I'm getting 10 times hotter than any of you other cats" is no idle boast when it emanates from the mouth of rapper-turned-actor Will Smith. Yet despite going global in such blockbuster Hollywood flicks as Independence Day and Men in Black, Smith, aka the Fresh Prince, has somehow managed to stay in touch with his Philadelphia hip-hop roots.
It doesn't hurt that since Smith's late-'80s salad days with ex-partner DJ Jazzy Jeff (who contributes noise effects on three tracks here), rap has smoothed out its rougher edges. Still it's astonishing how credibly the once unhip Smith comes off on upbeat, G-rated compositions such as "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" and "Miami."
The secret is a smooth, syncopated vocal style that effortlessly nudges each song into soulful R&B territory without sacrificing danceability. An added bonus: the silly but stylin' "Men in Black," from the movie soundtrack—which is reason enough to pick up this genial disc. (Columbia)