After years of dropping odd singles and featuring on other artists’ works, Jaden Smith released his debut album SYRE on November 17, 2017. But long-time fans know his actual debut was on Justin Bieber’s iconic teen bop, “Never Say Never,” at 12 years old. Already a twitter prophet, fashion trailblazer, lead anime character and heir to Will Smith’s fortune, Jaden Smith leads an unusual life that would lend itself to a truly unique perspective in rap—especially when coupled with his enigmatic presence. So, I was disappointed to find Smith essentially raps clichés about heartbreak during the first half of his album then shifts into a boastful tone that is just as stereotypical in the second—all while sprinkling in half-hearted “fake deep” lines that fall far short of his twitter gems.
It isn’t all bad, though. The album begins with an innovative intro that spans four songs, “B,” “L,” “U,” and “E,” and opens with Smith’s sister Willow and Pia Mia singing the story of Genesis, a reference that is pretty on-the-nose. Still, their duet is one of the highlights of the album and the four openers artfully play with transitions that span musical genres, setting the tone for the rest of the album. The production on SYRE is easily one of the redeeming aspects and top-notch, as one would hope when the potential max budget is Will and Jada-Pinkett Smiths’ combined net worth.
However, SYRE’s main pitfall is its lack of editing; each song contains multiple disparate styles of music, including techno beats, acoustic guitar riffs, two-minute steel drum interludes (“Hope”), and Kanye West-style vocal distortion. Plus, along with the combined four intro songs that clock out at almost 14 minutes, other songs like “Ninety” and “Lost Boy” are over 7 and 9 minutes long, respectively. It’s overwhelming.
Smith’s lyricism also could have benefitted from a filter. In his faux-“woke” fashion, he compares himself to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at least 3 times in the song “L,” including the absurd lines “Girl, I’m Martin Luther, Martin Luther King/ Life is hard, I’m Kamasutra-ing”, which honestly might be offensive if it had any substance(?). Or my personal favorite snippet from “U,” which is just as nonsensical: “…gettin’ green/ Man I’m artichokin’, man I’m artichokin’/ I can’t breathe, that’s the art of chokin’” (Hint: Don’t be like me and google search “artichoking” hoping it means “getting money”—and that Jaden is actually a genius wordsmith— because the Urban Dictionary definition is nowhere close and much worse…).
Through all of the rapid-fire genre shifts and lazier lyrics, there are still plenty of good moments in SYRE. The (first) transition in “B” is one of the clearest and most innovative moments on the album. Songs like “U,” “The Passion,” and “Watch Me” (probably intentionally) sound reminiscent of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “Lost Boy” is clearly inspired by Frank Ocean’s Blonde and my personal favorite, “George Jeff,” would fit in among Earl Sweatshirt’s discography. It’s evident through this album that Smith has potential, but could benefit from further honing his vision on future works.
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