Tidal Catalog #46: Will Smith (Family Tree)

Introduction: For those of you that have stumbled across this website and are interested in reading about my trek through the universe of the Tidal streaming service, let me tell you a bit about what I did. Back in 2016 I thought it would be kind of cool to listen to an artist’s catalog from start to finish and rank them from best to worst. After all, who doesn’t like a good list? I thought I might do a few of them and see what happened, hoping it would introduce me to records that were foreign to me in the arsenal of an artist I was familiar with. I also thought that it would be pretty cool to get out of the “one off” mode of listening to a new record, years after the previous one, in order to get a true sense of how the artist matured over time. Fast forward to June of 2019 and 250 catalogs later, I ended the trek. I posted these all on Facebook over the years as they were completed but I’m going to move them all over here, starting with #1, in order to expand them out a bit more. Facebook doesn’t exactly allow for too many details.

As with all my catalogs, to be considered in the ranking, an album has to meet certain criteria:

  • The artist must actually perform on 80% of the tracks (soundtrack and rap provision)
  • No compilations of previous released material will be included.
  • However, compilations of previously recorded material will be included if they are remixes, bonus tracks, outtakes… mostly music that hasn’t been part of a main release before.
  • The album must have been released officially and within the realm of the label that the artist would have been on at the time or official releases posthumously (normally applies to a slew of live records)
  • Any EPs must contain new new music and be relevant to the catalog, not be more like a single with a b-side or two.

Entrance Point: Everything, man. Growing up in Philly, I always have a place and some time for new music from Will Smith/The Fresh Prince or a new movie he’s made.

Included: This looks at Will Smith’s music career so it includes both the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince records as well as his solo albums. And then I expanded it out to include his son Jaden and daughter Willow into the mix, so it includes their solo records as well as Willow’s projected with Tyler Cole (called The Anxiety)

Not Included: Jaden’s first mixtape (The Cool Cafe Vol. 1) as it was never widely released. He had two other mixtapes that did have a wide release, so they are included here.

All albums ranked on a 10 scale:

  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper (8.5)

The weird part about this catalog was that I went in thinking I loved everything about the Fresh Prince but ended with a mediocre catalog and the best record getting an 8.5 on the scale. Looking at it now that it’s over, I think there was a nostalgia factor to his music to begin with and his first hits were pretty funny, so they made a lasting impression. And I loved The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, so I’m sure it clouded my vision a bit. But musically, the guy made some great songs but album wise, there’s very little you need to listen to.

He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper is the best of the bunch and I think that’s a pretty obvious choice as even though I can only give it an 8.5, it was a game changing album in 1988. The complete opposite of the NWA Gangsta rap at the time, “A Nightmare on My Street” and “Parents Just Don’t Understand” were lighthearted and funny and well crafted. Sure, the former seems like a real gimmicky track, even more so than the latter and it doesn’t belong leading off the album but that’s nitpicky a bit. The rest of the first half of the record is a nice balance between the fun tracks and more serious tunes. But after the two big hits, they didn’t even try to release anything else as “Parents Just Don’t Understand” probably made enough money to recoup all the costs needed to record this baby.

I think a lot of people kind of look at DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince as a bit of a joke but Jeff was a damn skilled DJ as can certainly be heard on most of the tracks on the B-side here (and you can get into more of that with Jeff’s solo albums). The only drawback of the album is how long it is. It was billed kind of weird. The CD version was packed to the wall and the LP was even longer at 85 minutes. The LP was billed as a 10 song original album and then 8 “bonus tracks,” though the 17 song CD didn’t seem to be marketed that way. By the time you get to say, track 12 or 13 or so, it starts to get a little old. So what really happens here is that you get used to hearing a funny song every other or every third track but you don’t get any of that for the last 7-8 songs on the disc. If it was me, I would have cut this to 12 tracks, released “Time to Chill” as a single as well and created an almost perfect record that still would have sold the same amount of units.

I really wish those last few tracks didn’t exist because this album deserves to be much farther away from the next album than .5 points.

  • Jaden – CTV2 (8)

My favorite of the Jaden Smith records is this one, the second mixtape from him, released in 2014, which would have made him 15 at the time and out before he had a proper album. This has a semblance of this debut record, SYRE, and the alternative hip-hop that would start making but it’s closer to more of a standard hip-hop record than anything else. Nothing ground breaking here but decent beats and produced well. And four of the 8 tracks feature his sister, singing. It’s funny how this is the most straight forward release and yet it’s the one that feels the most natural for him.

  • Will Smith – Willenium (8)

Jesus. Well, this is the best of the solo records from Will Smith and that’s not saying much. Even giving this an 8 might be stretching it a bit but to get Will Smith the solo artist, you just have to go into his records thinking you’ll dance and have fun. If you are looking for intelligent lyrics (or even as creative and silly as when he was the Fresh Prince), you’re in the wrong place completely. If you’re looking for lighthearted rap that you can dance to in the clubs, you got it here in spades. Even if songs like “Will 2K” and “Freakin’ It” were stupid as fuck, they were big hits because they have huge sing along choruses and recognizable samples – which is the easiest type of rap to cross over to the pop charts. And don’t let the mess of guest rappers (Slick Rick, Biz Markie, MC Lyte, Eve, Kool Moe Dee etc…) fool you here. I highly doubt Kool Moe Dee came into his tune thinking he was creating something groundbreaking. But Will Smith was and is a superstar and if you get asked to be on a track at a point when you were almost certain he’d sell a few million records, you’d do it too. Ch-ching.

This album also plays out a bit like He’s the DJ…. though. The first half of this is the dance hits, the stuff that could easily be on the radio and most of the back half is produced with DJ Jazzy Jeff, which makes most of the backside of the disc a DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince record (except for “Wild Wild West” tacked on at the end). But unlike that record, the best songs are these. They feel less made for radio and more for the craft. It’s funny how that script was flipped here. Overall the disc is ok – a bit of lowest common denominator rap but at least catchy as hell. And as I’ve always said, sometimes, something fun is exactly what’s needed. So really, it all depends on how you go into listening to a Will Smith album as to whether you will like it or not.

  • Will Smith – Big Willie Style (8)

Will Smith’s debut solo record isn’t much different from the album above though it was created pretty much with the charts in mind for every song. Most of the album was produced by the Trackmasters/Poke & Tone, who were well known for sampling and creating beats that were very pop oriented and radio friendly and that’s what they did, from “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” to “Miami” and “Men in Black” and a total of 7 of the 12 songs on the disc. If you’re looking for fun, hit singles, I mean who hasn’t sang “Getting Jiggy” or “Miami” at some point? But if you want to get to the creative material on this disc, once again, look to the tracks produced by Jazzy Jeff, like “Don’t Say Nothin'” or “I Loved You.” Celebrity movie star Will Smith of course couldn’t create the same music as he did as the Fresh Prince but the clearest picture he paints during his solo career is that his most creative tracks are still when he paired with his buddy Jeff.

  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – …and In This Corner (8)

The 3rd record from DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince is, if nothing else more concise than the previous record even though it’s not quite the “classic” that one went down being. It’s certainly more consistent but it’s also pretty comedic straight through with a lot less variation of the styles than the first two records. “I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson” was a pretty awesome, funny song back in 1989 back when these types of songs could be hits (Young MC, Tone Loc etc..) but after that first single, Jive put up “Jazzy’s Groove” as the second single which didn’t hit and then they decided to kind of move on from this one. “Who Stole My Car?” and “The Girlie Had a Mustache” feel sort of like a been-there-done-that type thing. The gem is “Then She Bit Me” which sounds like nothing else they did musically but also definitely doesn’t belong leading off the record like it does. It’s a solid album and on it’s own it might even rank higher for me but in the context of this catalog, I’ve heard this one twice before already.

  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – Rock the House (7)
  • The Anxiety – The Anxiety (6.5)

Of all the Willow Smith albums, this is the clear peak and while a bit odd and off putting at times, it’s the most together of the releases. And this almost has to be the collaboration with Tyler Cole here. Her solo records were all strangely experimental and scattered and while this has plenty of WTF moments, it’s got a core alternative R&B base to it even if they genre hop from R&B to Hip-Hop to rock, punk etc.. Seems Smith is resigned to bucking the trends and good for her but at some point, I think she has to create much better tunes if she wants to hang around on more than just the Smith name.

  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – Code Red (6)
  • Willow – Willow (5.5)
  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – Homebase (5)
  • Jaden – EYRS (5)
  • Willow Smith – Ardipithecus (4)

For a 14 year old, this was quite a mature debut but that doesn’t make it good. This is the album that started the odd musical careers of the two youngest Smith kids. I often feel like both Willow and Jaden are creating these oddball records simply to counteract dad’s cookie cutter dance tunes and often they don’t work. This is a great example. There’s potential here and she has a decent voice but she really shouldn’t have chosen to produce this record herself as it surely could have been better. But it comes down to the songs themselves. All of them are interesting but often way too abstract to really create any type of flow on the album. Overall, the debut didn’t exactly put her in the spotlight considering she was signed to Roc Nation. But it was still better than “Whip My Hair” before this.

  • Jaden – The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story (4)
  • Will Smith – Born to Reign (4)
  • Will Smith – Lost and Found (3)

I love “Switch” and I think it’s his best single of his solo career and the album starts off well with “Here He Comes” – the only tune on the album credited to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. The rest of this album is pure crap. A production team called The Freshman gave him beats that changed his vibe from previous records and he’s stuck between trying to be harder and still fun, with a flow that’s just soft. Will’s also clearly out of ideas for rhymes. Most of the songs are about how he doesn’t need to curse and how other rappers think he’s lame for it and doesn’t get taken seriously and/or how he’s a movie star and you’re not. Heard that before? Sure, because that’s been his only topics for three albums. While I love me some Will Smith/Fresh Prince, if this sad sack of a record is the best he can come up with, maybe it needs to be the last record or maybe just release a new movie theme now and again.

  • Jaden – SYRE (3)

The debut album (not counting mixtapes) from Jaden is well, rather odd. It’s alternative rap for sure, mixing hip-hop, trap and dance for a really different album. The best word that can describe this one is pretentious. From the first four tracks named “B” “L” “U” and “E” to a bunch of spoken word moments, this screams out that someone is trying way too hard to be different. I really wanted to like this as I really dig how different the alternative rap genre really is but this is just silly.

  • Jaden – SYRE: The Electric Album EP (2)
  • Willow – The 1st (2)

Summary: 18 albums, average 5.4

Adjusted Summary after Update #1: 20 albums, average 5.1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s