By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The opposite is true, however, for the Fun King. After all, it's almost 2000! So Smith grabs and actually enlivens a theme so mundane it's already become a dusty national trope with dry cleaners and plumbers and banks and credit card companies: Y2K. Rechristening it "Will 2K," he remembers how folks freaked 10 years ago when it was only the decade number changing to nine, and that when Prince unveiled "1999" the date then seemed slightly surreal. The intriguing thing about the track is how Smith does more than appoint himself host of this upcoming already done-to-death New Year's; he also casts himself. Somebody's gotta do the Guy Lombardo gig, Smith suggests, so why not a deeply content mainstream cat in Prada, with fresh old Clash ("Rock the Casbah") and Sugarhill (Grandmaster Flash's "Super Rappin' ") samples? No time to ache.
Last summer, as Wild Wild West opened, Will Smith appeared on horseback on the cover of Vanity Fair. His only film for which he had less than fond memories, Smith told writer Ned Zeman, was the screen adaptation of Six Degrees of Separation, playwright John Guare's fastidiously calibrated confusion of identity and pleasure and money and panic glimpsed through a stark Upper East Side Manhattan lens. "It was," Smith said, "the only film I did that I didn't have fun."
What could be less Will Smith than Six Degrees of Separation, a play whose aspirations hark back to the high-modernist values and goals of Pirandello? Smith can't even stay in the conversation with Rap Pages; a Sugarhill lifer, he just doesn't feel the compulsion to pursue hip hop that's about fastidious calibrations of vocabulary and micro-manipulations of flow. Instead, making records during a time when John Updike admits to auditorium audiences that the day of the man of letters has passed, Smith strives to make hip-hop as fleet and efficient as the latest Web site. For him, ease hardly precludes complexity or depth; and, although tragedy certainly occurs, well, drama can get suffocating and inert pretty quick.
So Smith opens and reopens his park, where the rap streams by and the high times abound. There, Smith is a classic upbeat American, bestowing fine logicspectacular production values, well-turned tunes, pragmatic beatson illogical notions like pulling an undead single out of Y2K or Wild Wild West. He makes other hip-hop honchos seem like esoteric art-monsters, a touch on the mandarin side. Which they're not. But it can sure seem that way, once you've punched your ticket to Will Land.