Sometimes it can feel like a storm, gripping something between the stars and sky. In this place, we get lost like Monday morning doubts, shape shift again and never really lose sight of where we see this going. For Jaden Smith, SYRE moves like motion never known, settling between himself and comfort — the same soul-seeking freedom that leaves and changes the tendencies of trust. In his first full-length album, Smith relieves breath by breath the quick and inconsistent potential of love, the persistence of hope and the blinding colors of being alive, claiming his skin and the weapons that expose us like skeletons.
Smith uses artistic examination like arsenal. In a growing archive, his list of influences on his Roc Nation debut album take on extended versions of Frank Ocean, James Blake, Kid Cudi and Childish Gambino’s work. Smith runs alongside his own demons while simultaneously stringing us along through his memory — a will to keep believing that the future holds something much larger than ourselves, and words that almost make sense, at least for the moment.
Time ticks away on “B,” the opening track featuring Willow Smith and Pia Mia. A strong bass medley spills the most vulnerable parts of heartache. A cinematic production reflects a medieval precaution of drowning sadness. Bible-like inspiration claims creation and hopelessness. A form of relief draws upon a fast flow production, and a mature Willow Smith narrates an arrival of promise and an illustration of choice and chance. Smith chimes in through a fading background, “Take me home, take me home,” transforming a never-ending cycle of storytelling and the battle with time as it quickly occupies the moments of memory. A fluid-like transition reels us in on the consecutive track “L,” where a vivid guitar mixes an extension of poetry and the realities of America. An unleveled playing field closely ties the ideas of strategic segregation and what it looks like in the 21st century. Smith draws on inspiration from K. Dot, conveying a reflective kid who seemingly confuses his dreams with the true violence of reality. However, Smith is arguably taking his own experience as a black man grieving the insecurities he’s given from a country making martyrs on a consistent basis. He raps, “Forefathers put the tax on our real fathers / I don't feel represented, I should be up in the Senate,” a protection promised for the mere idea of consistency, but was never completed.
The rush presses against the tears and it feels like drowning; an irrational Smith loses grip in Kanye-like demeanor and shatters, showing what attachment can do when it leaves. “I can't breathe that's the art of chokin' / Tha-that's the art of chokin’ / Send a text and never opened it / You thought I read this shit, well I was strokin'.” Originally meant to be titled “Jimmy Hendrix,” “U” separates love and the underestimated realization that the girl he loves is “cruel and infectious,” but like treasure, he’d rather die with her, no matter the chaos or destruction.
“E” concludes a four-part series song of “BLUE.” A minimal production questions where Smith plans to go without memory. His personal experience draws upon undirected thoughts of race, love, racing in love and good enough to be true, but drowning under.
The 17-track project features A$AP Rocky on “Breakfast,” an instant shift that trails away from an introverted Smith. Here, Smith fills out his ego in sonic speed, quickly running through his mind, on a mission. The album assembles pieces of a man shedding himself like seasons, and perhaps this is how Jaden Smith morphs between here and the world that he has created. As he carries his body through an eerie stage of music, Smith veers into a misguided path, recharging ammunition through “Hope,” until the passion takes him home, wherever he can find comfort. He questions where his sanity lies when the business of music continuously makes him question the integrity of his soul. Throughout the album, Smith spills his pain in intricate melodies and soars on “Falcon” alongside Raury, both seeking some curious enlightenment from the world without keeping the evil pieces of money and greed. Like many of us today, the idea of leaving has always seemed more appealing when we know the destination breaks routine and provides us with some much needed change. Whether alone, or mistakingly sharing memories with temporary figures, the explanation of change may not be in the plans, but running away is perhaps the only answer.
“Ninety” packs the bags we’ve been hesitating to address for a while now. A refreshing sense of individuality travels “too far from home,” and the typical, climatic love song peaks here. In a far more abstractive and gripling project, waves crash along the sea and Smith gets lost in the same words that keep him alive. A heavy downpour floods an electric guitar with little room for repercussions. It is evident that Smith’s extended songs are good ways of placing his memories on tape. On “Lost Boy,” a nearly 10-minute song, fans and critics alike would argue this is the conclusion of the album. Ironically, Smith claims “Lost Boy” is a bonus track. However, it would not be far-fetched to conclude this as chapter one of an out-of-body conversation. Instead, the focus no longer draws upon the idea of profit for this project, but for Smith’s own wonder. His audience continues to follow a journey seeking safety for the soul, attempting reconstruction before the nostalgia comes over.
Jaden Smith’s visual release of “Batman” closely resembles Future and Drake’s “Jumpman” on a less-publicized level — a generic take on the fight for status and honesty. A vocal sample loop finds Smith running on short-term breath, claiming his ego back and existing with himself in mind. Taking new turns leaves him exposed on “Watch Me,” a sporadic file of his deepest thoughts which help us decipher the emotions that keep him returning to the spotlight.
It is clear by this point that SYRE is a complex and densely scripted grasp at reality. By now, Smith is trusting his fans to listen to the entire experience and bend the rules for him — or some parts of themselves.
“Fallen” is current love, some pieces of the American experience that hold secrets like ashes and the impending search for another world without opened graves. Smith reminisces on the current love he shares before it quickly ends or the emotional cycle repeats. “Syre” concludes a narrative full of uncertainty, giving us some insight into what the pressures of being in love, living in color and claiming some sort of comfort from the outside world can mean in a rapidly fickle place. Smith destroys fear and rebuilds an entire world, but lacks full transparency. With a concluding track so closely explaining the concept of the album, Smith fails to leave interpretation up to the listener.
Separately split, SYRE is a multi-dimensional exploration of production, placement and musical execution. Smith strategically stages the experience of ambition and seemingly over-stimulates the listener’s attention span. In distinct ways, SYRE succeeds at musically exploring the boundaries of transition, yet lacks the central focus of one narrative. For Smith, this album gives us some pieces of his mind and possibly the grieving moments we’ve shared on individual terms. For the moment, an exhaustive and densely packed SYRE picks and chooses where the misfits can go, where the memories begin to fade when the travel back home is neverending.