Hearing the name Jaden Smith automatically brings a few things to mind. There are his parents, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, his sister, Willow Smith (of “Whip My Hair”) fame, his acting career, and of course, that Twitter feed. But even with all the attention, he’s had from his lineage and his earlier career pursuits, it comes as a surprise that his debut album, SYRE is overflowing with sounds and ideas that could have never been predicted from an artist on his first full-length album.
Let’s be real: SYRE would be an album that would be easy to write off if not for it’s audaciousness and execution. On the album opener – the word “BLUE” spelled out across four tracks, Smith’s sister Willow and Pia Mia trade off verses as Jaden adds ghostly background vocals. As the track grows into an atmospheric storm of 808 beats, Smith nestles in. He sounds assured as someone who has grown up in the shadows of experienced performers, but what’s most exciting is simply how much he has to say. Words flow out of him at such a rapid clip, it’s so clear he’s trying to prove that he belongs making a record of this magnitude. With towering synths and distorted vocals, it sounds like he’s been listening to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it works.
Not long after laying out his sonic vision, Smith gets down to business, as A$AP Rocky shows up for a cameo on “Breakfast”. Smith takes a play out of Drake’s playbook for “Hope” with woozy vocals, tending to let the track wade a little bit instead of overwhelming it with words. This seems to be a theme on SYRE, as a series of these songs like the placid “Lost Boy” push between 6 to 9 and-a-half minute runtimes.
“Ninety” is one of these, and with its flanged guitars and layered, soulful vocals – it can come off sounding a little bit like Smith’s interpretation of a song like Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids”, an audacious song in its own right. Smith’s influences are clear as day on SYRE, but that’s not a bad thing. He’s an impressive curator, adapting to any style of his whimsy. Sometimes that means sampling from them – the rock-heavy “Watch Me” even samples West’s “Black Skinhead” from 2013’s Yeezus.
While all of the moments on the album don’t always work, you can’t help but admire Smith’s ambition. In an earlier generation, his ability would have been underscored by his acting career or his parentage. That’s two strikes there. He’s doing it in a way that his father, Will, could never replicate. Any edge that the rapper “Fresh Prince” had gone out the window with his streak of summer blockbusters. Jaden’s not burdened with that. Since Drake’s ascension, those lines have been obliterated. You can be both an actor and a musician. On SYRE, the door is wide open to Jaden Smith’s future. Now, we wait as he continues his growth. This album is a time capsule to look back on where something great began.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media
This review was written by Brendan Hilliard, of Obviate Media. Obviate Media is a Chicago-based blog covering music and pop culture. Check them out, here: Obviate Media.