If you’d told me Jaden Smith would have one of the biggest and best rap releases of 2017, I wouldn’t have disbelieved you, but I’d have been skeptical as all hell.
That isn’t to say that Will and Jada’s son isn’t talented or that I wouldn’t believe he had an extremely capable debut album in him. It’d be a very near thing between that and a complete sonic mess, informed as much by his absurd reflections on society and sheltered upbringing as by his father’s sharp insights and clever humor on early Fresh Prince & Jazzy Jeff appearances. So far, Jaden’s biggest moments have involved meme-ready reactions and a goofy streak that tends to be far more surreal-leaning and absurdist than his pop’s easygoing wit and charm.
The balance could have been easily split, however unfairly, between the mainstream brilliance of Big Willie Style and bumbling heavy-handedness of 2005’s Lost And Found, which had its moments but mostly proved how out-of-touch 40-year-old dad Will Smith had become 20 years removed from “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
To better compare those extremes in terms to Jaden Smith’s own creative output, there was an even chance he’d deliver the audio equivalent to either The Karate Kid or After Earth; it could either be serviceable ,if a bit awkward, or a complete disaster.
Instead, he somehow defied all expectations and created an innovative, sonically adventurous display of experimental hip-hop that shakes up the conventional approach to rap and R&B and embeds itself in hip-hop canon as one of the most original albums of the year.
First things first, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way; by no means is Smith a Big L-level flame spitter. He doesn’t have the greatest rap voice and there’s at least one “chillin’ like a villain,” as well as a fair share of faux-deep bars that sound merely “meh” once you get past the initial wow factor of the densely-packed, almost cluttered rhyme schemes. It’s very clear that as a songwriter and a lyricist, Smith is not only young but perhaps also a bit too far-sighted to focus too intently on the nitty-gritty details of song construction.