Hello and welcome to Throwback to the Future IV! In our previous three installments, we’ve taken a forgotten classic and re-highlighted its existence in the wake of newer spins or remixes rising to popularity.
Today is absolutely no different as we take a look at a (borderline embarrassing) childhood favorite of mine in Will Smith and his groovy, movie-based track “Wild Wild West.”
By the time Will Smith released “Wild Wild West (feat. Dru Hill & Kool Moe Dee)” in 1999 he had already released two hit singles: the theme song for The Fresh Prince of Bel Air in 1990 and the end credits track for Men in Black in 1997. Additionally, Smith was fresh off of his decision to say no to the role of Neo in The Matrix, and instead say yes to James West in Wild Wild West–a movie that Smith admits was a mistake, but holds no regret over out of praise for Keanu Reeves’ superior performance as Neo.
Regardless, “Wild Wild West” (as many of Will’s songs do) qualifies as a great example of what I call “Sampleception” – because it’s actually a song sampling multiple other songs by completely different artists and then featuring a separate artist who was never involved in either of the previous songs…got it?! Me neither. We have to go deeper.
In 1987 rapper Kool Moe Dee released his second single off of his second studio album–a track entitled “Wild Wild West”. Kool Mo Dee reperformed his chorus for Will Smith’s 1999 track of the same name.
Additionally, Will Smith brought in vocalist quartet Dru Hill and sampled Stevie Wonder’s 1972 feel-good groove “I Wish”, altering:
I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ever have to go?
…to the more straight-forward…
Will Smith’s track discusses the lifestyle of the character Smith plays in the film: James West. Kool Mo Dee’s song of the same name details his life in the neighborhood that he grew up in. Stevie Wonder’s classic “I Wish” takes that concept a step further and provides a dialogue on Wonder’s corrupted adult mind longing for the days of his long-gone childhood–days that were filled with innocence and simplicity–even within their mighty struggles.
Admittedly (shamefully), as a kid and into my teens I had no idea that Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” existed. I did, however, jam Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West” quite often.
When the day came and I had finally discovered the 1972 original banger I honestly never felt inclined to listen to Will Smith again. Not out of any childish boycott or weird bitterness. I just discovered that there is some music that I respond to more positively than others. That’s the beauty of true art. There’s something for everyone out there. If there isn’t, you get to create it yourself.
“Wild Wild West” is just one of the 15 songs included on the 2002 “Greatest Hits” release that compiled Smith’s most successful songs (yes, of course I owned it). At least 11 of the 15 tracks on the album involve direct samples from previous decades’ hits. This cannot be by coincidence.
Will Smith is a smart man. We’re talking about a guy who as a big kid on a decent TV show in the 1990s publicly set his sights on “becoming the biggest movie-star in the world” and began studying the characteristics of previous blockbuster films. Then, he secured the lead role in hit after hit after hit in the late ’90s and into the 2000s–and was ranked the number one movie star in the world by countless oh-so-important polls by 2007.
I want to be clear here and state that I am not at all bashing the very real art of sampling. At the time of Smith’s rise to fame, sampling was growing in popularity and extremely common. In many ways sampling will always be relevant.
However, are there levels to the usage of sampling within original content? Absolutely, but that’s a bigger discussion for a longer day. I’m simply stating that if I choose to kick back and put on a playlist, I’m definitely picking the one with “Sang and Dance,” “Forget Me Nots,” “Rock the Kasbah,” and “I Wish.”
As opposed to the one with “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”, “Men In Black”, “Will 2K” and “Wild Wild West”.
In short, I prefer to listen to the OG hits rather than the Will Smith editions of classic songs – essentially stripped of their depth and originality.
But you get the picture and you know where I stand. Where do you stand? Which do you prefer?