Dan from the Internet ghostwrote “Dynamite” for Taio Cruz.
Sometimes it’s easy forget how long it took Kanye to become Kanye. Sure, it feels like time has completely compressed inwards on itself and the soul samples, Jon Brion production and Daft Punk singles were all one big phase. But in reality, being that obnoxious and taking your fans on an artistic joyride takes years of trust to build up. The problem is when someone sees their hero go from level 1 to level 10 over eight albums. The logical conclusion is to pick up from where they left off.
Enter Jaden Smith, a more than capable rapper, actor, philanthropist and extradimensional deity who can’t seem to commit to doing one thing well. Which is an issue when you’re shooting to be the NEXT maximalist rap star on your first go around. World building is only necessary for artists who are forced to build a fanbase from the ground up, not when you already have one built in. Syre is a fun album that knows it doesn’t have to be particularly good.
Jaden Smith is so confident on Syre the album begins by dividing one 15-minute song, into four tracks. “B”, “L”, “U”, “E”, is the type of obnoxious idea you would come up with if someone had never told you no. The thing is Jaden can afford to be cocky both figuratively and literally. He’s succeeded in almost every venture he’s undertaken since he was a preteen. From a Netflix anime created by Ezra Koenig to eco-friendly water bottle companies, success is often the loudest guest in the room. It certainly speaks louder than good taste.
Jaden compares himself to Martin Luther King twice in one song then brags about driving a Tesla; it’s so ostentatious that it’s almost off putting. He throws around arrogant one-liners at such a dizzying clip that it’s almost impressive – at least until he says, “Man I’m getting green, im artichokin’” on ‘U.’ He’s so pleased with that line/himself that he repeats it, then rhymes it with “art of choking.” His double time flow rarely lets up across the hour-long album and that is actually impressive (when it’s not trying to draw attention away from cringe worthy lyrics.)
Across the hour and ten minutes run time, Jaden comes off as a good to serviceable rapper. He constantly shoots at some heavy subject matter that sees him regularly punching out of his weight class. Like when he compares himself to Martin Luther King twice on “Hope” only 10 minutes after doing it on “L”. He then gets (somewhat) political, “Swear the city hate the watermelon and the melanin” on ‘E’ and “I’m just wishing all these prisons was not independent, Lobbyists in the Senate” on “Hope.”
You almost want to applaud Jaden for trying to address systematic racism or the prison industrial complex. Yet it’s hard not to find yourself getting a little annoyed with how surface level all of his observations are. The album is an intro level psych or sociology course on a “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” budget, which can be charming in doses. You want to like Jaden, then there’s times where he complains at an invisible “they” for not listening to his lyrics and only caring about YSL and lean. Jaden is the consummate little brother on Syre wondering why the world is the way it is and isn’t listening to him.
The middle of the album is when Syre falls apart. “Ninety” and “Lost Boy” are almost 8 and 10 minutes respectively, so combined nearly as long as a separate EP. This all goes back to how many hip-hop artists skipped the line after Kanye, who took four albums before committing to a 9 minute single. Or at least put “Last Call” at the end of the album. Jaden’s so self-indulgent he makes it so difficult to support him at every turn.
The album stand out, “Icon,” is probably the best argument for Jaden as an artist. It’s the same effortlessly confident character we’ve come to expect, but here it fits. A simple idea on an album devoid of many. Jaden’s main argument is hard to contend with, he does in fact have a record label (which he mentions on almost every song) and is so rich he can privately fund his own movies. When Jaden sticks to the facts of his ridiculous life he’s likeable. He’s equally as electric on ‘The Passion’ when he says he wants to take on other rappers for sneak dissing and being afraid to battle him. You are immediately on Jaden’s side no matter how ridiculous. It is just too hard to not like him when he’s having this much fun. When he tries to teach the listener, it’s easy to tune him out.
Jaden definitely accomplished something daring with this album: it’s grandiose and a maximalist 19 year-olds idea of what the future of hip-hop sounds like. Even then, it still sounds like the past. It retreads similar ground as albums like Because the Internet or Coloring Book and like those albums, it should strike a chord with some listeners. Syre gestures at something much larger in the world but never really suggests what that something is. It’s the exact type of sentiment that Kanye gestured at on his debut and in all honesty you can’t fault the optimism of youth. Sometimes it’s refreshing.