Will Smith (Columbia)
The ever-charming Philly rapper turned Hollywood action-movie superstar came up with a clever title for this follow-up to his last blockbuster CD, 1997’s Big Willie Style. Unfortunately, for much of this album that’s about as witty as rap’s wholesome anti-gangsta gets. Smith, who was making nifty, humor-and-melody-infused hip-hop hits long before the genre ruled the pop mainstream, seems to have hit a stylistic divide. Half of Willennium showcases his flashier, Hollywood side, while the other shines a light on his roots. The former aspect is weaker. On tracks like the utterly awful “Will 2K,” Smith and his producers, the Track Masters, rely so heavily on samples that they make the equally gimmicky Puff Daddy seem subtle. Smith, who sometimes sounds like he’s rapping to a karaoke track, is overwhelmed by the cluttered production. Willennium may not be one for the ages, but it does have its moments, as when Smith reunites with his old rap partner DJ Jazzy Jeff (who also co-produces some tracks) on “Pump Me Up.” And on the playful “So Fresh” (featuring his late-’80s rap contemporaries Biz Markie and Slick Rick), the former Fresh Prince sounds energized and once again in love with hip hop.
Bottom Line: Mixed bag from a multifaceted sensation