Jaden Smith is an internet personality, actor, fashion designer, and musician, although the latter role is often overshadowed by his reputation as a new type of alternative celebrity. After all, it’s hard not to associate Smith with his viral tweets and bizarre ventures when they seem like such definitive aspects of his persona.
On his debut full-length album, Syre, Smith seems determined to prove that he can be all of the above, and that none of these facets diminish the respectability of any other. The nineteen-year-old rapper has never been afraid of pushing boundaries, whether that be as a self-aware public figure, male, or actor. With Syre, Smith continues to redefine himself, both as an individual and as an artist, delighting listeners with his creativity.
Smith’s creativity is immediately noticeable in the first quarter of the album, which consists of four individual tracks that make up a larger song, “B-L-U-E.” Drawing from electronic and ballad influences, “B” starts with a simple music-box-inspired backtrack and melancholy vocals that unexpectedly morph into an intense, hard-hitting rap track with booming drums and a threatening electronic undertone. The song follows four definitions of what it means to be “blue”: longing for an ex-lover, youth disillusionment, the anxiety of falling too quickly in love, and the fear of the vulnerability that accompanies love.
Representing this range of emotions and experiences, the four-part song escalates and comes down again a countless amount of times during its thirteen-minute run, continually introducing new instrumentation and vocal styles without losing its cohesiveness. It’s an ambitious song format and blending of genres that few artists have attempted, especially not on a debut album. As experimental as “B-L-U-E” is, however, the song succeeds in everything it attempts to accomplish: it’s engaging, refreshing, and unique without feeling jarring or unnatural.
Like its first quarter, the rest of the album refuses to conform to any one convention of a hip-hop album, drawing instead from a multitude of musical influences. “Lost Boy,” for instance, is a nine-minute-long acoustic guitar driven track that sounds like it could have been released by a 1990s indie band. For the majority of the track, Smith sets aside rapping for dreamy, echoey vocals to contemplate feelings of being lost, inadequate, and lonely.
The remaining tracks on the album, primarily produced by Norwegian producer Lido, are fairly similar in sound, characterized by a downtempo, mellow style. Even on these tracks, however, Smith manages to add a flair of his own—“Syre,” for instance, is told entirely in spoken word format. The track, which is a third-person poem about Smith’s life, is one of the most thoughtful songs on the album.
Referring to himself in third-person, Smith characterizes himself as an individual lost and misunderstood, in constant pursuit of beautiful things as means of self-actualization: “Syre, a beautiful confusion / The story of a boy who chased the sunset until it chased him.” The track’s spoken word format allows for a subtlety that its previous songs, which adopt a more straight-forward and literal writing style, lack.
From this perspective, the listener is encouraged to consider that perhaps the rapper’s seemingly nonsensical ventures, such as a pseudo-anime produced by Netflix, a gender-neutral clothing line with designs that include penciled stick figure drawings, and at-times overly philosophical tweets, may simply be regular acts in the process of self-definition that any other young adult experiences.
The title track, “Syre,” is a song stripped of bravado and false pretense, offering a rare and vulnerable look into Smith’s perception of himself that makes the listener feel inclined to rethink their own initial impressions—a necessary and humanizing departure for an artist so defined by the perception of others.
Syre is undoubtedly one of the most interesting debut rap albums in recent years. The album is well-produced and thoughtfully written, drawing from a variety of musical influences to showcase Smith’s versatility as both a vocalist and a rapper. With subject matter ranging from social commentary to heartbreak to the rapper’s personal obsessions, Syre solidifies Smith’s place as an up-and-coming artist without abandoning the quirks that make him so unique in the first place.