Jaden Smith, the musician and actor who has spent much of his life in the public eye as the son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, has largely attempted to keep his private life, well, private. Now, the 19-year-old sheds his enigmatic layer with his first ever full-length album, SYRE.
“It feels good to have it out into the world,” Smith tells Billboard of the album’s release, a project that has been three years in the works. “It’s been a long three years,” he says, citing the evolution of the 15-minute, four-part into “BLUE” as what took much time to work out.
SYRE as whole sees Jaden dive deep into the nuances of coming of age, while exploring a wide range of musical styles and also inviting friends to join him on his 70 minute, 17-track journey. Aside from the visibly billed contributions from A$AP Rocky on “Breakfast” and Raury with “Falcon,” some of the best features on the album remain unlisted. “I really wanted to be like Kanye and work with a bunch of artists,” Smith admits, and so he pulled from a pool of collaborators he feels closest to. His girlfriend, Odessa Adlon, left her stamp on the ballad “Lost Boy,” while MSFTS’ Harry Hudson appears at the end of “E” and sister Willow (who dropped her own debut LP The 1st weeks before) is featured on “B.”
Aside from working with family and friends on the album, the title itself is also highly personal to Jaden as it doubles as his middle name. Throughout the album, Syre takes on a character apart from Jaden, while still exploring similar coming of age concepts he has encountered in his own life. “It’s really just become a legacy of this guy, this kid, who chases the sunset,” Smith relates, “And then one day, it chases him back and he can’t get away.” Considering Jaden started working on the album ahead of his 16th birthday, he says, “It really is the story of me coming to be a young adult, and it wasn’t easy at all.”
Jaden says while that narrative is a uniting thread on the album, visuals largely help bring the story to life, which is why he’s directing a SYRE film component slated for 2018. “That’s where SYRE‘s true colors [lie],” he says. He quickly clarified that this will not be similar to Beyonce‘s Lemonade or any other visual album. “It’s an actual film that plays out that has characters,” he explains. ‘There’s no rapping, really, in the whole movie. It’s just about the story of Syre.”
SYRE is far more than just an introspective work, as the album openly explores current hot topics in the U.S.: Jaden addresses police brutality during his live shows, speaks to drug abuse on his hard-hitting track “Hope” and all the while has made it his mission to avoid a path of toxic masculinity and misogyny in the hip-hop world. “Everybody tries to rap the same and talk the same way and be misogynistic in the same way — it’s annoying,” Smith relates. “My mom taught me different values. And my sister teaches me different things every day. My sister and my girlfriend and my mom… all of these women in my life show me what it’s like to be a woman and how much I don’t understand, and how hard it can be sometimes… the misogyny in rap music right now, [is] degrading and it’s hurtful and it’s not pushing the art forward.”
Jaden, however, is eternally searching for ways to push himself ahead both as a human and an artist. Creatively, he hopes to collaborate with K-pop acts in the near future (he recently starred in Netflix’s anime show, created by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, titled Neo Yokio). “I’m exploring all genres [of music],” Jaden says, and hints at plans to release an exclusive version of SYRE, the album, in Japan, Korea and other areas in Asia that will have new versions of his songs in various languages. “I’m going to get some of my favorite artists on some songs with me, so that’s going to be the start of my K-pop career.” He admits no acts are locked in yet, but does have one name in mind: South Korean rapper G-Dragon. “[He’s] who I really need to buckle down and do this with. He is a style icon. He is the icon living. He is the one.”
For a 19-year-old, Jaden has a heightened awareness of the power of his platform. “[I] don’t take this lightly, this is not a game,” he says of his high-reaching ambitions — whether they be as big as changing the course of rap behavior or the smaller scale task of genre-blending collaborations.
On the brink of his young adult life, Jaden is determined to be seen as “a person that is trying their hardest to be like Elon Musk — somebody that’s trying to be an artist, and somebody that’s trying to help in any way I can. When people think of me, I want them to think of the person that is always giving back to something, or someone.”