Jaden Smith Is His Own Luminary; Will Smith's Just Riding the Wave

Jaden’s certainly doing his part to solidify the Smith legacy.
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Boy, you know why you was a icon living? / You was born from a icon living” —Will Smith, “Icon (Reggaeton Remix)”

Remember when Jaden Smith’s only claim to fame was his role as Chris Gardner Jr., patiently following his film and real-life father Will Smith around the streets of San Francisco in The Pursuit of Happyness?

These days, the 19-year-old creative isn’t the one doing the following.

Jaden Smith has proven himself to be a man with an independent vision, able to stand on his own merits rather than relying on the name he inherited from two of our generation’s most iconic entertainers. For many celebrity children, branching out of your parents' shadow is easier said than done, but Smith has accomplished the feat before even hitting the legal drinking age. And while he might not be an icon living just yet, he’s done more than simply build himself into a marketable brand, selling out shows across the country and racking up over 150 million Spotify streams off the strength of his debut album, SYRE.

And now, with his creative imagination kicking into high gear, his superstar father is the afro-haired kindergartner hanging on his every word in the dinosaur-infested wilderness (subway station).

Twice now, the elder Smith has managed to insert himself into his son’s narrative; first parodying his “Icon” music video, and more recently by joining Nicky Jam for the song’s reggaeton remix. Bringing his own charismatic charm to the table on both occasions, he’s also expanding his son’s audience to those who may not be as familiar with young Jaden’s individual work but who have followed Will’s illustrious career over the past two-plus decades.

It’s one thing to use your influence and connections to bestow your child with opportunities that may not have happened otherwise, but it’s another for Jaden to seize the reins and allow his father to pop up as a fan, keeping the momentum going without stealing the spotlight. Will notes how the dynamic has shifted on the bilingual “Icon” remix, reminding Jaden of how his own career set him up for early success while praising his son for putting in the necessary work to establish his own name.

To this point, Jaden's journey hasn’t been the easiest; his initial attempts at defining his own identity drew heavy scrutiny, both good and bad. His puzzling, ambiguous tweets became something of a cultural phenomenon, simultaneously earning him the titles of the greatest millennial philosopher and the most pretentious teenager, depending on who you asked. Reviews of his performances in featured roles in The Karate Kid and The Day the Earth Stood Still were equally mixed, with some critics questioning if his talent level was adequate for the placements the young actor was receiving as the offspring of such decorated parents.

When it came time for his debut album, however, Jaden not only displayed his talent, but also the immense dedication necessary to ensure the final product met his own lofty expectations. Following the project's release, the artist revealed he spent a total of three years crafting the intricate “BLUE” soundscape, the four-song series that forms the introduction to SYRE.

Part of what motivated his painstaking pursuit of perfection was his desire to step out of his building persona, which he alluded to by naming the album after his less-referenced middle name. He explained his reasoning in an interview with Complex soon after it’s release:

"SYRE really just came to me one day. I didn’t know what I was going to call the album, but one day it really really came. I don’t know what happened. 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. So I’m excited." —Jaden Smith

Once again, Jaden was trying to break away from an image—this time, not the image as the child of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, but of his own perception. The result: 70 minutes of cinematic, mostly-well-polished music that culminated in the authoritative single “Icon,” on which Jaden defined himself as a moonwalking, label-owning powerhouse adorned with a gold grill and chains.

Will’s subsequent support isn’t only limited to music; he’s also following his son in the business of sustainability with their JUST Water company. Jaden’s passion for the environment sprouted at a young age, after encountering clumps of plastic bottles while surfing and then learning of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch around age 11. Eventually, he co-founded JUST Water as a way to combat the pollution of the ocean, while also using his product to donate clean water to Flint, Michigan until the city’s long-standing issues with toxic lead levels are finally resolved.

Many icons aspire for their own successes to pave the way for a family dynasty, but it takes a special child to go beyond simply occupying their inherited position and instead soar with the opportunity to create something special. Already with another album due out on July 8, Jaden’s certainly doing his part to solidify the Smith legacy, racing toward that fateful day when his father can kick back on the beach and retire as an “icon chilling.”

If Will’s reaction is any indication, he’s more than excited for that moment to arrive.

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