To be one of the few people on Earth that Kanye West trusts, both personally and musically, is...
DJBooth Album Review
To be one of the few people on Earth that Kanye West trusts, both personally and musically, is a curse. No artist over the last decade casts a longer shadow than Ye, and to stand beside him is to inherently be overshadowed by him. Hell, you can’t even drop your first true album without some reviewer kicking off the review by mentioning your Kanye connection. For a man who hates to be labeled (“…too damn limiting and I don’t let anyone limit me,” Williams said in a Skope interview) the biggest label stuck to his chest in the public’s mind isn’t “soul artist” or “Black artist”, it’s “Kanye’s artist.”
Truly establishing himself as a solo artist while building on the West-related foundation he’s laid down is no easy task, but Williams has fired a hell of an opening shot on The King or the Fool. An album that’s been in the works for literally years – in the meantime he dropped two mixtapes, Finding Dakota Grey and Some of My Best Rappers Are Friends – Fool or the King is the work of a man who clearly has his own creative vision. (After all, Kanye doesn’t need another Kanye – he wants Williams in the studio because he brings something new to the table.)
I was about to write “I promise that was the last time Mr. West’s name will come up in this review”….but there’s going to be just two more times. Another You anchors a classically soulful guitar melody over pounding A-Town “hey”s and a lighthearted verse from Ye that quickly gives way to feel good vocals from Williams that somehow manage to mention both geopolitics and romance in the same verse. Yeezy also threw down an instrumental on Dreamin’ of Your Love 2012 and Wake Up Girl, but we really need to move on from the Kanye thing – so instead let’s shift over to more G.O.O.D. Music family with the John Legend-assisted I Know You Missed It. Missed It takes a Hit Boy beat that could have just as easily become a banger and instead embeds it with hints of sorrow and regret, a combination that’s sonically adventurous but not completely effective. And just to round out the heavyweight collaborators list, the always impeccable No I.D. provides Williams and DMV soul supplier Raheem Devaughn with a supremely smooth backdrop to lay down their romantic intentions on Mr. Safety.
Those are the tracks that will grab attention based on name value alone, but the truth is that Williams is an album singer, not a single singer. The man doesn’t have the kind of unique voice that instantly makes people listen (a la Avery Storm), and he almost never breaks down with emotion (a la Anthony Hamilton) or explode into vocal fireworks (a la Keyshia Cole). Instead, The World Famous is simply really good for a really long time, providing a steady stream of well-crafted music throughout King or the Fool, from the more traditionally R&B This Place to the slower piano-ballad title track. He saves his most dynamic performance for album standout The Crown, a globe-trotting track that showcases both the depth of his musical influences and the power he can convey. He may not be a king, at least not yet, but the man’s definitely no fool.
Ultimately The King or the Fool isn’t the album that will truly make The World Famous Tony Williams a household name, but I don’t think that’s his goal here. I think Williams' goal is to show us that there’s a complete artist behind the credits on that Kanye West album liner, and in that sense the album is nothing but a success. And if he just so happens to become a star in his own right? Well, I don’t exactly think he’ll complain.
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Feb 16, 2012
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