Writer: Kyle Wheelock
We need to talk about Jaden Smith. Yes, Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada Smith, child actor, social media philosopher, we all know who he is. Or do we? On November 17, 2017, Jaden released Syre, his debut studio album and, to be honest with you, it’s pretty good. Confusing, but still pretty good. The title is a reference to Jaden’s full name, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith.
In an interview with Complex’s Paul Thompson, Jaden spoke about using this part of his name, saying, “It was like a switch—from one second to another, my whole life switched. I realized that Syre was the answer, what I had to move forward with. People love to just talk about me by name and say, ‘Oh, Jaden Smith this, Jaden Smith that.’ It’s time for a new awakening and a new consciousness. Anybody who thinks they know me, this album is something completely different from what they think”.
This excerpt really sums up my feelings about Syre, because it really is different from anything I would’ve expected from Jaden. The album runs seventeen tracks deep and clocks in at just over 70 minutes in length, and feels more like a movie than it does an album. Over the span of Syre, Jaden uses his verses, intros, and outros to tell a story of crime, love, betrayal, and loneliness in a way that plays out surprisingly well over several dark and moody beats that, in all honesty, carry the album more than Jaden does.
This isn’t to say Jaden contributed nothing to his own album, he definitely comes through with impressive vocal performances when he sings and occasionally drops a clever bar here and there. Jaden hold his own as a rapper, but it’s the production that steals the show and runs with it. As a whole, Syre doesn’t fit into one genre, it blends hip-hop, R&B, electronica, and even some rock sounding ballads appear on occasion.
The first four tracks that open the album, “B,” “L,” “U,” and “E,” are all solely produced by Lido and each one on its own are mind blowing. The bass is distorted and massive sounding to the point where the tracks together sound more like a score for a film epic, and the many different sounds that are gradually introduced play off the foundation they set, even as the song evolves. From the bare and haunting fairy tale sounding intro on, “B”, Lido progressively changes the sound into a hyper banger that carries into, “L” which then breaks down only to once again crank the intensity up on, “U”, which turns into this loud, distorted aggressive rock rhythm, before falling again and leading into, “E” which does more of the same.
Words don’t really do Lido’s work on these tracks justice, he crafts these beautiful soundscapes that rise and fall in different ways that never lack creativity. If these four tracks were released as their own EP, both Jaden and Lido would have their names attached to one of the most jaw dropping releases of 2017. From here, the production is handled largely by Christian Rich, Young Fyre, and several other producers, whose contributions further build the unique sound of the album, but don’t quite top what Lido did. In fact, the only other tracks that really could do this are, “Hope”, and, “Ninety” (which are at 6 and 7 minutes in length respectively), but those are, perhaps unsurprisingly, also produced by Lido.
Instead, the other eleven tracks not produced by Lido serve as backdrops for Jaden to ride as he flexes his rapping and signing skills, which as a whole are solid. Jaden possesses a variety of flows and delivery methods, from cold and lifeless (think Drake on IYRTITL or Big Sean on I Decided), to loud and hyper aggressive at times. Beneath his delivery however, his actual lyrics are pretty inconsistent.
On the Lido produced tracks, Jaden gets introspective and political when describing what it’s like to be blue (on, “B” Jaden hits us with, “But my swaggy flow can’t even rap to the beat/ Better pass it to the chief, world is tragic and deceased/ Cops selling crack in the street/ But you look like the law”), but on the other tracks Jaden sort of drowns in his influences and begins using flows and bars that sound like imitations of other songs; for example the track, “Batman” sounds like a remix to Drake and Future’s, “Jumpman”, and, “Watch Me” sounds like a remake of Kanye West’s, “Black Skinhead”. Granted, “Watch Me” does use a, “Black Skinhead” sample, so the similarities are to be expected sonically, but even then the other aspects of the song still sound too Yeezus inspired for me.
So, as a whole, Syre is definitely a solid project, even at its, “worst”, the production is still pretty good, and Jaden can sing and ride the beats well enough to get his point across, even if his lines aren’t always the best around. Earlier I called this album confusing, and that stems mostly from Jaden himself. Jaden says he’s serious about his music career, and I can tell from the quality of the final product (Apparently Syre was in the works for three years and underwent many changes and reworks). Still though, Syre at times can sound too much like someone else’s work and I don’t know if that was intentional and Syre is actually a postmodern art piece, or if Jaden Smith lacks enough originality to come up with his own ideas and he just decided to copy those around him. I hope it’s the former, because Jaden’s debut is definitely one of my favorite of the year and it shows an incredibly amount of potential for growth and I’ll definitely be listening for any future projects he releases.
Final Verdict: Really good, give it a listen
Highlights: BLUE, Breakfast, Lost Boy, George Jeff, Rapper