- By Erin Christie -
The First (The 1st ), Willow Smith’s long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s Ardipthecus which garnered a large amount of recognition for key tracks such as “Wait a Minute!” and “Why Don’t You Cry,” and her EP, Mellifluous (2016), has finally reached airwaves and headphones everywhere on the eve of October 30th - the singer’s birthday, marking the comeback of one of music’s brightest stars.
Willow Smith, infamously known for her superstar family name and hit 2010 single, “Whip My Hair,” has truly made a new name for herself apart from those calling cards, establishing a beautifully soulful career in music rivalling those much older and higher in the ranks than she.
Despite only being seventeen-years-old,
Smith’s emotional vulnerability cuts through the silence like a knife, the raw quality of her voice making for one of the most beautiful compilations I have personally encountered this year. Smith has grown to a level of maturity unparalleled within this timeframe. This has already been established with 2015’s Ardipthecus but only furthered so, having moved very far on from her much more sweet, childish past,
With this record as with the last, she continues to inhabit a soulful melody, allowing each track to reach into the depths of the psyche, pluck the heartstrings, and take the listener down with her, no matter what she is portraying - whether sheer anger and frustration in “Human Leech,” which describes the process of attempting to break away from a toxic relationship or, figuratively, a relationship with someone who “drains the life out of you,” or in “Israel,” a ballad riddled with melancholy upon describing one’s attachment to another, indescribable and unsure.
Smith explores a new vocal range with tracks such as “Warm Honey,” lifting into a sugar-soaked chorus as she describes the process of falling in love, a topic that one certainly wouldn’t expert her, a child, to be so well-versed in. “Who’s your boy that plays guitar and likes Quentin Tarantino and really sad songs?” Willow implores through the opening track, “Boy,” creating the same anxiety and nerves that come with budding romance- “How come this is whack? Is love just torment?” she asks, and one can almost hear the cheers in agreement coming from the opposite end of the line from those who experience the same constant pain.
The raw emotion that she effortlessly exudes throughout this record
in describing the trials of the heart, one’s own process of self-discovery and encountering new things in life that can be challenging, and occasionally, heartbreaking - makes for a record radiating teen angst in a manner that doesn’t come off as obnoxious or immature, but entrancing. “I don’t wanna cry no more,” she plainly states, in “Oh No!!!,” exhibiting that same sense of broken vulnerability that we all often feel. Willow's record never shields anything from the listener. Listeners are given the uncut, unedited truth of Willow’s mind, the inner-workings of her spirit, and that is a beautiful thing.
In spite of all odds and the expectations one is sure to place on her prior to listening, Willow unapologetically expresses herself and her emotions, no matter how ugly, throughout this tracklist, opening up in a way that she has not before. In having the courage to be such an open book with her listeners, such truly resonates, allowing for a sheer sense of relatability- when she describes heartbreak, we also weep in pain, and when she describes the high one gets from feeling distinct and uncensored love, we, too, feel ecstasy coursing through our veins.
Her hauntingly beautiful voice, certainly unconventional in stature, becomes the canvas on which she paints her feelings, enchanting spectators as she constructs her craft. Not afraid to make waves, Willow, on the verge of adulthood and an entirely new chapter in her life, is truly on the fast-track toward superstardom in the industry- as she already indicated so many years ago- The 1st only being another stepping stone in her journey toward the stars.