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Album: Big Willie StyleReleased: 1997Charted:
This novelty number was the first solo hit for Will Smith, who was best known for the lighthearted Hip-Hop he made as the rapper in D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, and for his starring role in the TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which was on from 1990-1996.
"Men In Black" held the #1 spot in the official UK singles chart from August 16 of that year for four weeks, and was also #1 on the US Airplay chart for four weeks beginning August 9. Smith starred in the comedy thriller Men In Black with Tommy Lee Jones; the film was released August 1, and was a box office smash on both sides of the Atlantic. The ironically named Smith and Jones were government agents "protecting the Earth from the scum of the Universe."
The Men in Black are part of UFO folklore, and unlike most of such folklore such as the MJ12 Saucer Crash Documents, the Roswell Incident and alien abductions, they may have some basis in fact. They are either government agents who harass witnesses to UFO sightings in order to shut them up, or are themselves of extraterrestrial origin - or they are a figment of people's overworked imaginations. Take your pick, though the suggestion that anonymous government agents should take an interest in alleged UFO sightings is hardly far-fetched, especially when some of them have proven military connections. One of the more intelligent conspiracy theories concerning UFOs is that many of them are secret military projects such as the Stealth bomber.
This interpolates Patrice Rushen's 1982 hit "Forget Me Nots," with the chorus lyric changed from "To help you to remember" to "They won't let you remember" to go along with the theme of the movie, as the Men In Black erase memories of people who have witnessed extraterrestrial activity.
Rushen and her "Forget Me Nots" co-writer Theresa McFaddin are credited writers on "Men In Black," earning a nice payday from their 15-year-old song.
Cheryl "Coko" Clemons from the group SWV (Sisters With Voices) did the female vocals on this song ("Here come the Men In Black..."). SWV had several hits in the '90s, including "I'm So Into You" and "You're The One."
This won a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. Will Smith is a favorite among Grammy voters; he won the same award the next year for "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It
" and in 1989 he took home the first rap Grammy ever awarded (for Best Rap Performance) for "Parents Just Don't Understand
" as DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.
This was Smith's first release as a solo artist - all his previous releases were with DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. By cross-promoting the film and the song, Smith was able to leverage his talents as a musician and an actor to make his work extremely marketable. This formula was repeated in 1999 when Smith starred in and rapped on the title song for "Wild Wild West
In the US, this wasn't released as a single and was thus ineligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but it was a #1 hit for four weeks on the Billboard airplay chart during the summer of 1997 while it dominated pop radio. Holding back the single helped goose sales of the Men In Black soundtrack album, which also featured Snoop Dogg, Nas, the Roots, Alicia Keys and De La Soul. "Men In Black" was also included on Smith's debut solo album Big Willie Style, which was released in November 1997.
This was the first Will Smith song produced by Poke & Tone, who are the duo of Jean-Claude Olivier and Samuel Barnes. The duo later worked on Smith's #1 hit "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It
," and scored another chart-topper with the Destiny's Child song "Independent Women (Part 1)