Will Smith’s love interest in “Hitch,” Eva Mendes, was one of the bootylicious back-up dancers in his “Miami” video. Just thought you should know.
The former Fresh Prince and pop rapper turned $20 million movie actor features a song called “Switch” on “Lost and Found,” his newest attempt to prove he hasn’t lost his feel for the street. With a song like this, one is inevitably reminded that he tries to switch back and forth between the dueling spheres of cinema and compact disc.
Smith has managed to get to the pinnacle of actors through his status as the most likable man in Hollywood. He is completely unobjectionable; the man every man would like to be friends with and every woman would like to date. This situation becomes troublesome when Smith tries to reenter the rap world; within a scene centered around boisterously celebrating African-American culture, it is not surprising that Smith has been characterized as overly deferential to white culture. One critic said Smith’s performance in “The Legend of Bagger Vance” consisted of “wearing the most Uncle Tom-ish grin committed to film in half a century.”
As a result, this relaunch seems geared to find the middle ground: inoffensive hip-hop. Nothing typifies this attitude more than “Mr. Niceguy,” which asserts that Smith is, in fact, a nice guy. But Smith doesn’t want people to mistake nice for soft; in fact, he is a nice guy who will fight back when prodded. He might even—shudder with me, dear reader—buy Wendy Williams’ radio station and fire her.
The titular track, “Lost and Found,” begins with the tuning of a violin concerto. Clearly he is far classier than the average rapper. His chorus continues the attempt to distinguish himself as uniquely mature; he wonders “Why should I try to sound like y’all sound? / That’s what’s wrong with the rap game right now.” And he’s right. The sounds of Shady/Aftermath dominate pop radio; Smith’s rhymes on “Here He Comes” could never be mistaken for the familiar strains of “Bitch Please, Part II.”
Oddly though, he briefly does try to make G-rated versions of Aftermath tracks; “Could U Love Me” is an empty echo of 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” Unfortunately, it lacks the growl and the danger that propels that former track’s narrative. Smith is so pure and inoffensive it’s hard to believe he would be in the type of situation that could end love. It’s hip-hop for those who like the idea of hip-hop, if not the content.
The frustrating thing is that this album is damn easy to listen to. I want to hate Smith. I want to keep mocking him. Claim that his only sign of range was in “Six Degrees of Separation” and that his dignity is harder to find than DJ Jazzy Jeff. But he’s too damn likable.
There is a whole song called “I Wish I Made That,” where he rattles off a series of songs that he wished he had made. How can you mock a man that rhythmically soothes with a listing of his shortcomings? He even includes a weak refashioning of Eminem’s “Stan” called “Loretta”—it too is about a crazy fan and the travails they undertake. Instead of Eminem’s trite sympathy, however, we have Smith’s blithe dismissal. He is real enough to call a spade a spade and a whack-job a whack-job.
My personal favorite track is “Mrs. Holy Roller,” a diss-track against Michelle, “a former friend,” who can’t wait to tell Smith that if he “doesn’t believe what [she] believes [he’s] going to hell.” There have been far too many diss-tracks scattered amongst the denizens of the hip-hop world and far too few attacks on born-again Christians. Finally, this deficiency is rectified. Plus, there is an extended chant that religious intolerance has led us to the Crusades and the Sept. 11 attacks. And he makes the flow work. It might have been pedantic, but there was some smart producer who understood a clapping, jungle sound-based beat would ground the oddly serious narrative in club frivolity.
I am a preppy white boy who goes to Harvard, yet I continue to attempt to contort myself to the beat of The Game’s “West Side Story.” It doesn’t matter that the album is not memorable or artistically breathtaking. It’s fun. There are many things to mock on this album, but sometimes we awkward white men just need to get jiggy with Big Willie.
—Staff writer Scoop A. Wasserstein can be reached at email@example.com.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.