Jaden Smith surprises with a sonically well-crafted debut album.
When he is not being a woke Twitter conspiracist, Jaden Smith happens to make music. It’s no secret that Jaden Smith has been attempting to put his foot into the hip hop world for a while now. He’s shown glimpses of decent rapping in the past, but has never been consistent with his releases. SYRE is Jaden’s full-length debut project, and his moment to show what he’s capable of if he’s serious about establishing himself as an artist.
It’s unclear how he’s done it (pure artistic ability perhaps?), but without any big-name credits involved SYRE surprisingly exceeds expectations on all fronts, demanding your attention from the get go. The songs are professional, clean and mixed well with a clear focus on detail, production and song structure.
The album opens with the four-part “B L U E” (which I will count as one song), and quickly became one of my favourite songs of the year, displaying an impressive array of production across the 13 minutes. The lullaby-styled opening to “B” is incredibly soothing, eventually exploding into a burst of bass and Auto-Tuned vocals by Willow Smith. The opening to “U” is as equally impressive, rounding off the composition with the mellow “E”, a song which sounds like something to play while you’re laying down in a peaceful paradise. “E” ends by reintroducing an element from each of the previous three parts, bringing “B L U E” full circle. It set a shocking yet stunning impression for the rest of the album.
It’s this sort of attention to detail in production that carries SYRE, making it one of the most well-produced albums of the year. For the most part there is smooth, alternative R&B production on which Jaden is at his best. The long, progressive song structures in tracks like “Ninety”, “Hope” and “Lost Boy” allows the lush production to evolve bit by bit into a totally different beat by the time the track is complete. “Falcon” provides an electronic angle in certain portions, practically switching up every 30 seconds over 4 minutes. It’s moments like these where SYRE shines as a well-crafted album that is sonically-focused.
Smith’s musical inspirations are clear as day on SYRE. In general, the album is extremely reminiscent of Childish Gambino’s album Because the Internet, especially on tracks like “The Passion”. Often these ‘influences’ ends up sounding like rip-offs that is slightly off-putting as a listener, such as on “Watch Me” which might as well be a remix to Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead”.
While the first half of the album is impeccable, SYRE is far from perfect. SYRE drags towards the back end of the 17-song tracklist, which are treated as “bonus tracks” according to Jaden in the unnecessarily long monologue at the end of “Lost Boy” that is a carbon copy of Kanye West’s freestyled monologue in “30 Hours”. Songs like “Batman” and “SYRE” could have been cut out as they add nothing to the album. Neither do “George Jeff” and “Rapper”, even though they are enjoyable as individual tracks.
What’s clear from SYRE is that Jaden’s rapping ability isn’t as impressive as he thinks (he even says “When it comes to rap I am the anomaly” on “Rapper”). There is a range of corny bars scattered in every other track. It’s most evident on “Icon”, which is a very enjoyable song with unique production until you’re hit with lines like “All your verses sound like dirty dishes” and “You see me dancing like I’m Elvis / Just tell your man that it’s all in the pelvis”. In fact, if you took a shot every time Jaden Smith mentions Teslas, Martin Luther King or dirty dishes you’d be drunk before the 70 minutes is up. Also, note that Jaden doesn’t actually have ‘Icon’ tatted on his torso. At times Jaden makes up for the bad lyricism (“”Speak up I only talk guaponese”) with a good flow, allowing it to be forgiven in collaboration with the brilliance in the production.
Conceptually, Jaden attempts to portray himself as a grown, mature individual with an abundance of creativity within him. Long gone is the boy who acted in The Karate Kid and rapped once on a song with Justin Bieber. However, Jaden is not really saying anything besides stroking his own ego, painting himself as an incredibly unique person who’s on a different level of intelligence to everyone else. He attempts to make a concept album involving a character named ‘Syre’, leaving brief skits here and there to paint a picture, except there’s not enough paint or he’s using the wrong brush. It comes across as a pointless attempt of a story and the album would have been better off without it.
SYRE is at its strongest in the first 9 tracks, up to where the “story” ends. Aside the unpolished lyricism, poor attempt at a concept and some forgettable tracks, SYRE is a well-produced, enjoyable debut by someone you’d never have expected it to come from.
Rating: 7.5 / 10
Best tracks: “B L U E”, “Ninety”, “Hope”, “Falcon”, “Fallen”, “Lost Boy”