This is a story all about how
Jaden Smith attempted to turn the hip-hop world upside down.
And I’d like to take a minute,
just sit right there,
I’ll tell you how he became enlightened and became self aware.
I don’t think that was necessary, but I thought, there couldn’t be a better opportunity to utilize and modify that iconic theme song than for this review. When mentioning Jaden Smith, there is not a real discussion or debate but more of a loaded “yay” or “neigh.” As a character in pop culture, the general public seems to either tolerate him, or express concerns of his hyper-mature, bizarre, and sometimes even outrageous social media and public persona. Although it is somewhat justified in most cases, these people probably do not listen to his music or even know that he makes any at all. Yet, that’s not particularly their fault. He tends to be a very private person overall and that includes details of his music and visuals. So for those of you who are not informed, yes, Jaden Smith actually does make music. He doesn’t just sit around all day on Twitter and come up with his next quirky-nonsensical-transcendental tweet to post. Though the nation at large generally knows him for his roles alongside his famous father Will Smith in movies such as The Pursuit of Happiness, After Earth, and his solo role in the remake of The Karate Kid with Jackie Chan, he actually dropped his first mix tape The Cool Café: Cool Tape Vol. 1 in October of 2012. It certainly heralded mixed reviews and had the public divided on whether to take someone of his age seriously as a legitimate artist. He released the mixtape at the tender age of 14 (having recorded most of the tracks at 13) and it was mostly produced by members of his “crew” the MSFTS. It consisted of original tracks and some verses he did over tracks by Foster the People, Purity Ring, and SBTRKT. As he’s strived to be accepted by the hip-hop community (he claims on multiple tracks that the media will “never play me on the radio”) this new release will only aid his efforts further. A whole two years after Cool Tape Vol. 1 was released, The Cool Tape Vol. 2 has arrived. It is not only available as a free download from infamous mixtape hub DatPiff.com but also as an app called The Jaden Smith Experience for iPhone and Android devices. The app is basically just a stream of the songs that automatically play in order anytime you open it but, it was successful upon its initial release last week.
When actually listening to the mixtape, it is clear that he has not only improved as an artist, but that he has gained confidence in his work despite the “neigh Sayers.” This is evident almost immediately with the bombastic and hellish opening track “Fire.” In the verses, he discusses how these “jokers” doubted him and thought he had nothing left to say but they were obviously mistaken. His delivery as a rapper is more theatrical and charismatic than on his previous release and he comes off as if he has something to prove. In reality, one could say that he does. Yet, he continues to eradicate that problem with the next track “Keep Ya Love.” This song goes for a more “Common/Lupe Fiasco” approach with a laid back instrumental and chilled-out vocal delivery but lyrically still deals with “haters” and their doubting attitudes. Once he feels like he has made his standpoint on his oppressors known (for now) he moves on to a different vibe and subject matter with the new-school chill-hop track “Zoned.” This is the first, of many, tracks that features his sister Willow on vocals. The instrumental is one of the best of all the tracks. Its structure is whimsical and flexible and weaves in and out of sections that compliment Jaden’s flow and Willow’s great vocal work. The synths and beat are still in the chill-out vein, but the lush and repetitive vocal line sung by Willow still keep it interesting on repeated listens. This prepares the listener for the ambitious follow up track “Let It Breathe.” Clocking in at over 10 minutes, it’s an experimental track to say the least. Yet, it tells a great story and has Jaden showing what he can really do lyrically and performance wise. It’s character driven and eludes that the song is referring to one story about a singular individual. The synths project a depth that take the listener to an almost “underwater” environment and is filled with nuances that are exciting from start to finish. The second half of the song even has a monologue from Jaden and backround vocal scats from Willow. He gets even more artistic and poetic with the story toward the end of the track and refers to “being at heaven’s gate” trying to crowbar his way in and “feeling sorry” for himself, or as he puts it, “Catcher in the Rye-ing.” By the end of the track, he comes off as desperate to this mystery character and it keeps you guessing as to how things turned out. This dreamy vibe is instantly juxtaposed by the next track “Young & Reckless.” This track is a call to arms for all the “MSFT” youth to stand together and create art that will piss off dear old mom and dad. Jaden comes for blood lyrically and vocally with lines intended to leave a dent in the armor of his foes. The beat is one of the best he’s ever rapped on and it only fuels the urgency for acceptance. At one point, he even drops out the beat and instrumental to call out all the “rusty” MCs in the game. The last three tracks round out this mixtape nicely. “Electric” is one of the most fun and danceable tracks on the album with Willow on vocals once again. With bouncy synths and a playful beat, Jaden’s sense of flow shines in the mix. The next track “PCH” is basically a Willow solo track. It has an overall 80s New Wave vibe and it almost sounds like a track that you might hear on a Lorde record. Willow proves that she has vocal chops and charisma beyond her years and paints a picture of a night of suburban mischief and foolery. The closing track “Symba” shows Jaden’s new found love for eccentric vocals once again and even has a hilarious reference to one of his father’s most iconic films with the closing line “we da Men in Black.”
Overall, Jaden proves that not only is he a capable MC, but that he’s grown exponentionally from his first release. He’s thrived with experimentation and although he may come off as “over confident” or boisterous, it is only due to his need to fulfill his desires of being respected in the hip-hop community. Though he has worked with Childish Gambino, Tyler the Creator is a friend, and Drake has stated that he is “super talented” he doesn’t want to stop there. He does name drop quite a few famous people on this mixtape as well such as his father, his mother, Jazzy Jeff, Urkel, and Johnny Depp. But, until the public actually listens to his music and at least attempts to comprehend or accept it, he will continue to push forward with what I’m sure will be surprising and unorthodox musical endeavors.
♪♪♪1/2 out of 5
If you like Jaden Smith, you might like: Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, Common, Childish Gambino, Drake
File Under; Chill-Hop, Hip-Hop, New School
By Trent Lira