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. His father is Will Smith, a legend whose music will still exist when cars begin to fly, the summer doesn’t even begin until we hear, “drums please” on the radio. His sister, Willow, saw moderate mainstream success as well. With all this musical energy around, I assumed his rap attempt was an interlude until the next Karate Kid filming. Jaden was 14 when Cool Tape Vol. 1 dropped, generating partial praise, but not enough to interest me. I labeled him in a similar boat with Diggy Simmons, another rap industry legacy who possessed the technical skills, but no real substance. Diggy’s potential was wasted on nauseating, cookie-cutter love songs for the 106 & Park demographic. Two years later, Jaden Smith has undergone an interesting metamorphosis that made me reconsider my previous labeling.
Social media is a heavy influence on how we perceive the lives of strangers; their thoughts are given with an eye to how it will make them look to the world, adding a layer of clothing to their persona. Jaden Smith’s Twitter is without clothing, he stands before the world fearless and nude; his timeline consists of bold, free flowing, philosophical, bizarre notions – imagine a young Dostoevsky meets Charles Hamilton. When you say things like, “If Newborn Babies Could Speak They Would Be The Most Intelligent Beings on Planet Earth,” on a platform with the maturity of Beavis and Butthead, you’re bound to become a hashtag or a meme. I don’t know if he’s unlocking the secrets of our universe, or discovered a field of Psilocybin shrooms, but the kid will give you something to talk about.
It’s not just his Twitter that makes Jaden Smith an enigma; he stays in the media for various hijinks. Remember the all-white Batman costume he wore to Kanye’s wedding? If you read his recent i-D Magazine interview, he confesses to building a pyramid and denouncing the school system. Not to mention his disdain for pants.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with his music, which reminds me a lot of Charles Hamilton’s demise. Charles was talented, but his outrageous foolery sunk his ship before it could leave the Interscope dock. What truly changed my perception, and allowed me to look past all the extremes, was when I heard the song, “Blue Ocean V19.” It’s easy to dismiss if you can’t see beyond the artist name attached to it, but given the chance, you’ll see the pearl hidden inside this clam. His poetic style, the added Willow vocals, Timberlake’s “Blue Ocean Floor” sample, it all comes together shining like a blueprint for a much bigger idea. He’s experimenting, expanding his soundscape, and the result is impressive.
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Childish Gambino is also easing the transition for listeners to take Jaden seriously as a rap artist. He carries the narrative throughout Gambino’s Kauai EP with imagery-driven spoken word. Along with the recently released “Fast,” it seems like there’s a silent awareness being raised - that Jaden is developing. He’s associating himself with the right creative minds to truly escalate his growing prowess. I’ve read comments complaining his style is a mimic of Drake, during a time when most of the industry sounds like they discovered his Blackberry with the side-scroll. I can hear the influence, he’s absorbing a lot of Bino as well, but that’s how you discover yourself – by embracing your inspirations with a balance of originality, a transition that shouldn’t be difficult for such an outspoken free thinker.
After witnessing Mac Miller’s evolution I’ll be foolish to denounce a rapper with such blatant potential. The music speaks much louder than any eccentric behavior, as long as he isn’t trying to resurrect Nate Dogg or Dilla; young Jaden deserves an unbiased ear.