WRITTEN BY: Daizha Jimenez
The most amazing thing about social media and music is that as fans, you get to witness the evolutions of artists first hand. The fans of Willow Smith, including myself, were gifted with the fruit of her latest installation that shows how she has been maturing as an artist. As a follow-up to her debut album Ardipithecus (2015), The 1st, released on October 31st, gets fairly emotional and philosophical, as expected from the woke and eccentric personality of the now 17-year-old. This album stands as her “1st” dive into the real emotions put forth by love. It is what she calls a journey through all types of love, first love, obsessive love, and the love that brings self-realization.
The album’s instrumentation stands out as what I would call her best to date. She has taken a step out of her previous computer-based sounds into something more self-composed and instrument based. Not one song on The 1st is without acoustic instrumentation or symphonic melodies, like the first track on the album, “Boy,” that features a mini-orchestra of picking and humming violin and cello strings. This is far from her music when she first came out, back in 2010, that mainly consisted of bubbly, beat banging pop tracks. Another element that fans noticed has evolved is the singer’s vocals. In comparison to earlier tracks, Willow’s efforts, practice, and experience with her own vocals is apparent on this piece and has since developed a honey-smooth texture with surprising range. She also shared its ability to blend with more grungy and metal sounds in her song “Human Leech,” where she manipulates her vocals into having raspy and angry undertones, causing folks to give comparisons to the likes of Alanis Morissette. In this song, she gives us the sad and draining parts of being in love with lyrics like, “You suck the life right out of me/ And I willingly give you everything/ It sucks cause I know that it’s wrong/ Making me weak while you get strong.”
Willow has also made known since her earlier works, she’s picked up a guitar, a needed and great addition to her artistry. She’s posted videos of her practicing for years and fans can now be satisfied to hear some of her hard work put into place in tracks like “A Reason,” where I think she shows off her vocals the most, giving us strong Erykah Badu and Tracy Chapman vibes. There’s also the song “Israel,” that is full of lyrical poetry like, “Your eyes like caramel in the sky/ Dripping down my moon/ Your smile like the wind.” The song “Lonely Road” contains her only feature on the album, the super talented, Beyonce proteges, Chloe x Halle. They are the perfect addition to this dark song about being optimistic about loneliness, that features a simple rhythmic guitar and saxophone and lots of harmonic vocals. The last song and first single from the album, and a personal favorite is “Romance.” This song’s guitar style has strong Spanish influences that convey the strong feelings of her intimate lyrics about the greater meaning beyond love and romance. The song stands as her final realization and arguably pessimistic view of what love is, a distraction from self-love. She says, “Romance doesn’t exist/ It’s a hoax to trick your mind into thinking/ perfection exists.” She ends the song and album with how she wishes the world will one day become, “Where we don’t condemn different people/ For exercising their freedom /Where sex stays sacred /And an act of divine love/ And not perverted into violence and lust.”
I’d say her philosophies behind the album are quite impressive and there are other good points about life and love she makes throughout the piece. Willow’s development of music and artistry has taken her some time but she has put it into place to teach fans that honing one’s skills to create something amazing is possible for anyone. The creative spirit that is Willow Smith is slowly becoming an inspiration for many young musicians and this album is the “1st” step towards her long legacy of great music.
You can listen to her new album here on Spotify: