Jaden Smith fancies himself an intellectual. His attempts at being a great philosopher in the Twitter age, with such insightful tweets as “Most Trees Are Blue,” launched him into the cultural discussion, but failed to reveal anything insightful. In reality, he is simply producing an endless stream of pseudo-intellectual nonsense that he hopes will make people believe him to be some sort of troubled artist that they should admire. He feigns an artistic aloofness, not concerned with the opinions of others, even though he seemingly acts the way he does to receive approval.
Now, even if one doesn’t respect Smith’s philosophy, you have to respect his hustle. He’s worn many hats in his 19 years, including that of an actor, fashion designer, model and now, a rapper. His debut album, “SYRE,” dropped on Nov. 17 after three years of construction, and the final product shows it. The production is crisp and sharp, making seamless transitions from genre to genre. The album sounds great, and Smith himself isn’t a bad rapper in any sense. However, it is the album’s lack of direction that detracts from it the most.
His lyrics are very much reflective of his Twitter musings — mostly weak and often somewhat nonsensical — with gems such as “Man I’m artichokin’, I’m artichokin’ / I can’t breathe, that’s the art of chokin’” that are so bad that they distract from the song itself.
Smith seems to be going for a “The Life of Pablo”-esque, ambitious, multi-genre pursuit with the lyrical and philosophical impact of “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and he falls short in both respects. He plays with different genres from the start, with opening track “B” having a gospel feel and “U” eventually turning into a full-on rock song, but never does so in a particularly clever or memorable fashion like Kanye West was able to on “The Life of Pablo” and “Yeezus.”
While he touches on issues such as inner-city violence and racial injustice in “E” and “L,” respectively, he never goes quite deep enough or provides any unique insight on the issues like Kendrick Lamar would. At times even his more legitimate messages are muddled by the more perplexing lyrics and even some 9/11 conspiracy theories in “Hope.”
The album does have some strong songs. “BLUE,” a four-part song separated into “B,” “L,” “U” and “E,” is an exciting, if rambling jam that shows the full range of genres that Smith is willing to dip his toes into, with some memorable beats and hooks and even a rather impressive vocal feature by his sister, Willow, on “B.” “Falcon” is an exciting back-and-forth between a fast-paced dance party feel and soft acoustic guitar and singing that shows a lot of potential in Smith’s ambitions.
“Lost Boy” is a somewhat hypnotic nine-minute long “bonus track” (according to Smith himself) that seems as if it was made to be the last song of the album, and likely should have been. Its placement in the middle of the album, track nine of 17, is perplexing. After that, the album gets a bit weaker and far less memorable, with only the unambitious but very fun trap banger “Icon” and the very mellow and deliberate “Fallen” sticking out as worthwhile tracks in the album’s back half.
Overall, “SYRE” is an enjoyable listening experience most of the way through, even if the constant tone and tempo switches are exhausting at times. There is a lot of good within this too-long, 70-minute, ambitious and pseudo-intellectual album, with the production being a definite highlight. If you’re looking to listen to something weird and fun, and are willing to tolerate some self-indulgent stupidity and extremely odd decisions, this is a good album to look to.