Paul Thompson is on them pills that had Carlton dancing fast
Does Jaden Smith have a driver’s license? Because somewhere near him, Take Care is stuck in a disc drive.
If you’ve been slipping, let me catch you up on Jaden. Will and Jada’s son has spent the last few years communicating with our reptilian overlords via the steel plate in his brain. He has also evidently been taking spiritual advice from Canibus and watching Melancholia but maybe falling asleep in the third act. His tweets are the musings of a stoned college freshman if said stoned college freshman were an international pseudo-celebrity whose parents belonged to a cult. And, of course, he raps.
His only quote-unquote proper release to date is The Cool Café: Cool Tape, Vol. 1. Mixtape hosting site DatPiff says it has been downloaded over 118,000 times since its release two years ago, which is either a shrine to the democratization of art or a reminder we live in a weird corpo-content dystopia. If you are not one of those 118,000 brave souls, don’t worry; four different kids in your high school class made the same exact mixtape. Jaden says “I’m trying to rock the mic, and no, I won’t stop” and “Hello, my name is Jaden and I’m a young fellow/I like to keep it mellow.” There are bad Kid Cudi homages and Purity Ring samples. You get it.
But a few nights ago, the sixteen-year-old half-Kardashian/full-millionaire summoned us for a heavily derivative bloodletting. Jaden’s home studio finally caught up with his woke-ness: He went jacking for beats and made out with a Justin Timberlake album cut. He commissioned cover art that has his face blurred. He tweeted “’Hey Are You Jaden Can I Have A Picture With You’ No Cause I’m Super Sad But We Can Sit And Talk.” And he dropped “Blue Ocean”, which borrows Timbaland’s track of the same name from Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience. It’s seven minutes long. It’s “complicated”. And it’s the most pandering song you will hear this year.
Jaden raps, “Baby girl, I can see under all them lies/(She’s going to try to kiss you, Jaden!)/Well, I’ll suffocate if she tries/And I’ll hold her tight if she cries.” At the three-minute mark, there are warbled, impassioned cries of “Coachella!” Coachella is also where he met “a blow dealer” who told Jaden he was “a wholesaler” and called Jaden “fly as propellers”. Nice guy. Later, he shouts with purpose: “Baby, it’s cold, so we should probably (cuddle!).” Yet this song is not a parody; you couldn’t feign a lack of self-awareness this profound. (This is also a review of the last Childish Gambino record. But I digress.)
“Blue Ocean” stakes itself on a very particular, very in-air-quotes “deep” kind of sadness. The problem is that Jaden Smith just isn’t very sad. At least, not in any way we haven’t heard on the radio or out of dorm-room laptop speakers since So Far Gone came out. The emotionally stunted, emotionally obsessed loner is the new hustler. If you are wearing a Supreme hoody and waiting for Trap Lord to drop, you might think that Jaden is speaking to some fundamental human truth—but chances are that even you will think it’s a bit too familiar. You’ve heard it all before: The girl who understands him until she doesn’t; tacit cocaine references; Hallmark-ready aphorisms; parents who don’t get it; a defiant last line that affirms Jaden can “still dream”. In short, “Blue Ocean” is bad. But more interestingly, and more importantly: It’s not that weird. It’s not inaccessible. Even with its bloated runtime, it could work at radio. Because this is 2014, and self-obsessed sadness is the coolest toy on the block.
The commoditization of vulnerability in rap is a weird thing. On one hand, the conventional wisdom says that openness and sensitivity in young men is good, especially if the alternative is guns and drugs and scaring Middle America. But in practice, isn’t the post-Drake world just giving kids new ways to use women as props in their rock-star fantasies? Jaden Smith spends a good deal of “Blue Ocean” wallowing over girls and what they did to his feelings, but who are these girls? Not one—or maybe all the stories are about the same girl, it’s unclear—has a single identifying feature, much less a name. (He can see under their lies, though.) Jaden does, however, have time to describe in great detail the guy from whom he’s “stealing” a girl, all the way down to the logos on his shirt. We know all about a girl’s dad and his college football obsession, but the girl is a mannequin Jaden wants to “grope and elope”. “I hope your man doesn’t get jealous” becomes a refrain. But Jaden wants the dude to know. He’s stealing his girl. He’s flossing.
So Jaden Smith isn’t deep—he’s hauntingly shallow. “Blue Ocean”, like so much music critics and fans are lauding as complex and layered and naked, is rap madlibs, where girls you meet at Coachella and Whole Foods and Wing Stop are mixed and matched indiscriminately. Throw in some minor keys, bars, and hooks, and you have Grammy nods and college showcases to play. It’s sad, but maybe that’s the point.