After an artist makes a bad song or album, it is incredibly easy to dismiss them as “bad” or “untalented.” After listening to “Turn off the Lights” by Future, I immediately dismissed him as a talentless hack, capitalizing on today’s “churn-and-burn” turn-up culture. Today, he is one of modern hip-hop’s most popular artists, with an endless supply of bangers. Similarly, after listening to Jaden Smith’s Cool Tape Vol. 2, I initially dismissed Jaden Smith as a wannabe who followed the likes of Damian Lillard (who actually has rapping talent), Danielle Bregoli, and Paris Hilton who used their fame as an excuse to break into the music world. The best music moments on that tape came from his sister, Willow Smith, on their duet “PCH.” While I believe he still has a lot of room to improve his vocal prowess, I was pleasantly surprised by his artistic direction on his most recent album, SYRE. The loose storytelling in SYRE seems to be heavily influenced by Childish Gambino’s 2013 album, Because the Internet.
SYRE contains many great songs, such as “Icon”, a Fineman-certified banger. Specifically, I want to highlight the first four songs that open this album: “B”, “L”, “U”, and “E”. These first four songs are stringed together as one cohesive unit, each song serving as its own movement that perfectly segues into the next song.
The first song, “B” begins with minimalistic production under the beautiful vocal stylings of Willow and Pia Mia. I admire Jaden’s ability to step back from the spotlight and let other artists shine on this vibey intro. Its smoothness is a perfect introduction to the album and slowly builds to a surprising 808 drop two minutes into the song. After the break, Jaden makes his first appearance and delves into a fast rap flow. Jaden’s rapping in this verse is surprisingly good and a huge improvement from Cool Tape Vol. 2. Following the rap, he begins to sing, and seamlessly merges into the next song (“L”) mid-stanza, promising to put the listener “on a wave.”
He begins “L” by singing in the same style over trap drums. When the trap drums drop out, Jaden starts rapping over a simple synth with more and more elements gradually coming into play. The lack of instrumental depth allows the listener to focus on Jaden’s raps and sheds light on an introspective moment before returning to the style of the song’s opening.
The third track “U”, is by far the most chaotic of the group. It begins with Jaden performing a duet of his badly pitched auto-tuned vocals and gospel-esque vocals. Smith’s rapping sounds incredibly frantic, before descending into spoken-word musing over muffled vocals. The sung and spoken words soon ascend to cacophony with drums blaring and Jaden screaming about how he’s “Jimi Hendrix with the sh•t.” A barrage of sounds hit the ears as Jaden himself even admits to this, by yelling “Chaos” in some of his lines. It is the least-organized of the four songs and, personally, is my least favorite. This disarray, however, leads the viewer to understand the craziness occurring in Smith’s mind properly. Despite the chaos in this song, it ends on a low-key, somber note, perfectly segueing into “E.”
The last track, “E”, is the most consistent of the four. It begins with deep vocals and a mellow, dream-like production. There’s not too much going on in this blues-inspired track. Here, he raps with a smooth, laid-back flow over a steady beat, consisting of guitar and a drum kit, rather than the hard-hitting 808’s of the previous songs.
The highlight of this tetralogy is the theatrical production, alternating between smooth and banging. Inspiration from this production seems to stem from a combination of modern-day trap music and Kanye West’s maximalist instrumentation My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Lido, the album’s producer, shows his strengths by repeating previously established motifs, helping to blend the four movements into one cohesive unit. This repetition is evident in the “falling down” vocals that initially occur in “U” and again at the end of “E.” The main problems of this saga fall on Smith’s vocals. They’re not bad; however, there is much room for improvement in his voice and ability to change flows. While I was previously skeptical of Smith’s ability, I do not feel blue about his artistic future.
Let me know your thoughts on Jaden’s new album, SYRE, in the comments.
In other news, my underrated jam of the week is “Like MacGyver” by Alex Wiley, Mick Jenkins and Aziz Gibson. Classification: Chill Bump
COVER PHOTO: Twitter