A few weeks ago at A3C, I had the distinguished honor of meeting Yoh, the man responsible for many a dope DJBooth piece. Turns out he's even cooler in person than he is on the internet. After a few beers and plenty of hip-hop talk, I can officially tell you the man knows a thing or two about this here rap game. Or at least that's what I thought. Upon returning from Hotlanta, I stumbled across an article he wrote, titled, "You Should Be Listening to Jaden Smith’s Music, Seriously".
I didn’t consider Jaden Smith a serious rapper when he dropped his debut mixtape back in 2012, more like a hobbyist exploring new ambitions... Two years later, Jaden Smith has undergone an interesting metamorphosis that made me reconsider my previous labeling.
Look, Yoh is now fam, but fam can be wrong when fam spends an article trying to convince me to listen to Jaden Smith.
Before I read Yoh's piece, I had already had a lack of feeling for Jaden; I just didn't care. I gave "Blue Ocean" a skim, and was woefully unimpressed. That was all I needed to know that Jaden wasn't worth my emotional investment, either positive or negative. I had to many other artists to worry about to spend my time debating the validity of the son of the guy who made Hitch. I might have been viewing him through those son-of-a-celebrity tinted wayfarer glasses, but the bottom line is the music wasn't special enough to break me out of those shades. Still, as Yoh's articles seem to do, his words stuck with me. Perhaps I was being too judgmental. Perhaps at 26-years-old I was too old to get his new, youthful style. I mean, shit, I didn't even know he was um...unique...on social media, so how could I accurately asses his career? But thanks Jaden's busy week (in music and Twitter-ville), I actually took the time to form a well-thought out, complete opinion on Jaden. And that opinion is as follows...
I think I hate Jaden Smith.
Now, forming an opinion on an artist is a big deal for me because often I approach an artist for years from that same stand-point. I mean, I just got done discussing how I put Mac Miller in a box like I was working at UPS. So if I was forming an opinion on Jaden, I wanted to be sure it was well thought out and I had some concrete pieces of evidence as to why I felt one way or the other. Articles fueled by hate and vitriol rarely make for good reading, so if I was going to shit on a 16-year-old (no R.Kelly) I had to make sure I was coming correct. Jaden is active on social media, so I figured that was a good place to start.
And, you know, take care of your family and other people, but I guess when your dad is a gazillionaire it really can be all about you. Strike one.
Yo. That album sounded like Marvin The Martian having a seizure while listening to Bjork. Strike two.
Hey Jaden, you are 16 years old. What do you know about love and relationships? Don't hop on Twitter like you have been happily married for 25 years and know all the secrets to a healthy happy relationship. I'm not saying, "I'm 26 I know so much more about the world than you" because I don't really, but I'm also not on Twitter dropping these "gems" like I'm Dr. Fucking Phil. Strike three.
Still, all of this feels a little bit superfluous, no? Artists aren't exactly sane and rational people, so I should give him a pass, right? Fine, I'll let him be a 16-year-old with too many followers and not enough to say about life. But when he starts taking jabs at rap and the rappers who have earned thier place, thats when I start to go from causal "eh" hate to full on, passionate detest.
Strike seven hundred and fifty two. The burden of proof is on you my friend. Yoh wanted us to look at Jaden as an "artist," not a typical rapper, but here he is straight up saying he's a rapper. The kid has less songs than I have fingers out and already he's calling out everyone; literally "everybody." This tweet would anger me coming from just about any rapper except for Tupac or Kanye, so when Jaden Smith, Jaden Fuckin' Smith, is saying it, my blood starts to boil.
Still, none of this has anything to do with the music and the music is most important. If I judged artists for who they were over their music I would hate Kanye and still be waiting for that Jay Elec album. When it's all said and done, an artist can be as inane and outlandish as they want on social media so long as they make good music. So, now that "Blue Ocean" has gotten the visual treatment, I thought it might be a good time to really listen and see if I'll have to hate him, but love the music.
"Blue Ocean" makes that last tweet even more confusing; he doesn't even rap on this. Shit, he barely sings. I have seen this get compared to Frank Ocean, Gambino and Drake, but I don't see it. Frank Ocean had one of the best albums of the past five years, and we are comparing this to Channel Orange? I understand Frank engages in a little spoken word abstractness, but in his music (same goes for Gambino) there is always something else going, whether it be subtle nuances to the beat, a cool sample, or a great melody; the "talking" always felt like a complement to the production; it was part of an interesting, challenging, yet ultimately enriching experience still heavily rooted in music that sounded good. Here? Well, this is one of the most bland, boring things I have heard. The spoken word has no pop because the beat is stagnant. His mindless whining and droning is dulled all the more because the beat is a painfully dull. How is this "experimental"? The track is relatively static, there are very few changes--adding a rain storm soundtrack doesn't make it edgy--and his lyrics sound very forced and make me viscerally uncomfortable with how awkward the delivery is. Honestly, this sounds lazy, hey may have been trying to be new and unique, but it's a filed attempt.
To me, "Blue Ocean" is like that exhibit where all the pictures are blank canvases. The artist, and people who blindly consume it, will pass it off by saying its challenging and experimental, but in the end, it is not nearly as beautiful or emotional as a beautiful landscape or a stunning abstract piece. Sure those pieces may not be the most groundbreaking thing, but it's much more impressive and meaningful than a guy who sloppily hung a canvas or created a whiny, downright boring song. The best experimental artists can try new things, challenge how you hear or see things, but still make it enjoyable to listen to and Jaden doesn't do that on "Blue Ocean." I get he is only 16 and just starting out his career, figuring out what works, but if he wants to tweet like a grown up, I am going to treat him like one; this is unimaginative and terrible.
So yeah, at this point, at the risk of sounding ridiculous (too late?) I hate a 16-year-old child making music. Still, if Yoh and Mac Miller have taught me anything, it's that opinions change. I am not going to write a 16 year old artist off for not having a developed, clear sound an direction, but I am not going to give him a pass for that either. Currently, on October 23, 2014, Jaden Smith just isn't a developed artist and isn't making convincing music,
It could change in five months or maybe five years, but as of right now, I will say, contrary to Yoh, you shouldn't be listening to Jaden Smith. In fact, I think I kind of hate him.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]