Jaden Smith isn’t a bad rapper. Years of releasing various recordings have provided enough evidence of this. “Beast Mode,” “Fast” and “Offering” are a few noteworthy favorites that overshadow some of his lesser misfires. With a handful of both the good and the bad under his belt, it’s safe to consider Will’s son consistently inconsistent.
Jaden started rapping, much like acting, when he was rather young. He's still not of drinking age, a sign that the growing pains aren’t over just yet. It’s always a joy to watch a rapper grow from preteen musings into discovering a more mature voice. The gradual growth surrounding Jaden’s music has only heightened the expectations for his Roc Nation debut, SYRE.
SYRE still finds Jaden under artistic examination. Naysayers aren’t loud as they once were, and his ability to rap isn’t the necessary conversation anymore, but can Jaden construct an entire album? Is he able to make a body of work that holds a listener's attention from beginning to end? In his small but growing catalog, I have yet to experience a project by him that felt complete. There was always something missing, something lacking, falling short of his potential.
Jaden cites an exciting list of influences on the album, including Frank Ocean, James Blake, Kid Cudi, and Tyler, The Creator. What this group of artists has in common is a creative daringness, artists who push to break beyond conventional boundaries. Jaden comes off as someone who wants to be remembered as someone who didn’t follow the leader, a source of inspiration that encouraged other lone wolves. This is his chance to prove himself.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Let this be the start of joint albums being great again.
Willow! She sounds angelic. There’s a lullaby vibe to how her voice is mixing with the soft keys and sounds of clocks ticking. I feel like I’m in a scene from a Walt Disney film. Wow, the Willow Smith glo up might be a story worth telling. We have come a long way from her hair being whipped back and forth. Rappers need to get their Willow hooks in 2018. It sounds like her lyrics are coming from the Old Testament. Jaden's doing backing vocals. “Take me home, take me home.” I like this. Even though I’m not exactly sure what she’s illustrating. The bass just dropped. Production is cinematic, reminds me of something The Weeknd would’ve done early in his career. Jaden didn’t arrive until the end. Rapping over the bassline. Fast flow. Production is transforming more than a squad of Autobots. DRUMS!!! My god. Didn’t expect that explosion.
Seamless transition. I really hope that the first four tracks are all one long suite. Beat just smoothened out. Jaden sorta reminds me of Raury. “K-Dot is coming out of me,” a Kendrick reference? It’s like double-time spoken word. No drums or bass, Jaden just rapping over the softest keys. Catching some bars. Too fast to type but he’s spitting. I take back what I said about The Weeknd, production is very post-Travis Scott. I wonder if Jaden is a fan of Yeezus. I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what he’s talking about, there's a lot of introspective rambling, but I’m liking the sonic direction.
Wow. I wasn’t ready for that switch. He’s singing his little soul out. There’s another feature, another voice, much older and much stronger. I’m loving this track the most so far. Yeah, Jaden is a student of the Travis Scott/Kanye heavy keys and monstrous drums. “U” sounds like the sky burning, the ground splitting, and the ocean raging—basically the rapture. Jaden with the "I can’t breath" reference. He’s breathing fire. He yelled calm down and everything calmed. He is the master of this album’s universe. This is pretty damn cool how the album has progressed thus far. There’s focus. There’s direction. Another police reference, FBI. CRAZY BEAT SWITCH UP! THESE DRUMS ARE EXPLODING. JADEN IS RAGING. “Jimi Hendrix with the shit!!” Yeah, he is spazzing. Song just went straight rock. The kind of abrupt, destructive transitions that made Yeezus riveting. Spoken word. So much is happening. The entire song has destroyed and rebuilt itself. You could probably drop a nuclear bomb on “U” and it would revive itself. My head is spinning. Another voice singing.
If this album was a four-track EP with the opening records I would be impressed. I’m just unsure of the lyrical narrative. There’s a story here. Another reference to the city hating black skin. I wonder how Jaden feels about racism based on his personal experience. Imagine being the son of Will Smith and being racially profiled. Probably the most stripped-down beat yet. Very minimal. I wish Jaden would slow down the flow. His delivery doesn’t allow you to attach to what is being said. He’s just rushing through the song like Sonic rushes through Green Hill Zone. This completes the Blue collective. Wait. We're getting the first non-rapping vocals. I'm not sure what’s being said. I’m pretty sure this is important to the album narrative.
5. “Breakfast” ft. A$AP Rocky
“Alright nigga no more fun and games.” Loving the beat. Slum Village nod. This is ill. Beat got a nice bounce and Jaden is hitting the pocket. Jaden Smith just confirmed the Illuminati is real. I really want a Tesla now. How many articles does it take to get a Tesla? [Editor's Note: A lot.] Vocal-pitched conversation. Everything is overlapping. I’m not sure what is being said. Is that supposed to be Rocky? I’m not sure. Oh shit. Beat switch. Jaden’s rambling but it doesn’t matter. The beat sounds like it was raised in the Batcave Bruce Wayne discovered after his parents died. These keys are tweaking. These drums are aggressive, able to provoke a benevolent king to start a war. Syre is the name of the character.
The previous song ended with the question, “Can you save rap music?” Man, we're still waiting on Jay Electronica, SYRE can wait in line. A very smooth beginning. Was that Willow on backing vocals? Man, we're five songs in and I’m certain there have been 10 Martin Luther King references. The Willow and Jaden dual double is a perfect fusion dance. I have to say, there’s an exhausting aspect to this album already. It’s overflowing with music pouring from its pores. Jaden doesn’t appreciate the ratchets that are flooding Calabasas. “My ego had to die,” there’s some good content in these bars. There’s also a lot that feels like random ramblings. A sudden switch to singing. He sounds pretty good with the touch of reverb. This album is drunk with its focus, yet with ambitious, sudden switches. Another song is beginning after a voice asked Syre about a woman. It sounds like keys but also like wind chimes. Very lucid and free-flowing.
7. “Falcon” ft. Raury
I'm loving how little pieces of conversation lead to the next track. Asking Syre if he likes to party transitioned into a dance-esque track. This beat could have easily found a home on Vince’s Big Fish Theory. Raury sounds good! Acoustic guitar strums and his soft singing. Man, this album doesn’t give you a second of comfort. Back to the dance floor. I sorta like this. Before he started singing. Raury returned without the guitar but with bars. These two mesh well. If I must request another joint mixtape project, I wouldn't mind these two. The song switched to a police chase. Overloading.
It’s insane how much Jaden is packing into three minutes. I’m expecting five different songs in the next seven minutes. Singing. I like this melody. Smooth as silk. Production might be the highlight of the project thus far. There’s a refreshing sense of individuality. Please change the flow up. That’s the current shortcoming. I never saw Degrassi but this is the kind of love song I would expect to hear on the show. It’s very Teen Nick. SYRE reminds me of Because the Internet, but far more expansive and abstract. A rock twist. Again, comfort wasn’t considered when these songs were constructed. It’s similar to a sunny day and suddenly being caught in a heavy downpour. Wait. There’s so many vocals that just arrived it's as if Jaden summoned them in the studio. Someone sounded like Cudi. This is a very Cudi song. Okay. I’m loving the second half. The electric guitar is catching bodies. Build-up reaching the heavens. What a high note. More spoken-word style lyrics. Didn’t need that intermission but loved how the track came back in.
9. “Lost Boy”
Acoustic guitar. Badass strumming. I can’t believe someone allowed this kid to put a nine-minute song after a seven-minute song. Fam, I can barely watch an entire TV show without getting anxious, this is disrupting my microwave programming. It doesn’t sound bad. I’m enjoying how vast and vibrant the soundscapes are. There’s no fear of stepping outside of the rap realm. I can imagine Kevin Abstract doing a cover song of this at his next concert. It’s easy to forget Jaden is cut from the cloth of artists raised on the internet; he isn’t married to any particular style. Drums just rammed into the guitar with the force of two rhinos butting heads. Singing rap approach, bit of pain in his voice. After living in this song for the last five minutes, I will be upset if it doesn't end soon. There’s a hypnotizing aspect to it. Also, one of the rare songs that didn’t suddenly pivot. He allows the song to fully form for the listeners. It may be a few minutes too long but it’s dope. Rapping Jaden. Jaden’s Syre is equivalent to Gambino’s Boy. How is Jaden calling “Lost Boy” a bonus track when the album isn’t over? *Insert confused emoji* He’s doing shoutouts. I miss this aspect of albums. All rap albums used to have this outro. He humble bragged about Hov calling. That bassline is giving me Dark Twisted Fantasy nostalgia, I wonder if it's a sample…
Jaden Smith’s greatest feat is wearing a white Batman costume to Kanye’s wedding. I don’t even know where he got a white one from. I also wonder why he relates to Batman, they have nothing in common. This is a pretty cool trap banger. Fairly generic in styling, nothing new, but it works. I really just want to yell “Batman, Batman, Batman” in the club.
What is this sample!? It sounds like a woman running for her life. Oh yeah, this is going to be good. That drop did not disappoint. Stank-face drums and a crazy vocal sample loop will always have a soft spot in my heart. Beat too hard. Trap flow Jaden. I wonder if “Lost Boy” was the end of the concept aspect of the album. He seems… like he just switched to straight bangers. All brags and boasts. Nah. Jaden got the hardest kicks. “All your verses sound like dirty dishes.” What does that even mean? LMAO.
12. “Watch Me”
Love the riffs. This is a sample of Cudi’s “Surfin',” right? “Watch Me” should be huge during football season. It has the marching band vibe. Wavy song. A hit in its own right. “Since 2012 I been the coolest,” hmm.. If you say so Jaden.
I’m going to start a petition for shorter albums. I’m interested but also exhausted. Jaden is really trusting in his fans to be dedicated to the listening experience. Switched back to a chiller vibe. Okay, this is really good. I’m loving the vibe. I enjoy how Jaden sneaks in little tidbits about America. There was a nod to the prescription pills epidemic. An unexpected favorite. I'm loving the singing. Beat switch. Slow, hazy, but thunderous. I sorta liked that extremely slow motion delivery he just used.
14. “The Passion”
A complete switch up. I’m under the assumption that these last few songs were add-on bonuses. That the actual album ended forever ago. I really hope Jaden didn’t think he had to overdose the album with music. The abstractness has turned into straightforward trap rap. Easier to digest but far less interesting. I wish Jaden would let us in on what life is like living as Jaden Smith, instead of generic boasting. I like this switch up. Heavy piano keys. Travis Scott melodies.
15. “George Jeff”
Another neck-snapping beat. Who is Jaden's producer? He needs to share the wealth. Okay, I know I just denounced trap Jaden, but I take it back for a brief moment. Flow switching. He just bragged about hanging with Rich The Kid, that’s a first. Willow telling Jaden his parents are on the phone for him is so precious.
“Sometime I feel like a trapper,” lol. C’mon Jaden. C’mon. There’s nothing left to say. He’s practically made the same trap song. These will be great during live shows but on a lengthy album all the unnecessary songs just drags the project down.
Title track. Jaden is explaining the album's story. Reminds me of the Kauai narrative. Jaden has a perfect narrator voice. Morgan Freeman of the next generation. “She loves him but she eventually kills him.” Okay…
I’m frustrated. The album should’ve ended after “Lost Boy.” The only songs worth an honorable mention after that are “Icon,” “Watch Me,” “Fallen,” and possibly “Batman,” but removing these records wouldn’t harm the album in the slightest. The inclusion of humdrum trap records causes the entire album experience to suffer. The act of carrying dead weight only leads to buckled knees and grief. By simply not ending the album, a creative, well put together concept collapses in the final act. I will not be listening to this album again in its entirety.
But from track one through nine, there’s plenty of music to fall in love with. It’s clear that Jaden is greatly influenced by Childish Gambino; he creates a character and builds a world around him. The narrative isn’t as clear-cut but we get a sense of how the narrative flows and how each song transitions into the next. The sequencing is superb. A lot of thought went into each song's placement, production style, and even its musical execution. Strictly based on how he constructs the world shows a vision for SYRE that surpasses anything he has attempted in the past. Musically, it is superb, the album I wanted him to make.
My feelings are mixed, though. If sliced in half, there’s a daring, ambitious, and thrilling concept album here. As is, it's a bit overpacked and the songs can be exhausting, but it’s much better than being bored by mundane attempts at the modern sound.
If Jaden focuses on what makes him different rather than attempting to fit into the moment, he’ll really be something special. SYRE is a start.