Picks and Pans Review: Born to Reign
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