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At first listen, Jaden’s latest project, CTV3: Cool Tape Vol. 3, feels like a dramatic departure from his prior material. Whereas his debut Syre was a masterfully produced introduction to a talented young rapper who very much wanted to be accepted as such and Erys was a method-style deconstruction of the hip-hop tropes of the day, CTV3 plays like a meta but surprisingly sincere ode to nostalgia in all its glory.
It’s fitting, as the young heir (he’s still just 22) defines his latest excursion as a “prequel” to the conceptual storyline of his first two projects. Incidentally, this means CTV3 merges two separate threads that have run through Jaden’s discography since he debuted as a rapper in 2012 with the first “Cool Tape,” The Cool Cafe. While Syre and Erys are both very much fully-fledged albums and executed as such from top to bottom, Cool Cafe’s follow-ups, CTV2 and The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story are more experimental, allowing him to flex his creative muscles without being beholden to the story of his semi-autobiographical Syre character (named for Jaden’s own middle name).
CTV3 brings both those creative strains together in a most unusual way. While he’s shown that he’s a more than capable MC, it was clear that he’d adopted a new direction from the introduction of his first single, “Cabin Fever.” Landing as it did amid a global pandemic requiring a period of self-isolation, its theme of restricted young love resonated despite ostensibly being part of a multi-album story arc that related more to Jaden’s personal experiences. As it’s a “prequel” to its predecessors, CTV3 positions Jaden in a more optimistic light with even more surf-rocky throwbacks in the vein of “Cabin Fever” such as “Lucy!” and “Falling For You” featuring Justin Bieber.
The latter leans into the teenage melodrama of its conceptual subject, with Jaden/Syre pronouncing “If you don’t call me, I’ll jump off the roof.” It’s typical Romeo & Juliet stuff, but Jaden delivers it in a way that feels both knowing and sympathetic. It’s an honest depiction of all the angst and overinvestment of a teen romance, but delivered with distance, it allows Jaden to view it with a clear eye, without judgement. Hey, we were all young once. The overall project oscillates between tracks like these, reflecting the ecstatic highs of young love, and tracks like the more rhythmic “Rainbow Bap” and “Young In Love.”
The rap-rap songs give Jaden the room to flex a little and remind listeners that yes, he can rap his ass off just as well as dad could. However, they also serve a purpose within the narrative. These are Syre’s internal monologues, where he takes a step back and examines his feelings, albeit with the cockiness and insecurity of youth. These aren’t the lows, they’re the lulls; those points in a fresh crush when the mirror gets to talking to you, telling you that you’re moving too fast, that you’re not moving fast enough, that there’s no way she’ll like you, or that you’re the shit and she’d be crazy not to.
And while “Cabin Fever” and “Boys And Girls” draw much of their lightheartedness from their flower child, Beatles-inspired nostalgia, the raps on “Endless Summer” and “Rainbow Bap” draw from older generations of hip-hop, leaning heavily on sampled drum breaks and direct lyrical references to pioneers like KRS-One and Slick Rick. This also echoes that youthful tendency of teens, freshly aware that things happened before they were here and some of those things were pretty cool, start rooting through their parents’ music libraries and discover gems that help shape who they are and set them apart from their peers. Anyone who’s encountered TikTok’s determination to run E.L.O.’s “Mr. Blue Sky” into the ground can attest to as much.
With Cool Tape Vol. 3, Jaden gets to flesh out the story of his fictional avatar a little more fully while also spreading his wings. Branching off into new styles like ‘60s psych-rock in this way is smart, drawing his entrenched fanbase with him by degrees rather than all at once, while giving wary newcomers a chance to dip their toes into his genre experimentation, then work their way into his full-time commitments to rap. Meanwhile, the tape accomplishes one other goal; it shows Jaden isn’t just a one-trick pony and that he’s adding new facets to his sound all the time. When he finally is ready to step away from the story of Syre, he’ll have plenty of tools at his disposal to build whatever shape his dream takes next.
CTV3: Cool Tape Vol. 3 is out now via MSFTSMusic / Roc Nation Records. Get it here.