By Jon Fuchs, Music Director
Key Tracks: “L”, “Falcon”
The boy who chased a sunset until it chased him.
The boy who had no fear until it faced him.
The boy whose words seem to never make sense.”
That’s from one of the many confusing interludes in SYRE, the debut record from child star turned Twitter meme turned rapper, Jaden Smith. His transition from angsty teen to edgy young adult hasn’t been easy, as his struggles with life were on public display for the world to see via his now-retired Twitter antics. Now with the whole world side-eying him and his sister Willow, Jaden decided to release SYRE, a semi-autobiographical concept album that wears its influences on its sleeve, including rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator. With booming production and features including Willow, A$AP Rocky and Raury, the album seems promising, but as a concept record, SYRE fails to give the audience the most important element: a story.
The first part of the record is a 13-minute long song split into four different tracks: “B”, “L”, “U” and “E”. Each part seamlessly flows into each other while transitioning, feeling almost like an opera. It’s a strong start to the album, but it immediately introduces you to the album’s lack of a narrative. The album puts the listener into its colorful world without giving any backstory, which only makes Jaden’s words more confusing. Who is Jaden referring to? What are these weird ambient-but-not-really interludes that feel purposeless? Does Jaden even know what’s going on?
The rest of the record after the openers feels different in structure, but they have similar songwriting quirks in common, the biggest one being that a lot of the songs here don’t feel like consistent one-idea “songs”. Instead, beats stop halfway through and a completely different instrumental will pick up where the last left off, creating a choppy pace that runs more like a never-ending string of thoughts rather than a cohesive project. The first half of “Breakfast” (which says it features A$AP Rocky, but has no vocals from him) is a simple, fast-paced trap song, but awkwardly dips into a much more effective and energetic beat with Aphex Twin-like snares and excellent synths. The only thing that stops it from being great is Jaden’s tired, half-assed vocal delivery.
“Falcon” is one of the only tracks that’s worth multiple listens. Its booming, almost EDM-like production matches perfectly with Jaden’s fast flow, creating a monstrous energy that sounds great. The transitions between this and Raury’s features are also solid, almost feeling like 2017’s “Feel Good Inc.” (but not really). “Lost Boy” is an exhausting, nine-and-a-half-minute song that begins nowhere and ends the same. Drenched in reverb and lazy vocal deliveries, it’s Jaden’s best impression of Frank Ocean, but without any of the personal introspections or relatable sadness that makes Frank Ocean so amazing.
The second half of SYRE has some decent tracks throughout, but its forced pacing makes them not even worth it. “Batman” almost feels like a guilty pleasure banger, and it’s only because the instrumentals are excellent. Jaden’s lyrics throughout the song are cringy as hell, with plenty of unnecessary car-themed lines that don’t really make any sense (also, Jaden’s white Batman suit is the lamest thing that’s ever been created). “Icon” is a very tolerable song, with really interesting production and flows that are basic, but still catchy and infectious. “George Jeff” is another song worth mentioning, but its references to the All in the Family are incredibly confusing.
On SYRE, Jaden is able to show off his flows and ambitious taste in production, but he still lacks a narrative flow that ties everything together. That’s the main problem with the record, as it tries to be an artful, deep introspection, but it constantly fails to say anything important. While there are plenty of tracks here that are worth a listen or two, SYRE as a whole is too shallow to be likable.