the Fresh Prince had forsaken his rap roots for the bright lights of Hollywood. But just as Smith has proven to be an apt acting pupil, Born to Reign, his third disc sans DJ Jazzy Jeff, shows that the entertainer's also kept abreast of hip-hop trends since he dropped 1999's Willennium. For instance, on the dramatic, orchestral title track, Smith echoes Eminem's explosive yet melodic flow. But with positive lyrics such as, "Tightening the vices of truth on the ruthless," Smith uses his G-rated lyrics to build rather than to destroy. Likewise, the flamenco-accented "I Can't Stop" seems to have been inspired by the ever-boisterous Ja Rule, as Smith sing-raps the chorus, "I can't stop/Dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit," at the top of his lungs. While not all of his experimentation with new styles works, the R&B-tinged "1,000 Kisses," featuring surprisingly cool vocals from wife Jada, and the rocked-out "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)" (also included on the Men in Black II soundtrack) are classic Fresh Prince. The family man also engages listeners with a comical, reggae-tinged tribute to his baby daughter, "Willow." Whether he's on the silver screen or busting a rhyme, this Will's unstoppable. Tracy E. Hopkins

The Fresh Prince returns.

Movie work has kept this Hollywood star -- who began as one half of rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince back in the mid-'80s -- away from the recording studio since 2000's Willennium.

In fact, Smith's latest mainstream-friendly collection of hip-hop, in stores Tuesday, boasts the funked-up, strings and horns accompanied Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head), the first single from Men In Black 2, in theatres July 3. Too bad the dance remix, featuring front-and-centre vocals from Christina Vidal, is so much better.

Otherwise, the R&B/soul trio Tra-Knox -- who performed at Smith's wedding to Jada Pinkett -- are featured prominently on this album, along with Pinkett herself, who doesn't completely embarrass herself singing opposite Smith on the old-school sounding duet 1000 Kisses, despite some pretty bad rhymes: "They say love is a gamble, And if so, baby, I'm the Bellagio, I can't lose, And I guess that makes you The Mirage."

Influence-wise, Gipsy Kings guitar licks make their way into the Latin-tinged I Can't Stop and a reggae beat drives Willow Is A Player and the Luther Vandross-sampled I Gotta Go Home -- three of the album's standouts.

Unfortunately, Smith, who co-produced the album with Omarr Rambert, is nursing one bad "I'm the greatest" Ali hangover on the title track and How Da Beat Goes. Give Me Tonite and Maybe are also excruciating to sit through.

Better bets are the fun-loving Block Party and the mother-knows-best tune Momma Knows.

Toronto Sun

Will Smith gets rap attention with new 'Reign'

By Steve Jones, USA TODAY

By Richard Drew, AP Will Smith also stars in the upcoming Men in Black 2.

As a rapper, Will Smith often has taken shots for not being hard-core like his more thuggish colleagues. But on his new Born to Reign album ( out of four), he has no problem reminding them who's the jiggiest of them all. Who else has had the president of the United States raising the roof and picks up an Oscar nomination? Who could challenge him at the top of the box office rankings when Men in Black II opens?

Like a lot of rappers these days, Smith aims to blow up the dance spot, but that's where the similarities end. He likes to see booties shaking as much as the next man, but he likes them with more class than the typical club-jam freak nasties. Blunt-smoking is out. And when is the last time you heard a rapper brag about being monogamous?

Smith basically keeps it clean and comedic, though he hasn't lost his penchant for flipping clever verses. He's like the classroom cut-up who fooled them all, and he never misses a chance to run down his extensive list of triumphs as the world's biggest multimedia superstar. On the kinetic MIB theme song, Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head), he rhymes that he's "the best-looking crime fighter since myself in Part 1."

But more than anything, the dedicated family man wants the world to know he's in love. Wife Jada Pinkett Smith ("You're the Taj Mahal, ma-ma") is on the receiving end of a continuous stream of lyrical smooches. She even gets in on the act on the sugary 1,000 Kisses, crooning sweetly while her husband serenades her with his take on Luther Vandross' Never Too Much. Still, even the strongest of men become weak sometimes, and he finds his resolve sorely tested by a Jamaican temptress on the urgent I Gotta Go Home.

The groovingest track is his hookup with longtime partner Jazzy Jeff Smith — now a major player in the Philadelphia soul revival — on the anthemic Block Party. The song is reminiscent of Smith's hit Summertime, out when his Fresh Prince was just getting a snootful of the rarefied Bel-Air.

Smith is way past any need to defend his rhymes, and to his credit, he stays true to himself. The worst thing in the world would be for him to sell out at this late date for any dubious street cred. Call him corny if you like, but that Big Willie Style that is the fantasy of many is, in fact, his reality.

Even the most charmed life has to experience a bump in the road every now and again, and that's the best way to describe this first solo album in more than two years from Smith, formerly the Fresh Prince.

Once known for his safe, happy-go-lucky, comedic raps that helped integrate rap into the mainstream, Smith's an adult now and unfortunately, his maturation comes through as boring old braggadocio on "Reign." The album is front-loaded with aggressive rap-rock arrangements which Smith's voice simply isn't dynamic enough to handle. Elsewhere, the album is a morass of cutesy stuff involving Smith's kids, and too many cameos by Smith's new protege, Tra-Knox. In all, "Reign" is a less than Princely effort that fails to convey the intense likability that first made Smith a star.


Born To Reign

Actor and rapper Will Smith's Born To Reign is the most musical and warm of his post DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince albums. More real instruments, more styles -- rap, reggae, some fat rock riffs, some Latin flavor and lots of R&B -- plus collaborations with the trio TRA-KNOX, Christina Vidal and Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, make this CD an unusually varied and accessible hip-hop-based collection. It's refreshing, too, to hear a rapper avoid the gangsta ghetto of sex, violence and swearing. Born To Reign includes the Men In Black II theme, "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)."

Album Title: Born to Reign
Producer(s): various
Genre: POP
Label/Catalog Number: Columbia 86189
Source: PRINT
Originally Reviewed: July 06, 2002

Will Smith was first a rapper, then an actor. Now he's known as an actor who raps. Confused? Don't be. Smith is capable of doing both, as evidenced on Born to Reign, his first album in three years and eighth overall. To his credit, Smith doesn't attempt to be something he's not. Lead single "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)," which also serves as the lead single to the Men In Black II soundtrack, is a guitar-driven number that has Smith revisiting his MIB character Jay. The album also features a remix, "Nod Ya Head (The Remix)." Both tracks feature Smith's new R&B group, Trá-Knox. Smith sings on the reggae-tinged "Willow Is a Player." Other standout tracks include the summertime anthem "Block Party" and "1,000 Kisses," which features Smith's wife, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith. Actor, rapper, whatever you want to label him, Smith still knows how to make a hit song—the proof is in the pudding; in this case, Born to Reign.—RH


Will Smith

Fifteen years is at least three lifetimes in the hip-hop world, making Will Smith's consistency during that period all the more remarkable. But the pioneer of pop-rap knows pairing a familiar sample with a catchy new tagline works as well now as it did in 1987, and while P. Diddy and Nelly have taken that formula a little closer to street level, Smith's focus has always been across-the-board appeal.

The star actor's third solo album is a departure of sorts, featuring a real band (the trio Tra-Knox) and a string section.

Yet the best moments come when Smith plunders pop's past, transforming hits by Luther Vandross, Kraftwerk and Sly Stone into showcases for his clever, PG-rated rhymes, which are far preferable to his lousy singing on "Willow Is a Player."

Of course, the friendly sounds and family ties - Smith's wife, actress Jada Pinkett, makes her vocal debut on "1,000 Kisses," and their son Jaden offers a calculatedly cute intro - placing the former Fresh Prince further than ever from hip-hop's thuggish heartbeat.

He doesn't sound worried, though; in fact, the title track is a shape-up sermon to gangstas. They won't be listening, but like always, millions of other people will.


Born to Reign

Will Smith (Columbia)

He may have nabbed a Best Actor Oscar nomination earlier this year for Ali, but Will Smith still wants his props as a rapper. "You see me with Denzel and Russ Crowe/ But yo, the movies just a trick on the side/ I'm in love with the flow," the Grammy-winning rhymer proclaims on this, his third solo album. Indeed, Smith, 33, still has the knack for catchy, carefree pop-rap that he first demonstrated as the Fresh Prince in the late '80s. He remains the consummate anti-gangsta on family-friendly party tracks that would have even Tipper Gore raising the roof. Making his sound more organic, Smith brings in the male trio Tra-Knox to provide background vocals for the entire CD, while using full orchestra on cuts such as the single "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)," the theme from his new movie Men in Black II. He also experiments with reggae and Latin rhythms, although the results are mixed. Despite these efforts to keep his music fresh, Smith won't win much street cred here: Ultimately songs such as the R&B-disco throwback "1,000 Kisses" (featuring a lackluster guest vocal by wife Jada Pinkett Smith) are more flyweight than fly. Bottom Line: Frivolous fun

On latest CD, Will Smith sticks with family-friendly formula

By Renee Graham, Globe Staff, 6/25/2002

Even among those who believe Will Smith is to hip-hop what Cheez Whiz is to dairy products, there must be a grudging respect for his unremarkable but decidedly resilient career.

In a notoriously capricious genre, Smith's career as a rapper has spanned three decades, starting in 1987 when, as the Fresh Prince, he and his Philly pal DJ Jazzy Jeff had their first hit, ''Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble.'' That the song was built on a sample of the frothy ''I Dream of Jeannie'' theme quickly established that Smith would never be confused with a hardcore rapper. While others spit fire about gats, hos, and the kill-or-be-killed ethos of the 'hood, Smith was content to talk about the sorts of worries the Brady kids could understand: dating difficulties and, with his breakthrough 1988 hit, ''Parents Just Don't Understand,'' what happens when a kid disobeys mom and dad.

Such novelty hits should have consigned Smith to the ''Where Are They Now?'' bin with Skee-Lo and Positive K. He's never made a classic album such as De La Soul's ''3 Feet High and Rising,'' A Tribe Called Quest's ''The Low End Theory,'' or OutKast's ''Stankonia.'' Yet with hummable, easy-to-digest hits such as ''Summertime,'' ''Gettin' Jiggy Wit It,'' and ''Miami,'' he has maintained a multimillion-selling career, and, along the way, paved the now well-trod path for other hip-hop artists forging careers away from the microphone.

On his latest CD, ''Born to Reign,'' Smith sticks with his tried-and-true formula. It's his first CD since 1999's ''Willennium,'' and a major part of the media blitz leading to the July 3 premiere of the film ''Men in Black II.'' The sequel's already tiresome song ''Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)'' is here, as are enough family-friendly songs to fill the soundtrack of Disney's next animated feature.

Not that Smith isn't willing to air his beef with the competition. On the CD's title track, Smith continues his criticism of rappers who promote murder and mayhem and those whose vocabulary seems straight from the walls of a public bathroom. He accuses them of poisoning young minds and exalting hate as ''art falls to greed.''

Smith is arguably the only rapper who can get away with wagging his finger on these issues. He's always trumpeted the fact that his parental-advisory-free lyrics are as clean as a Sunday hymn (for which Eminem famously skewed him on ''The Real Slim Shady'') and the idea that hip-hop should do more than demean women and celebrate the dead-end thug life.

With Smith coming as close as he ever has to a hardcore flow, the title track of ''Born to Reign'' is one of the album's highlights. Smith rips multimillionaire rappers who sell rage and talk about hardscrabble lives that they long ago left behind. That's about as street as Smith gets. He prefers talking about life with his wife and kids. Even the CD's skits - a hip-hop staple - are snippets of life with the Smiths. On ''Jaden's Interlude,'' there's one of Smith's sons playing in the tub and talking with his daddy and mommy, Jada Pinkett-Smith. That leads into ''1,000 Kisses,'' built on a lyrical sample of the Luther Vandross chestnut ''Never Too Much.''

It's the Smiths' valentine to each other, featuring a serviceable vocal from Pinkett-Smith, and if it all sounds a bit treacly, it is. But who can scoff at a husband comparing his wife to a Picasso painting, a Beethoven symphony? He has a wonderful marriage, and he wants everyone to know about it.

Of course, like most rappers, Smith's boasts can get a little grating. Yes, we've seen the magazine spreads of his fabulous homes, and we know all about Smith's membership in the $20-million-per-film club. We know he's probably one of the few people in the world with both Tom Cruise and Busta Rhymes on speed dial. But enough already with the all the ''Big Willie'' showboating. On ''How d a Beat Goes,'' he maintains his movie career is ''just a chick on the side, I'm in love with the flow,'' yet in the next breath he's crowing about being an Oscar nominee for his performance in ''Ali.''

But then Smith has never attempted to be something he isn't. When he was a middle-class kid, he rapped about being a middle-class kid; now, as a father, husband, and the most bankable black male star in Hollywood history (sorry Denzel), he happily shares stories from his ''E! Celebrity Homes'' version of the good life. His career has bridged N.W.A's inflammatory rhymes and Eminem's sociopathy, but never adopting either has become his way of keepin' it real. He's a nice guy who raps about nice things, and for as long as he loves the flow, he'll continue to find an audience for the kind of bubble-gum rap songs even your church-going grandmother can enjoy.

It's hard to figure out the appeal of Will Smith as a rapper.

Evern though the recent Oscar-nominated acto got his start rapping and won the genre's first Grammy, he's only got so-so rhyming skills and his lyrics can be borderline corny.

Yet he's got an undeniable charm that comes across even on CD. pair him with a smooth groove it's it's hard to get him out of your system.

"Born To Reign" is the best example of that puzzling appeal. At times, Smith is lyrically lazy: He borrows from well=known verses of other people's hits, and the rhymes seem amateurish on tracks like "Black Suits Comin'" and "Act Like You Know."

But on others, like "1,000 Kisses" (featuring Jada Pinkett Smith, his actress-wife), he rises to the occasion, delivering a sweet and sexy valentine to her. "Momma Knows" is a touching tribute reminiscent of his hit "Just The Two of Us."

Smith also chooses his music samples well, selecting from can't miss classics such as Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" He also gets a major assist from his new protege Tra-Knox, and R&B trio whose silky soul you'll want to hear more off.

-Nakesa Mumbi Moody
Associated Press Music Writer

Will Smith has figured out one thing over the course of his multimedia infiltration of American pop culture: the importance of brand recognition. From his early days as goofball rapper the Fresh Prince to the spin-off TV series, from the action movies (with the occasional serious acting gig thrown in for good measure) to the action raps, he has always been himself. He has grown up, branched out, but rarely stepped outside of what we expect from him.

This is the mature Will Smith, the affable, unthreatening, innocent and fun-loving MC who is happy to aim for mass appeal. He covers his bases by dabbling in a variety of styles. He goes Latin on I Can't Stop (even getting a shameless Livin' La Vida Loca reference in), touches R&B on Willow Is a Player, samples hard rock on Black Suits Comin' (yes, that is a reference to the film Men in Black II -- can you say product placement?), gets all high-falutin' on the title track and, finally, just plain plays the life of the party.

"The movie's just a chick on the side / I'm in love with the flow," he rhymes at one point. You probably are, Will. But the two aren't mutually exclusive at this point. You're a one-man entertainment industry; reality, though never your forte, is not part of the package. This is mildly entertaining, easy enough to sit through and yet, when the end comes, it's hard to remember what happened. It's not offensive. It's almost fun, if we don't think too much.

3 stars out of 5
T'Cha Dunlevy, Montreal Gazette
July 2002

Will Smith :: Born to Reign :: Sony/Columbia Records
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

If you don't know his name, you've probably either been living on the moon or hiding in an Afghanistani cave. Arguably, he is the most well-known entertainer in the whole world other than a Michael named Jordan or Jackson. Who would have guessed from his modest beginnings as one half of the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince on the album "Rock the House" that he would go on to multi-platinum albums, a long-running hit sitcom on NBC, and some of the biggest movie blockbusters Hollywood has ever seen? Some would have said Smith should give up his rap career after films like "Independence Day" and "Men in Black," but since that time he recorded both the smash hit "Big Willie Style" and the somewhat less successful but equally significant "Willenium." To Smith it doesn't matter how much money he makes, he's not about to give up the microphone.

Most of his critics seem to miss this point or think that Smith could not possibly that talented in two areas at the same time. Why not? His acting career evolved out of the charisma and personality he displayed in concert and through music videos, so in reality everything he's done is the logical extension of his Philly born-and-raised hip-hop roots. Releasing new albums every few years keeps that tradition alive, and a man with seven albums and hits in two decades from "Parents Just Don't Understand" to "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" has nothing to explain to anybody. With his new album "Born to Reign" and the first single "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)," Smith can say he's had rap hits in three decades running. How many entertainers in ANY music genre can you say that about?

At the same time Smith still has to prove he has the credentials every time out. It really doesn't matter whether Smith records an album at this point that sells diamond or just goes gold, he's got money in the bank either way. The only thing Smith needs to do these days on a record is have good beats and quality rhymes, with or without the smash hits. The old school roots Smith has are shown on tracks like "How Da Beat Goes" (borrowing from "Jam On It" by Newcleus) but he's also thoroughly blended into modern urban contemporary with the Track Masters produced "1,000 Kisses" featuring vocals from his wife Jada Pinkett Smith (she's aight). On the whole album, the only song that seems out of place is the title track that opens it, produced by Rick Rock. True to his form it's a powerful beat that's suprisingly symphonic, but actually seems too boombastic for Smith. He tries to rhyme louder and more aggressively to compensate, a style that's never fit his laid back and witty style.

"Act Like You Know" is more Smith's groove. Built on a sample from "Trans-Europe Express" and featuring a sung chorus by D. Banga, the song is an ode to dancing and partying in which Smith may be borrowing a bit from Bobby Brown; he's certainly "too hot to handle" at any rate:

"Yo look here dunny last weekend was a mistake
That mami tryin to dish it out when she couldn't take
Come at me dancin wild like this thing is a game
One little move on her and she burst into flames (WHOOSH!)
The whole club runnin, tryin to ruin my night
I told her roll around a lil', she be aight
Then everybody mad at me, all up in my face
Somebody shoulda told that girl to stay in her place
You feel a little heat baby girl I'm behind ya
And hopefully your burnt Gucci dress'll remind ya
of how serious I am, maybe it's crazy y'all
But if you wanna play honey, go get a baby doll"

Smith plays around with his flow on a few tracks, mixing a little salsa into his breath control on the snappy "I Can't Stop," sing-rapping his lyrics over the Timbaland style "Willow is a Player," and even putting a little Jamaican riddim into his music on "I Gotta Go Home." It all works simply because Smith is relaxed, enjoying his long-time experience at flowing rhymes effortlessly to the fullest. While the album ostensibly serves to introduce a protege named Tra-Knox, Smith is the star of the show like any motion picture he appears in. Some people will automatically presume there's no reason to buy this album other than it's tie-in to "Men in Black II" but that's their loss. Has Smith become a better rapper over the years to the degree he has improved as an actor? Probably not, but he hasn't regressed in finesse either. From the smooth Summertime-like odes of "Maybe" to the pure party-starting hip-hop deconstruction of "Give Me Tonite" Smith proves that his albums are still just as interesting as his films, and either way the ubiquitous entertainer aims to please.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10

My rating: