Tuesday’s Tunes: Willow Smith’s “The 1st” Is a Futuristic Blast From the Past

The gut-wrenching 11-track album will take you on a journey that transcends genre.

Seven years after the epic pop energy that was “Whip My Hair”, seventeen-year-old Willow Smith has taken a deep dive into her own emotions and brought forth a far-evolved and passionate piece of music: The 1st. The album as a whole is wildly dynamic; unlike her equally boundary-pushing but far more hip-hop inspired debut album Ardipithecus, The 1st pulls from earthy early nineties grunge references and does not shy away from unabbreviated abstract instrumental overtones. Ultimately, this second album is like listening to an extremely eclectic and innovative audiobook of Willow’s highly relatable inner dialogue through love and anger.

Much like the themes throughout the album, the execution of each of the songs is relatively unadorned and raw, in true punk style. Already adept at pushing boundaries in genre and song structure, Willow plays heavily with dissonance and melodic inconsistencies which mirror the slightly confused nature of many of the songs. When Brittany Spanos of Rolling Stone mentioned clear similarities between her music and indie rock predecessors such as Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos, Willow responded in pure joy, calling them her “literal icons” that inspire the energy of her live performances as well.

In that same interview last month, Willow opened up about the process that went into creating this new album, her two-year struggle to challenge herself in becoming music-literate and the complicated topic of self-love. “Through the feeling of your fingers burning and just trying to keep your fingers on the strings and spending hours sitting and trying to get one riff or one change of chords, you feel like you’ve climbed a mountain. […] It’s like a sixth sense of competence. And through that sense of competence you get confidence. It’s a cycle of tracking the progression of your competence and the growth of confidence.” She goes on to note that for her, becoming engrossed in romantic love was an eye-opening experience to how she should be treating herself.

Although the album can be very ethereal and hard to pin down at times, the complex issues that Willow tackles throughout are dealt with in a way that is beautifully vulnerable, genuine and ultimately relatable. By the end, the album realizes itself into an unapologetically real, somewhat temperamental yet fully badass mixture of indie rock, afro-punk and hip-hop attitude. In her own words, “lets all come together in light, love and harmony through oneness with ourselves and All That Is.” Realness.