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Jaden Smith - ERYS Music Album Reviews

The young polymath’s latest album is mostly a slog, the sound of an artist with a blurry vision and too many resources at his disposal.

Last spring it was announced that Jaden Smith will play an “alternate reality version” of Kanye West on an upcoming TV series. He won’t have to study much for the role. The rapper, designer, and Twitter theoretician has been closely following in the Chicago MC’s footsteps for years, adopting both his creative bravado—he recently stated that his fashion icons are Pharrell, Batman, and the Greek god Poseidon—and bombastic style of conceptual thinking.

This creative mode has inspired the 21-year-old to take on some notably big-hearted projects, including a vegan food truck catered toward the less fortunate in downtown Los Angeles and a paper-carton water company that’s reportedly helping the dire situation in Flint, Michigan. It also led to a debut album that was hugely ambitious in sound and scope (Smith cited 2016’s The Life of Pablo as its primary inspiration) but failed to show any potential beyond its shiny production value. ERYS, his newest, is even grander, a galaxy of beat switch-ups, vocal effects, and genre mash-ups that drown his voice in a soupy sonic mixture.

A huge chunk of the project is devoted to Jaden doing everything he can to alter his voice, drenching it in staticky reverb, pitching it down a handful of octaves, or layering it underneath the harmonizing of guest vocalists. When it is distinguishable, it’s stiff and empty, used to deliver stale references like, “Star Wars with the clique, I’m Han Solo with the rips/Kobe with the pass, had to hit it no assist.” It gets even cheesier on the flimsy trap anthem “Mission,” where he fires off a limp diss at XXL Magazine’s annual “Freshman Class” by rapping, “Man, they look at me and know that I’m the freshest,” a gee-whiz boast that could have been ripped from one of his dad’s albums in the ’80s.

Things get worse when he tries to mask his flaws as an MC by overcooking the production. Unlike fellow Kanye disciples Tyler, the Creator and Travis Scott, Smith doesn’t practice balance in his curation; he mashes together his favorite artists’ sounds in the hopes of stumbling upon symmetry. The first four tracks aim to capture the goosebumps of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but instead form a grating mass of Auto-Tuned bridges, piano build-ups, and big drum fills that never arrive at a climax. Not much later, on the backend of “Again,” he imitates the soft guitars, pitch-altered vocals, and sparse drums of Frank Ocean’s Blonde but fails to capture any of the work’s intimacy. Meanwhile, his collab with Kid Cudi, “On My Own,” with its boilerplate organs and stomping kicks, sounds like a Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven leftover.

Smith fairs better when he stops trying to recreate the revolutionary work of his idols and lowers the stakes. The loosest track on the album, “Summertime In Paris,” which features his sister Willow, is also its most successful: a breezy, guitar-driven tune that gets by on simplicity rather than grandiosity. “Summertime is meant to fall in love, I could fall asleep and stare in your eyes/We’ll dance all night,” Smith hums warmly on the chorus. Willow joins him on the second verse as the two siblings revel in their nostalgia. Not even a clunker of a line by Jaden tarnishes the endearing moment. While nothing about “Summertime” is groundbreaking, at least it sounds fun.

Beyond a few other fleeting moments of experimentalism on ERYS—the second half of “K,” when the buzzing of an electric razor slowly morphs into a heaving trap beat, or “Fire Dept,” a decent ode to the fast and distorted energy of SoCal punk—it’s mostly a slog, the sound of an artist with a blurry vision and too many resources at his disposal. In an interview a day after its release, Smith stated that he wanted ERYS “to change the world”; in reality, it’s the least memorable thing he’s done this year.

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