Eminem pulled off a truly solo album, releasing some of the best rap albums of the last decade with little to no help. Jay-Z can pull it off. Nas can pull it off. But will.i.am?
Not so much.
Will.i.am, the Black Eyed Peas frontman and the producer behind recent hits from diverse artists like Justin Timberlake and The Game, decided to go similarly solo – in the most literal sense of the word – for his major label debut. There’s only one guest spot on his Songs About Girls. But that choice is just one of its many flaws.
It’s really unfortunate that will.i.am thinks so highly of his lyricism because his real talent is as a producer. But where Kanye West was wise enough to save some hot tracks for himself on his solo releases, Will gave all his good beats away. He tries for an electro-pop sound, but the results are mostly flat.
The main problem is the repetitiveness. The first 10 seconds on most of the tracks sound promising, but rarely build into anything outstanding (the somber strings on “She’s a Star” open the song nicely, but bore after a few loops, especially when backed by weak drums). There are a lot of guitars and funky synths, but they’re redundant (check out “Fly Girl,” made worse by will’s attempt at actual rapping). Don’t be surprised if two or three songs play in succession and you think you’re listening to one really long track.
While the weak production comes as a surprise, will.i.am’s vocal performances are nothing unexpected – they’re just not that good. He’s never been a particularly talented rapper or singer, just good enough to get by.
His content is also what you’d anticipate, given the album’s title. Will provides songs about girls: break-up songs, appreciation songs (mostly will displaying his affection for the female body), stripper songs and even a song about possibly the most powerful girl of all, Mother Nature.
The only song likely to get radio play is “I Got It from My Mama,” the twin brother of Peas’ hit “My Humps,” in which will explains that “If the girl real fine / Nine times out of 10 / She fine just like her mama.” Profound. The organic drums and club-friendly synths make it an instant hit while the repetitive, catchy chorus will be stuck in your head before you make it to the album’s next track.
Following suit, there’s “The Donque Song,” the only track with a guest appearance. But even the prolific Snoop Dogg can’t save this one, although he does cleverly begin his verse with “S-n-double o-p, that’s me / Chillin’ with my nephew, will.he.be.” But the rest of Snoop’s lines are recycled from his verse on “Gin & Juice,” only with slightly different words, which gives you an idea of the kind of effort Snoop put into penning the verse.
When will tries to get deep, as he does on “S.O.S. (Mother Nature),” much of the meaning – the environment is slowly dying due to global warming, and we’re just sitting back and watching – gets lost in some of will’s ridiculous lines: “When an Eskimo gets bit by a mosquito / Somebody in Miami will get swept by a tsunami.”
This solo project will by no means end will.i.am’s career as a producer. Big-time artists will continue to collaborate with him, as there’s no denying he knows he knows how to produce a hit. It’s too bad he doesn’t know how to make one for himself.