I don't think Will had ever released a bad album, some were better than others but Born to Reign was his first missstep. Born to Reign was Will's lowest selling album, only selling 220,000 copies. The problems of this album all began with DJ Jazzy Jeff having no involvement on this album at all. He wasn't there for scratches, for production, or to tell Will a lot of these tracks just wern't very good. It was also an interesting time when he recorded the album, he had just come out of 18 months working on Ali and in fact he uses the Ali voice on this album. He wasn't properly focused on the music. The other issue is he got his RnB group Tra-Knox to perform on every single track. This was just a very bad idea as all the tracks sound exactly the same, and Tra-Knox's vocals get very repititive after a while.
The album starts off reasonably well with the title track. Its a hard hitting track, with some very strong rhymes to open the album. "Act Like You Know" is a good example of the problems with the album. The rapping just isn't very good. The rhyme schemes are very simple, and Will isn't really saying much. It also highlights the albums major weakness, the beats. "Act Like You Know" is just a very average beat and at this stage of his career Will deserves a lot better.
"I Can't Stop" is where the album takes a serious turn for the worse. This may be Will's worst track ever. It's a horrible latin inspired attrack. The chorus is Will yelling, "I Can't Stop, de, de, de, de, de." That lack of creativity and nonsensical effort is a demonstration that Will was a little off on this album. This track is immeddiately skippable and Will talking about Livin La Vida Loca is an example of this track's short shelf life. Things pick up a little with "1,000 Kisses." Trackmasterz is back and sampling Luther Vandross, "Never Too Much." The songs is about Jada and she joins in on the track and sings, although her vocals aren't that strong it is still a touching track. Will actually sampled the same song for a track about his first wife with "Can't Wait To Be With You" and he has the audacity to sample it again for Jada. Will's rhymes are very good on the track and the chorus is really good and is a good demonstration of Will and Jada's love.
"Willow is a Player" is an interesting track. It features Will singing the chorus and the track in not too convincing style. It is creatively quite strong though because he is singing of his love for his daughter and how she has him wrapped around her little finger. The beat is decent and the reggae inspired vocals give the track a nice flavour.
"How Da Beat Goes" may be the best track on the album. It samples the electro classic "Jam On It" by Newcleus. It is a fun party rap track and the beat is very solid. Will's raps are very fun and Tra-Knox's vocals are quite good in the chorus. This would have been a good single for the album but Sony only bothered releasing one single off the album. A strange move considering Will had sold over 10 million albums just a few years earlier but they gave up on this album very quickly.
"Block Party" is a nice ode to the old school but unfortunately the beat is very weak and Tra-Knox's vocals are once again very annoying; their vocals on this track are just not needed. If this was an old school beat with Jazzy Jeff scratching throughout it would have been great. Will is rapping about setting up block parties in the street in West Philly back in the day.
"Give Me Tonite" is a solid track that samples George Benson. It's a great beat and Will has solid raps unfortunately Tra-Knox jump on the track and do an entire verse. At this point of the album they are becoming very annoying because they are dominating every track and everything they do sounds the same. They are essentially 3 male vocalists so even a female RnB voice would be a nice change at this point.
"I Gotta Go Home" is a nice jamaican flavored track. The music is a solid improvement over past tracks and features a nice mix of horns, keys and strings. Its more a classic Fresh Prince rhyme and the island flavor is a nice twist to the tried and true formula. This is definitely one of the better tracks on the album and thankfully Will is rapping the chorus instead of having Tra-Knox deliver it.
"Nod Ya Head" was just a bad move when doing a follow up to "Men In Black." I can understand Will wanted to do something different and the rhymes are solid but the rock infused track just didn't work. It is basically just one guitar riff repeated and it just isn;t strong enough to stand up to repeated listens. I guess this follow up was a sign that Will was starting to slip on the rap front which was disappointing coming off the extremely strong "Willennium."
The album finishes with the very strong "Momma Knows." Will raps about his mom and the great advice she gave in his life. The song has more meaning than most of the album.
Born To Reign is Will Smith's weakest album. Will's greatest mistake was doing an album with Jazzy Jeff and there is no quality control here. There are some decent tracks amongst this bunch but having male RnB group Tra-Knox on every track ruined the album. There are plenty of great Will Smith albums to listen to, sadly this isn't one of them.
- Born to Reign
- Act Like You Know
- I Cant Stop
- Jadens Interlude
- 1000 Kisses
- Willow is a Player
- Black Suits Comin
- How Da Beat Goes
- Block Party
- Give Me Tonight
- I Gotta Go Home
- Black Suits Comin Remix
- Momma Knows