SYRE by Jaden Smith - An Album Review
In all honesty, it feels strange writing an article where the topic is attempting to critically review something Jaden Smith was a part of. We all remember the “Karate Kid” remake, as well as his infamous tweets which made less sense than the plot of that movie. Regardless, when SYRE came out in November of 2017, I was honestly shocked and pleasantly surprised. I like to consider myself a fan of hip-hop and rap, with a distinct love for the east coast/west coast 80s/90s rivalry era of the genres. I went into this album extremely skeptical; our only exposure to Jaden’s music career was scattered mixtapes and a shaky EP of scrambled musings. Still, I wanted to give the son of the Fresh Prince a chance, and I was glad I did.
Let me start by saying that the album, in its 70+ minute entirety, is not a game changer. This isn’t on the levels of Nas’ iconic Illmatic or Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but it showcases a young artist trying to make his mark and reinvent himself, quite literally. The name of the album comes from Jaden’s full name, Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, something he addresses quite frequently throughout the early and later tracks on the album. I won’t go through all 17 tracks exhaustively here; it’s a tough album to digest upon first listen so I can imagine reading about it won’t be any easier. Instead, I want to talk about the sequencing and undertones of the tracks, as well as some standout songs for me.
Featuring guest vocals by his sister Willow Smith, as well as household names such as A$AP Rocky and Raury, the album begins with Jaden transitioning into the character he seemingly wants to become, namely Syre. Those who are familiar with Childish Gambino or Eminem will recognize this character projection quickly - he is still Jaden but doesn’t want to be distinctly known as such. In the first four tracks (B., L., U., E.) Jaden attempts to project his Syre character and truly flexes his muscles in his musical diversity. There are your standard rap beats which transition seamlessly to rock influences, transitioning straight back to rapping over a stripped beat. There are acoustics with convincing vocals, something I definitely did not expect so early in his musical career. The musical prowess here is definitely impressive, and Jaden is really trying to convince the listener that he is a musician, not just a hip-hop artist. The narrative here is confusing, however, and it feels like Jaden is rambling about topic after topic - it feels disconnected lyrically, despite transitioning well as an overall story. You can tell that he really wants to rap about issues in the world but isn’t really sure how to do so. His age and inexperience show in these tracks lyrically, but he is definitely beyond his years from a production standpoint.
It doesn’t get any easier from here, but the next few tracks (Breakfast, Hope, Falcon, and Ninety) are consistent with the first four; great beats with some acoustic transitions and layered vocals, but a confusing narrative. We get the typical rap boasting and hype, which transition into tough lyrics questioning the ego and reflecting on loneliness and lost love. It is really quite intrinsic; you get a sense that Jaden has really grown up and is starting to figure out his place in the world, even if he is a little afraid to tackle it head-on. He sounds like a mini Frank Ocean for a bit, rapping in his feelings and singing from his soul. Again, he isn’t afraid to transition and keep the listener on their toes, as soft acoustics can transform into some kind of drunk, rambling flow with a beat that really attacks you. As disjointed as it feels at times, these first 8 tracks are good. There are obvious spaces where you hear inexperience, but for Jaden’s first album he is fearless and expressive. Track nine (Lost boy) really caps this experience off with more acoustic and reverb vocals, with the beat switches and drums you come to expect having listened to this album for over 40 minutes.
Post-track nine, I’m really not sure this is even the same album. Jaden goes from a tracklist that really pulls you in and hits you with emotion and reflection, to trap beats and more rambled rapping. Sure, tracks like “Icon” and “George Jeff” are bangers, but they aren’t really anything special. The last 30 minutes of this album feels like it tries to undo the first 40; these are Jaden raps. Confused, disconnected lyrics with great beats, but no substance. They are filled with humble brags about being signed to Jay-Z’s label and driving Teslas. I really can’t come up with much to say about these last 8 tracks other than I wish they didn’t exist on this album, possibly excluding “The Passion.” Maybe on an EP, but not SYRE. Overall, the album showcases a young Jaden trying to figure out his identity and cope with his upbringing, his place in the world. You can see clear elements of growth throughout the album, but you also see a lot of youthful ignorance. SYRE is the beginning of a road to maturity for Jaden, you can see potential and passion for music but it sounds like it needs a mentor.
Favorite Track: Hope or Lost Boy
Overall Rating: 7/10