Jaden Smith has more deep thoughts than you. At 19, he has already been responsible for tweets such as: “Dying is MainStream” and “Most Trees Are Blue”. Alongside sister Willow Smith, his New Age thinking boils down to believing he can make the world a better place. The first step is ‘Syre’, Smith’s debut rap full-length, taking its title from one of his middle names. Upon release, he told Complex: “We’re just trying to get to that one world vision, where everybody can be in a world where there aren’t 16,000 children dying of malnutrition every day. That’s really what I want to accomplish, and that’s why I’m doing this.”
There is a genuine sense of generosity and wellbeing running through ‘Syre’. In fact, that’s virtually the only solid thread running through this seventeen-track juggernaut of an album, which cites Kanye West’s ‘The Life of Pablo’ and Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ as inspiration. Those records share a collage-like approach to music, where different genres and sounds are patched together in scatterbrained style. But whereas West and Ocean successfully hold disparate ideas under the same umbrella, Smith combines folk, metal, ‘70s rock, Christian pop and Detroit techno like someone flicking through Spotify on shuffle, hitting play for 30 seconds, and then moving on to something completely different. It’s exhausting.
But the ambition behind ‘Syre’, an album three years in the making, sometimes pays off. Take four-song opener (‘B’, ‘L’, ‘U’, ‘E’), which begins with a Willow Smith-sung tale about God’s creation of man, and progresses towards face-melting, ‘Yeezus’-style bass, and then a slicker, ‘70s soft rock poise. As a blueprint for what follows, it shows Smith capable of meshing wild ideas without drowning in self-indulgence.
Sadly, it doesn’t always play out that way. ‘Ninety’ is a seven-minute, post-breakup odyssey lacking direction, further let down by Smith’s biggest weakness: his lyricism. “I’m at the SOHO House / If you wanna come through, there’s a seat just for you,” he sings, like he’s writing a sappy Valentine’s Day card. Words fail him again on the otherwise sharp A$AP Rocky collaboration ‘Breakfast’, where he raps: “All you hype boys silly / You a square like Piccadilly.” For the record, Jaden, it’s Piccadilly Circus, not Square.
To expect anything other than overblown big-sky thinking from Smith would be like asking Coldplay to stop being so sentimental. ‘Syre’ packs in genuine talent and the occasional eureka moment. And plenty of wild, frenetic, rambling masterpieces have been made in the past. The record isn’t weighed down by its ideas – it could just do with a filter, a producer with more sway, or even someone in the process to say: “Actually Jaden, mate – most trees are green.”