Will Smith

Born To Reign is the spectacular and soulful sound of Will Smith boldly achieving his own musical destiny. Though he’s long ruled from a cultural throne all his own, Smith takes another great leap forward with his latest effort, for which he served as Executive Producer along with Omarr Rambert. The new album — released worldwide on June 25th – features Smith’s latest single “Black Suits Comin” (Nod Ya Head),” the theme from “Men In Black II.”

Now known to millions around the world as the superstar actor in such films as “Bad Boys,” “Independence Day,” “Men In Black,” “Enemy of The State” and “Ali,” Will Smith first made his name as a pioneering rapper back in the Eighties as half of the popular duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. The pair were best known for a series of hits in the late Eighties and early Nineties like “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble,” “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (for which the pair won the first ever Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 1988) and “Summertime,” which also won a Grammy in 1991. Having become an even bigger household name as a TV actor in the hit sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and numerous films including the Oscar-nominated “Six Degrees of Separation,” Smith boldly returned to his recording career with 1997’s Big Willie Style — a massive commercial success that featured such standout smashes as “Getting” Jiggy Wit It,” “Just The Two Of Us,” “Men In Black” and “Miami.” 2000’s Willennium ushered Smith’s music into a new century with “Will 2K” and “Wild Wild West,” as well as a number of tracks that found Smith working once again with Jeff Townes, a.k.a. DJ Jazzy Jeff, his friend and collaborator since his days when he was The Fresh Prince.

Impressively, Smith’s music has never sounded quite so fresh as it does throughout Born To Reign. The new album very prominently features more live instruments and less sampling than Smith’s previous recorded work. Born To Reign, also prominently features the musical contributions of Overbrook/DreamWorks Records recording artists TR?KNOX- a three-member group that is an essential part of the album’s soulful sound. Also making significant contributions are a number of gifted producers and players, including MCA Records recording artist Christina Vidal (who appears on an old school remix “Nod Ya Head”) and actress Jada Pinkett-Smith, Smith’s wife, who duets with him on the ultra-romantic “1000 Kisses.”

Shortly after the completion of Born To Reign, Smith took time to discuss his latest and arguably greatest effort:

So what was your mission for the new album?

To get it finished. The world according to hip-hop was the overview. There’s Latin-flavored tracks. There’s reggae-flavored tracks. I have old school hip-hop records. I’ve got full orchestral records. We used lots of live instruments on this album. Historically it’s been almost a hundred percent computer-generated and samples. We went for a different approach to create a whole different sound.

The result is that this album that sounds more organic and even more soulful. Did it have that impact for you?

Oh yeah. The real difference is real strings. Synth strings just can’t touch the flavor and the humanity of real strings. We used live strings on about eight tracks. It’s kind of retro — but it’s so retro, it’s revolutionary.

Obviously the trio TR?KNOX brings a lot to the album. What do you think these guys brought to your party?

The thing with TR?KNOX is that creatively, I’d gotten to the point where my ideas were beyond my talent. The vibe that I wanted to capture and the ability that I had intellectually and creatively were beyond my ability to perform. And working with TRA-Knox gave me the opportunity to fill the void in certain areas and make the kind of album that I was hearing in my head.

They seem to have remarkable range musically.

You know they are extremely talented. They’re also actors so they understand the concept of drama and creating a three-act structure to a record. They understand building to a climax and bringing it back down. I think we speak the same language because of their acting experiences.

How did you first find these guys?

My buddy Charlie Mack met them in Philly, though they’re from New York, and they sang at my wedding to Jada so I’ve known them for a long time.

Speaking of Jada, you two duet beautifully on “1000 Kisses.” Now it can be a dangerous thing to collaborate with loved ones, but the track is a very sexy bit of domestic bliss.

Jada’s wanted to perform for a long time. She always said that she felt she could sing and perform and I think she actually put out a single when she was sixteen in Baltimore. So when she got in the studio she was excited about working and she liked the track and the fact that she and I were doing it together. And these were lyrics we both felt, so it worked out beautifully.

Why did you choose to call the album Born To Reign?

The piece at the beginning of the album — “Born To Reign” — sort of illustrates what I was trying to say. The concept has to do with destiny and the idea that destiny isn’t necessarily something that is pre-determined. Destiny is something that you can choose. You can choose what you’re born to be. And I choose to be Born To Reign.

You also chose to use less sampling this time, but you have borrowed a little bit from a wide range of sources, from Gipsy Kings to Kraftwerk to Luther Vandross. That’s quite a range. Is that just part of throwing this sort of global block party?

Jada and I listen to everything and I’m inspired by lots of different kind of music. Rap music is essentially a music without a music. There’s rap lyrics over different kinds of music, and really that’s what I was trying to do on this album — expand my borders, just to open up. For instance, on the “Men In Black” track — that’s the first time that I performed with a full orchestra. And that’s what I was going for — expanding the borders of hip-hop.

You’ve now released three albums in five years which puts you ahead of some full-time musical acts. How do you pull that pace off with your busy film career?

Well, I write all the time which makes it a lot easier. I never really come out of the lab. I’m always writing down ideas and concepts. I have a book full of ’em when I start an album. So generally, I only have to come up with three or four new things to make a new album.

Let’s discuss a few of the songs on the album. For instance, how did the very spicy “I Can’t Stop” start off?

That was when Jada and I were on vacation in Mexico like three years ago and we were listening to the Gipsy Kings the entire two weeks that we were there. That song was really just how that music made me feel, the emotion and the flavor that I got from the Gipsy Kings’ music.

How about “Black Suits Comin”” which is appropriately enough very cinematic?

“Black Suits Comin” was really an experiment — live drums, live strings, live guitars. full orchestra, tympani and everything. It’s a big experiment that I’m holding out to see how people react to it.

And the remix version with Christina Vidal has an almost Chic-vibe.

Yeah, we went with really old school filthy hip-hop drums — we were definitely going for a retro vibe on that one. I wanted to bring the remix back into a more familiar place.

Then there’s “How Da Beat Goes” during which you namecheck Russell Crowe and some of your Hollywood brethren.

Yeah — “You see me with Denzel or Russ Crow/But you know movies are just a trick on the side/I’m in love with the flow.” That really just illustrates the fact that I really do still consider myself a rapper first.

So is it funny to you that some people think you’re a movie star trying to crossover into music when that’s really where your whole story started?

Yeah, but I released my first record in 1986. So I can understand how somebody who was born in 1991 might have that question.

Another standout is “Block Party.” What does that one mean to you?

That’s my homesick track there. When I first heard the track, I got it from a guy named LES who’s down with the Track Masters, and it hit me like “Summertime” hit me. That sense of warmth and comfort made me think of Philly in the middle of summertime. With the first two verses, I wanted a sort of present day new school approach to it. Then on the third verse I tried to create a sense of how it used to feel.

The word “fresh” has been associated with you for many years ? How have you kept your music so fresh on Born To Reign?

You know I like to try different things. A lot of people try make their songs fit on the radio. You hear phrases like “radio-friendly.” Whereas when I make a record, I’m going for completely the opposite. I absolutely want to make a record that stands out on the radio. I generally try to get a sense of the tide of music only so that I can swim as hard as I can in the opposite direction.

You’re not interested in just going with the flow — you want to reign.


This album was recorded in Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey and Australia. Were you just taking it with you wherever you went?

I kept this one with me until it was right. I was in Australia with Jada who’s working on “The Matrix II” and “III.” But by that time, the album was pretty much done and I was just fixing and tweaking and getting things just right.

Finally, who exactly do you want to hear this album?

I always want to make the album that parents can put on in their kid’s room and feel comfortable. That’s always a priority. And beyond that anybody who appreciates old school hip hop lyricality.


source taken from http://www.willsmith.com/
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