Jaden Smith - SYRE, 2017
Signed up the 06/06/2017SYRE, an album by Jaden Smith
Donald Glover, Frank Ocean, Kanye West, Kid Cudi; these are just some of the influences behind Jaden Smith’s debut album. I begin my review with these names because SYRE is very much the product of its influences. Jaden does his best to realize these inspirations over the 17-track album which took him 3 years to create and the result is…..it’s a lot.
SYRE is kind of a mess. It’s bursting at the seams with ideas, no doubt the result of the sentimentality that comes with working for a project for this long. It’s comes across as the love child of Childish Gambino’s Because The Internet and Kanye West’s Yeezus but isn’t as focused as Because The Internet, nor is it as decisive as Yeezus. There’s probably an underlying narrative that spans the album but I’m not getting it (maybe that’s just me though) and more than anything, it’s feels longer than it should be. Songs that would benefit from a shorter runtime drag on and there are some songs that are not only bang on average, but would make project better by getting cut altogether.
Now you may be thinking I’m being harsh, but it’s because, for one, I was really looking forward to this album as Jaden is one of my favourite artists, but more importantly, there are parts of this album that serve as examples of some of the best pieces of music this year. The song/sequence B-L-U-E is a perfect example. Sister, Willow, opens the album with a poignant piece about the creation of man over a serene melody before her voice distorts, the 808 knocks and the rollercoaster ride begins. B-L-U-E crests and troughs and explodes and fades before fizzling out with a kind of energy I can’t describe. There are some hella corny lines here (“getting green I’m artichoking, I can’t breathe that’s the art of choking” comes to mind) but somehow Jaden’s momentum isn’t slowed as he almost effortlessly weaves from trap to free form rapping to a hybrid singing/rapping delivery before spontaneously combusting over some rock music. There are some great refrains that run throughout the “song” (Jaden has a pretty good ear for sung melodies) and the way he and producer Lido impose such a distinct sonic footprint over a range of soundscapes is nothing short of amazing. Sometimes I feel like I’m listening to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it’s THAT good. This part of SYRE is a mess but more like a perfect storm than a teenager’s bedroom.
The rest of the album is really an up and down affair. Both parts of Breakfast are average, but following B-L-U-E would never be easy. Hope is one of Jaden’s better raps but the 90 second long outro is very unnecessary. Falcon is an energetic Soulection-esque romp featuring Atlanta singer/rapper Raury. He and Jaden take turns singing and rapping (not to be confused with rap-singing) over the songs sinusoidal structure. This pairing makes sense even if the premise of the song is unexpected and both deliver, with Raury demanding attention every time his vocals ring out. Ninety is a highlight split into two parts. The first is a love song that glides along smoothly. Jaden switches between singing and rapping with ease over buttery chords and remains surprisingly focused on the subject matter, compared to some of the other songs anyway. The second part sounds like Jaden has aspirations of jam sessions in the O2 Arena. Jaden lowkey sounds a lot better on stadium rock than he does on trap. The second half is maybe the best written song on SYRE, touching the peaks reached on B-L-U-E; the way his melodies and harmonies interact with the backdrop is exquisite, Smith switches between singing, rapping and spoken word with aplomb and the result has me wishing for Jaden to rock out more often.
Amongst all the unique sounds, Jaden finds time to flex his commercial sensibilities. Icon is full of energy with an adhesive hook and a beat harder than PPC Cement. I can definitely see Jaden lighting up live performances with this song and is maybe one of the first Jaden Smith songs I could see penetrating the mainstream. Rapper on the other hand leaves much to be desired. Jaden’s contemporary flow over the WonderlustBeats production will serve you well during inner-city missions in the whip or when sauced in the club doing your best Jesse Lingard impression but the inconsistencies in quality of the content are glaring (Jaden will bust a slick line like “speak up I only talk Guapanese” then ruin all his good work with lines like “100 grand for monogamy, 100 grand for misogyny” [dude what do you even meeeeeeeean]). Given Jaden’s usual gears, Rapper is bordering on a satirical look at the place of mumble rap in modern hip-hop (which if it is, makes it a much better song than I’m giving it credit for). However, if Rapper is Jaden at his worst, Batman is certainly Jaden at his best. The beat crawls ominously while the 808 does gymnastics but the best part of it all is Smith’s delivery. He repurposes his laid back demeanour for a more energetic number with expert proficiency. His ease of delivery is spellbinding; mans is really half-clutching the Batmobile and making it seem very easy. He occasionally stumbles (following “Skywalker with the Force” with a line like “one, two, three, four” has to be contender for worst line this year) but he is unfazed, switching between the “Batman” refrain (heavily inspired by Drake’s Jumpman) and channeling Bruce Wayne with lines like “need me to shoot up the signal”, “you the one that got the juice/city crying for your help” and “you was protecting bank, then you walked off with a mil”.
Having grown up in “the ‘Basas” with Smiths for parents, Kardashians for neighbours and joyrides in autopiloted Teslas as his idea of a good time (not to mention his status as an “indigo child”), Jaden Smith is as un-relatable as they come. This is maybe his biggest shortcoming as an artist because he definitely has the keys to becoming an amazing artist within him already. His ear for melody and ability to exert himself on a range of genres (either rapping or singing) makes him not unlike the Wests and Glovers he looks up to and with the focus and restraint that experience brings (or hiring an executive producer who can rein in Jaden’s over-active mind), I have no doubt Jaden will one day drop my favourite album of all time. Until then though we have SYRE, a perfect storm that has the ferocity, energy and messiness of a hurricane but also offers moments of nirvana within the eye of said hurricane.
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