The Fresh Prince, though, remains a fascinating niche unto himself, a lone rapper who brags about his lack of profanity, a guy who continues to get older while his audience stays the same age. He's the master, if not the progenitor, of the cheesy, summer-movie accompanying anthem; his albums of the '90s were built beat-by-beat with them and even without them (see "Get Jiggy with It"). No surprise, then, that there's plenty of the same on Born to Reign: "Block Party" updates his classic "Summertime" to a 112-like R&B jam; "Maybe" does the "Thanks for the Memories" bit of "Just the Two of Us"; and Men in Black II's theme song, "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Your Head)," gets two treatments, the rock-oriented original and a J.Lo-style remix.
Once you rid yourself of any pretense of "art" here, Reign settles in well as a fine piece of guilty pleasure pop, certainly the best thing Smith has done in years. Rid of the reliance on cheap samples that demeaned previous efforts, here he's got sharp, modern beats, and the backup harmonies by trio Tre-Knox (which sounds like a cross between Sisqo and R. Kelly) allow his songs a more melodic bent. This is certainly the most diverse record he's made: "Willow Is a Player" mixes a reggae vocal flow with a stuttering, Timbaland-style beat; "I Can't Stop" sounds like DMX attempting salsa; and wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, should surprise just about everyone on the fun disco tune "1,000 Kisses." It's escapist fare that won't leave any lasting memory except for good times -- and isn't that what summer is all about?