Ever the generous young woman, Willow Smith
has gifted not only herself, but all of us a special present for her seventeenth birthday in the form of her second full-length album, entitled The 1st
If you missed her first album Ardipithecus
, which was released in 2015, than the Willow of The 1st
certainly seems like a far cry from the "Whip My Hair" Willow who really in all respects was only a child. No offense intended, but I also think it's easy to forget that she was only 10 years old when "Whip My Hair" was released. But I digress. As I was saying, if you missed her debut album, then much of Willow's new album will come as a shock in comparison to the precocious pop star you remember from 2010. But in Ardipithecus
was the framework and clues for the semi-matured singer-songwriter we find in The 1st
. I say semi-matured because for one, Willow is still only 17 years old, and two, because the growth and evolution of Willow's artistic identity is evidenced between her two albums, with the latter pointing to a young adult who is still finding her voice, but at the very least is writing wholly for herself.
Gone is the pop-star identity with which we can identify in "Whip My Hair" and the dance, pop-rock influences seen in Ardipithecus
. Willow has stripped away the roles that she was born into and expected to carry as young celebrity and has fully embraced growing into being a singer-songwriter. There are no drum machines to be found here, and acoustic guitars replace synths as the dominant instrument. In perhaps her most mature track "And Contentment", Willow is accompanied only by a bucolic and serenading trio of keys, acoustic guitar, and strings. Willow also allows herself to slow down her singing by exploring the depth of her own lyrical potential, channeling R&B and singer-songwriter influences into a voice that is surprisingly powerful and introspective for a seventeen year old, as is evidenced on "And Contentment" and "Israel".
On occasion her age betrays her, usually in the form of awkward wordplay like on "Boy", but there's a reassuring sense that these are the faults of a young musician still finding her way, and not products inserted by the culture-deaf producers that seem to stalk young pop artists like vultures to carrion. And interestingly, "Boy" is followed by the completely instrumental track "An Awkward Life Of An Awkward Girl", displaying a desire to not just create a compilation of unrelated singles, but a cohesive body of work with a spirit and identity.
is exactly the type of album to expect from a young artist with a lot of potential. It is unsure of itself at times, but brimming with a sense of confidence that allows it to accomplish whatever Willow wants. We might not get another "Whip My Hair" anytime soon—though that won't stop us from blasting it when the mood strikes, but Willow is here to prove that she is so much more than just a one-hit wonder.
is out now via Roc Nation.