August 8, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Sizzling 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my means up into the current.

It’s considered one of our nice misplaced subgenres: the end-credits rap tune that summarizes the plot of the film that you simply simply acquired achieved watching. In some unspecified time in the future within the late ’80s, a bunch of movie executives determined that rap music was each marketable and humorous, they usually figured that they may use this music to promote a few of their less-prestigious choices. My buddy Jack Hamilton has known as this complete phenomenon “wrap-up rap,” and since I can’t give you a greater subgenre identify, that’s what we’ll go together with right here. Within the early days of the style, just a few wrap-up raps featured the movement image’s stars doing their finest to approximate rap music. That’s what’s occurring in my all-time favourite instance of the shape: Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks’ “Metropolis Of Crime,” from 1987’s Dragnet, which comes a lot nearer to Licensed To Unwell-era Beastie Boys than anybody might’ve presumably anticipated.

More often than not, although, Hollywood went to precise rappers to file their end-credits theme songs. Many of the style’s extra credible names weren’t , or possibly no person tried to recruit them, however loads of rap goofballs have tried their hand on the wrap-up rap through the years. The Fats Boys did it on “Are You Prepared For Freddy” in 1988. Former Quantity Ones artist Vanilla Ice did it on 1991’s “Ninja Rap” — a tune that Ice really performs in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze, not even ready for the top credit. Tone Lōc did it on 1994’s “Ace Is In The Home.”

For no matter purpose, from Dragnet on, film reboots of previous TV exhibits have gone particularly exhausting on wrap-up raps. The early-’90s Addams Household motion pictures, as an example, had plot-summary raps from each MC Hammer and Tag Staff. Up till the mid-’90s, Hammer’s 1991 single “Addams Groove” was simply the most important hit within the wrap-up rap pantheon. “Addams Groove” made all of it the way in which to #7, whereas Tag Staff’s 1994 follow-up “Addams Household (Whoomp!)” solely reached #84. (“Addams Groove” is a 3.) However then Will Smith grew to become a film star, and that brought on a everlasting shift within the stability of end-credits rap-song energy.

In 1997, Barry Sonnenfeld, the previous Coen Brothers cinematographer who directed these two Addams Household motion pictures, got here out with Males In Black, the primary true star car for Will Smith after Smith broke out in Independence Day a yr earlier. Smith was a rap star lengthy earlier than he was a film star, and his songs had been heavy on narrative and on crossover-ready appeal — possibly the 2 qualities most vital for wrap-up raps.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Recent Prince’s single “A Nightmare On My Avenue,” a #15 hit in 1988, was a uncommon unauthorized wrap-up rap, a Nightmare On Elm Avenue tie-in that the Nightmare producers tried to close down though it was higher than the Fats Boys single that they had commissioned. The “Nightmare On My Avenue” video needed to have a disclaimer that the tune wasn’t formally related to the Nightmare franchise. Two years later, Will Smith jumped into sitcom stardom, and his theme for The Recent Prince Of Bel Air was a brand new wrinkle: The opening credit rap tune that describes the plot of the present that you simply had been about to look at.

Whereas Will Smith was making Males In Black, hitmaking manufacturing duo the Trackmasters satisfied Smith that he ought to file a theme tune for the movie. At that time, Smith was now not making music with DJ Jazzy Jeff, and he was full-time centered on conquering Hollywood, however he went together with the plan. Smith’s tune “Males In Black” was a ridiculous smash that might’ve in all probability reached #1 if it had been commercially launched as a single, and it helped the film develop into the phenomenon that it was. When Smith reunited with Sonnenfeld two years later, they tried to repeat the trick. The ensuing film was a world-historical bomb that Will Smith now calls the worst movement image that he ever made, though he made Brilliant and After Earth and Suicide Squad. However the tune grew to become the second of Will Smith’s two #1 hits.

Will Smith should’ve felt completely bulletproof when he made each Wild Wild West and “Wild Wild West.” Unhealthy Boys had been a stable hit. Independence Day and Males In Black had been globe-conquering blockbusters. After these two movies, Smith had taken a break from punching CGI aliens to behave alongside Gene Hackman within the paranoid political thriller Enemy Of The State — not a mature film, precisely, however not a cartoon, both — and even that had made tons of of thousands and thousands. Smith had returned to music virtually as a spare-time interest, and that had been a roaring success, too. Large Willie Fashion, Smith’s first solo album, offered thousands and thousands, and “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” went all the way in which to #1 — one thing that Smith had by no means been in a position to accomplish when he was nonetheless calling himself the Recent Prince. On the time, you would argue that Will Smith was the most important film star and the most important rapper on the planet. The reception for Wild Wild West should’ve felt like a blast of chilly water to the face.

Like so many different would-be ’90s blockbusters, Wild Wild West was an adaptation of a barely-remembered ’60s TV sequence. The movie spent years in pre-production; at varied factors, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, and George Clooney had been hooked up to star. Will Smith famously turned down the function of Neo in The Matrix to play Jim West, lawman and former Union soldier. On paper, you may see why individuals thought it could work. Smith might seemingly do no improper. He and Sonnenfeld had been coming off of Males In Black, they usually knew how you can work collectively. The remainder of the forged was filled with heavyweights: Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Salma Hayek. And at the least in concept, there was one thing highly effective about constructing a mega-budget Western round a Black star. However there’s completely nothing highly effective about Wild Wild West, an totally deranged cacophony of godawful-ugly CGI and tried slapstick.

See also  Peloton Sued For Unlicensed Use Of Cypress Hill, Home Of Ache Songs

Tonally, Wild Wild West is whiplash-inducing nonsensical psycho shit. Will Smith’s Jim West is meant to be a suave James Bond sort, however he’s additionally imagined to be out to cease the previous Accomplice basic who massacred his dad and mom. All of the setpieces are noisy goofball spectacles with limp punchlines, and all of the characters talk principally in frantically unfunny quips. The film all the time finds the dumbest doable methods to cope with a Black protagonist in a Reconstruction-era setting. Then, on the finish, there’s a large robotic spider for some purpose.

A lot of the blame for Wild Wild West presumably belongs to Jon Peters, the high-powered maniac producer who’d gotten his begin as Barbra Streisand’s hairdresser and boyfriend. A few years later, Peters would unsurprisingly face sexual harassment allegations, and Bradley Cooper, a person who will ultimately seem on this column, would painting Peters in Licorice Pizza. To listen to Kevin Smith inform it, Peters, a superhuman wellspring of horrible concepts, was obsessive about placing big robotic spiders in all of his blockbusters. With Wild Wild West, Peters acquired his means. The general public didn’t share his enthusiasm for that concept.

Wild Wild West opened fairly massive on July 4 weekend, a bit of useful summer season actual property that Will Smith had beforehand owned. The film then dropped like a stone and have become a punchline. (The Razzies are an inherently nugatory train, however Wild Wild West is the form of film that appears virtually deliberately constructed to comb the Razzies, which is precisely what occurred.) Smith has all the time appeared massively embarrassed about Wild Wild West when he even mentions it. I simply skimmed Smith’s 2021 memoir for mentions of Wild Wild West, and it’s simply not in there in any respect; the e book jumps straight from the births of Smith’s children, future weirdo celebrities Willow and Jaden, to Ali. One way or the other, although, Smith’s compulsory Wild Wild West theme tune topped the Sizzling 100 weeks after the film opened, across the identical time that the movie cemented its flop standing. It appears protected to say that folks appreciated the tune higher than the film.

The thought for “Wild Wild West” got here from Rob Fursari, the songwriter and producer who was partially chargeable for Future’s Youngster’s first hit, 1997’s “No, No, No.” (“No, No, No” peaked at #3. It’s an 8.) Fursari had achieved some work with Will Smith’s former Recent Prince Of Bel Air co-star Tatyana Ali, who was signed to Smith’s manufacturing firm and who had a quick run as a pop prospect within the late ’90s. (Fursari didn’t have something to do with Ali’s one massive hit, the 1998 Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz collab “Daydreamin’,” which peaked at #6. It’s a 6.) Fursari knew that Smith had most of his success rapping over bald, apparent samples, so he whipped up just a few tracks sample-heavy tracks. The one which Smith appreciated the very best was constructed on an enormous piece of “I Want,” the euphoric Stevie Marvel hit that reached #1 in 1977.

Even for these of us who don’t actually thoughts bald, apparent samples, that “Wild Wild West” beat was a strikingly unoriginal concept. It got here out 4 years after Coolio had reached #1 with “Gangsta’s Paradise,” one other film theme constructed from a pattern of a Songs In The Key Of Life basic. (“Gangsta’s Paradise” is not within the wrap-up rap canon, because it doesn’t contain Coolio providing a rapped Wikipedia-level plot synopsis of Harmful Minds.) By that time, Stevie Marvel was very conscious that he might make some huge cash from individuals sampling his work. In Fred Bronson’s Billboard E book Of No 1 hits, Rob Fursari says that “Wild Wild West” was “an especially costly file to make” and claims that Marvel requested for a $500,000 advance for the pattern. Get your cash, Stevie Marvel! (Fursari’s work will seem on this column once more.)

“I Want” wasn’t the one massive pattern on “Wild Wild West.” Smith additionally had the concept to make use of a observe from a rap elder. Kool Moe Dee had been one third of the Treacherous Three, one of many largest teams to come back out of the South Bronx within the early days of hip-hop. The Treacherous Three by no means made the Sizzling 100, however they had been later sampled on a few chart-topping hits, Mariah Carey’s “Honey” and Will Smith’s personal “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” Kool Moe Dee additionally mainly invented battle-rap by shitting throughout fellow old-school nice Busy Bee in a 1981 face-off, and he went on to an extended and well-publicized feud towards his youthful peer LL Cool J. (LL in all probability gained that one; “Jack The Ripper” and “Mama Stated Knock You Out” had been each at the least social gathering directed at Moe Dee.)

After the Treacherous Three broke up, whereas most of his generational rap friends withered away, Moe Dee went on to a giant late-’80s run as a solo star. With these gigantic trademark sun shades and that commanding voice, Moe Dee was a fixture in rap’s late-’80s higher echelon. He labored with Teddy Riley early, and he gained a Grammy for a random-ass Quincy Jones collab. Moe Dee’s 1987 album How Ya Like Me Now went platinum, and considered one of its singles, a cowboy-themed observe known as “Wild Wild West,” grew to become Moe Dee’s largest chart hit, peaking at #62.

Relatively than sampling Kool Moe Dee’s “Wild Wild West,” Will Smith simply introduced Moe Dee in to file the observe with him. (Stevie Marvel and Kool Moe Dee each acquired songwriting credit, together with Will Smith and Rob Fursari.) On Smith’s tune, the deep voice murmuring the title belongs to Kool Moe Dee. Moe Dee additionally performs hypeman all through the observe, doing little call-and-response bits with Smith. (I by no means realized that Moe Dee’s line about “not the GBs” was imagined to be a Ghostbusters reference. Has anybody else ever referred to the Ghostbusters because the GBs?) Smith additionally introduced in one other visitor for his “Wild Wild West”: The fast-rising Baltimore R&B group Dru Hill.

Dru Hill had been named after Druid Hill Park, a Baltimore locale the place I spent a variety of time as a child, since that’s the place the zoo is. The members of the group all met after they had been working on the Fudgery, a self-explanatory enterprise in Baltimore’s downtown vacationer lure Harborplace. Whereas working the counter there, these 4 younger guys would all sing collectively, and they’d appeal to an enormous crowd. I’m pretty sure that I noticed some incarnation of Dru Hill performing on the Fudgery once I was a child. Dru Hill, led by a flamboyant and energetic little weirdo named Sisqó, signed with Island and launched a platinum self-titled debut in 1996. A few that album’s singles went top-10, and the most important of them, the sluggish jam “In My Mattress,” peaked at #4. (It’s a 6.)

See also  Stream Kendrick Lamar’s New Album Mr. Morale & The Massive Steppers

Dru Hill’s second album was even larger. 1998’s Enter The Dru went double platinum, and it had Dru Hill’s largest hit. “How Deep Is Your Love,” which additionally confirmed up on the top credit of the shock hit Rush Hour, peaked at #3. (It’s an 8.) Dru Hill had been on the precipice of one thing larger. That larger factor, we might later be taught, could be Sisqó’s solo profession — or, extra precisely, a few Sisqó solo hits. (Sisqó will present up on this column quickly sufficient.) First, although, Dru Hill acquired to be company on a #1 hit.

I’m all the time completely satisfied to see Baltimore individuals doing massive issues, and possibly there’s some mid-Atlantic connection between Philly native Will Smith inviting Dru Hill onto his massive film theme. Fursari says that Dru Hill recorded their a part of “Wild Wild West” in Manhattan and that Sisqó got here up with all of the vocal components in about 20 minutes. It might’t have been that exhausting, since Sisqó was actually simply singing Stevie Marvel’s melody however altering the lyrics into one thing about going straight into the wild wild west. The opposite Dru Hill guys barely even register on the observe.

It’s exhausting to even choose “Wild Wild West” by itself as a tune. It’s too tied up with Will Smith’s persona, with the wacky-ass historical past of end-credits rap songs, and particularly with the butt-ass horrible film that the tune exists to advertise. Most #1 hits had been constructed to promote, to not specific some artist’s deep interior emotions, however the songs nonetheless are inclined to have some connection to precise human feelings. “Wild Wild West” doesn’t. Its complete purpose for being is: Will Smith is Jim West! He’s so cool! Don’t you suppose he’s cool? Additionally, right here is the plot for Wild Wild West, a film that we wish you to pay cash to go see!

With that mentioned, “Wild Wild West” the tune is loads tougher to hate than Wild Wild West the film. A few of that comes right down to the fleet-footed sparkle of that Stevie Marvel pattern. A few of additionally it is in Will Smith’s energetically corny supply and Sisqó’s vocal theatrics. However I’ve additionally acquired a tender spot for the tune’s pure shamelessness. Even when he’s laying out this bullshit storyline, Smith feels like he’s having enjoyable: “Now, as soon as upon a time within the west! Madman misplaced his rattling thoughts within the west! Loveless!” (That line is the one purpose I’d ever keep in mind Kenneth Branagh’s character’s identify.) There’s all the time stuff occurring on the tune. There’s Sisqó hungrily keening everywhere in the observe, Smith and Moe Dee doing little back-and-forth routines, Smith’s previous associate Jazzy Jeff scratching throughout Stevie Marvel’s already-busy groove. “Wild Wild West” merely isn’t keen to allow you to get bored.

That shamelessness can be evident within the video, which got here from future Bulletproof Monk director Paul Hunter. The clip is totally jammed with eye-grabbing whizjets: elaborate units, dance routines, a flaming emblem. Sisqó, wanting endearingly foolish, by no means stops leaping round. Close to the top, the tune stops in order that Will Smith can throw his hat throughout a celebration scene that’s full of random-ass superstar cameos: Salma Hayek, Stevie Marvel, Babyface, Larenz Tate, MC Lyte, Smith’s former Recent Prince co-star Alfonso Ribeiro, future Quantity Ones artist Enrique Iglesias. In an equally foolish efficiency on the 1999 MTV Film Awards, Smith roughly recreated the video, using a horse by the viewers and leaving room for Sisqó to leap everywhere in the stage. Stevie Marvel acquired one other cameo in, too. I ponder if that was included within the $500,000 advance or if it value further.

The place Will Smith’s Large Willie Fashion period was at the least barely adjoining to what Puff Daddy and Unhealthy Boy had been doing across the identical time, “Wild Wild West” couldn’t presumably have much less in widespread with the circa-1999 rap zeitgeist. The largest stars of that yr — Jay-Z, DMX, the ascendant Money Cash camp — had been making exhausting and dirty avenue music, and that’s not what “Wild Wild West” was. The yr’s massive breakout star was Eminem, the gleefully sociopathic white shock-rapper who will ultimately seem on this column. A yr after “Wild Wild West,” Em fortunately took a shot at Will Smith’s cleaned-up model of rap on his personal large hit “The Actual Slim Shady”: “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to promote information! Properly, I do, so fuck him, and fuck you too.” Will Smith’s rap profession was already a punchline. (“The Actual Slim Shady” peaked at #4. It’s an 8.)

You possibly can hear a few of that nervousness on Willennium, the excellently titled Will Smith album that got here out later in 1999 and included “Wild Wild West” virtually as an afterthought. (An album skit makes it clear that Smith solely places that tune on the album as a result of a child Jaden calls for it.) On Willennium, you may hear Smith making an attempt to determine his place within the rap panorama, rapping with present artists like Lil Kim and Eve but in addition doing old-school routines with Jazzy Jeff and sharing a observe with fellow ’80s vets Biz Markie and Slick Rick. All through, Smith sounds weirdly defensive about all of his hits.

Will Smith adopted “Wild Wild West” with the stupidly titled “Will 2K,” the primary actual single from Willennium. That tune was positively constructed to be a success; it was Smith and former Quantity Ones artist Okay-Ci doing high-energy flexing over the Trackmasters’ pattern of the Conflict’s “Rock The Casbah.” (“Rock The Casbah,” the Conflict’s highest-charting US single, peaked at #8. It’s a 6.) However “Will 2K” wasn’t actually a success; it peaked at #25. “Freakin’ It,” Smith’s subsequent single, had Smith difficult his rap friends to “write one verse and not using a curse,” and it solely made it to #99. The entire tune comes off each surly and absurd: “I learn in Rap Pages, they referred to me as ‘tender’/ Yeah, extra like Micro-soft.” Whoof. Willennium went double platinum — fairly good for anybody else, fairly unhealthy for the man who’d simply offered 9 million copies of Large Willie Fashion.

Will Smith made a few albums after Willennium, however he’s solely returned to the highest 10 as soon as, when his 2005 single “Swap,” which one way or the other has nothing to do with Hitch, peaked at #7. (It’s a 4.) On this century, Smith has principally busied himself along with his up-and-down movie profession. He’s made just a few good motion pictures and a variety of unhealthy ones. He’s racked up just a few Oscar nominations. He’s principally used music as a form of nostalgic interest, a factor that he places down and comes again to each occasionally.

See also  Shut Up, Dude: This Week’s Greatest Feedback

Smith’s musical output up to now few years has been a wierd patchwork. He reunited with Jazzy Jeff for a horrible social gathering tune known as “Get Lit” in 2017. He confirmed up on tracks with Latin stars Nicky Jam and Marc Anthony in 2018. He collaborated with cornball rappers Logic and Joyner Lucas. A few occasions, Smith additionally tried to return to the end-credits rap-song nicely. In 2002, when his music profession was nonetheless at the least semi-relevant, Smith went in an ill-advised rap-rock route on the Males In Black II theme “Black Fits Comin’ (Nod Ya Head),” which peaked at #77.

Then, in 2019, Smith performed the genie within the mostly-CGI, theoretically live-action Aladdin remake, a job that required Smith to do one thing resembling singing. For that film’s finish credit, Smith teamed up with DJ Khaled, a man who will ultimately seem on this column, for an totally ridiculous model of “Pal Like Me” that included just a few bars of Smith rapping about being a genie. It was unhealthy, and it didn’t chart.

That Aladdin remake got here out throughout a stretch when Smith was consciously and strenuously making an attempt to reinvent himself, cranking out memes and self-promotional clips on Instagram, making an attempt to ensure children remembered who he was. Final yr, Smith starred within the sports activities biopic King Richard, a great film, and went on a vaguely overbearing appeal offensive, publishing his memoir and letting the world know means an excessive amount of in regards to the interior workings of his marriage. You already know the place that led. Earlier this yr, mere minutes earlier than he lastly gained his long-coveted Oscar, Smith smacked the shit out of Chris Rock whereas Rock was in the midst of an awards-presentation routine.

That made for an totally bewitching night time of TV; I keep in mind feeling like I used to be excessive on celebrity-weirdness fumes that night time. When Judd Apatow jumped on Twitter and claimed that Smith might’ve killed Rock? Wonderful. Merely earthshaking. What a Rorschach check. What a calamitous sequence of meltdowns. Smith did win his Oscar proper after the slap, which made the entire thing crazier, and now he’s banned from the Oscars for the subsequent decade. (Smith is now formally the very best rapper ever to win an Oscar in an appearing class. Sorry, Mahershala Ali.)

The entire story is nearly Shakespearean. This man got here out of rap music, succeeded at turning into the most important film star on this planet, and by no means fairly gained the business acceptance that he’d all the time craved. Then he did earn that acceptance, however he managed to erase all of his personal goodwill whereas additionally elevating the Oscars again to pop-culture spectacle standing within the one second the place his grinning nice-guy act lastly shattered. It was one thing to witness. God solely is aware of the place Will Smith’s profession goes from there. I’m guessing he gained’t be again on this column, however I’m not going to foretell a goddamn factor. The simulation is glitching out too exhausting today; nothing is off the desk. (A suggestion: Will Smith ought to carry again Jim West for a gritty Unforgiven-style meditation on loss of life and guilt and growing older. Name it Previous West.)

In Will Smith’s grand arc, “Wild Wild West” is a minor footnote, a factor that didn’t even advantage a point out in his memoir. However within the massive story of end-credits rap songs, “Wild Wild West” is the towering climax, the one hit that dwarfed all others. Inside just a few years, the shape had virtually utterly disappeared. I keep in mind KRS-One did a really terrible wrap-up rap for the 2003 Assault On Precinct 13 remake with Ethan Hawke, and I had no concept why he accepted that task. The one wrap-up rap that I can keep in mind after that was a parody — the makers of the 2006 stoner comedy Grandma’s Boy bringing Kool Keith in to rap the film’s plot.

The tip-credits rap tune is a literal joke now. A couple of years in the past, the good comic Demi Adejuyigbe imagined how Will Smith’s end-credits songs for precise good motion pictures like Moonlight would possibly sound. Perhaps someday the end-credits rap will return. Perhaps Will Smith, the king of the style, would be the one who brings it again. Till then, we’ll all the time have “Wild Wild West.”

GRADE: 5/10

BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Offset and Gunna kinda-sorta interpolating “Wild Wild West” on a 2019 Offset observe that’s additionally known as “Wild Wild West”:

(As lead artist, Offset’s highest-charting single is the 2017 Metro Boomin collab “Ric Aptitude Drip,” which peaked at #13. As a member of the Migos, Offset will ultimately seem on this column. Gunna’s highest-charting single, the 2018 Lil Child collab “Drip Too Laborious,” peaked at #4. It’s a ten.)

The Quantity Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The Historical past Of Pop Music is out 11/15 by way of Hachette Books. You possibly can pre-order it right here.