We love: Tracks 2, 3, & 7
For fans of: Childish Gambino, Kid Cudi, & Dom Kennedy
I do not have much experience with Jaden Smith’s music. To me, he has been the young son of Hollywood royalty, either endearing himself through the extremely family-friendly Karate Kid, or alienating himself through his Twitter personality, where he appears to be trying too hard to produce deep and thought provoking proverbs. I went into Cool Tape Vol 2 with an eye-roll prepared but forgot who I was listening to partway through. I mean that literally. In between online articles, I stopped and checked my iPod and Spotify to see who I was listening to, only to realize that I still had CTV2 playing in another window. That’s when I realized I was legitimately enjoying Jaden Smith’s music.
First off, the production is solid. Christian Rich, the production duo who has recently worked with the likes of Childish Gambino, Chris Brown and J. Cole, is a notable contributor on the aggressive and wild “Fire.” The other producers credited include members of MSFTS, the crew that has been working with Jaden on everything from music to fashion for the past couple of years, and Stoopid Robots who have worked on previous Jaden Smith projects. Most beats are chill, spacey and friendly with a dash of weird, though still move enough and hit hard enough to support Smith’s pointed raps, as is clear in “Keep Ya Love.” The exceptions are “Fire,” mentioned above, and “Young & Reckless,” which successfully utilizes the grimy beats of harder hip-hop for a more aggressive feel.
The influence of Childish Gambino is apparent in Jaden’s flow and contemplative tone, and in some ways this mixtape feels like Jaden is living into his role as “the boy” on Kauai (seriously, if you haven’t listened to it yet, go do that right now), but he’s also coming into his own style. He has a groove that floats a little gentler than typical Gambino and makes sense in today’s hip-hop scene, where experimentation is encouraged. CTV2 will have deep bass come into an ambient chord progression and then take over the track with the accompaniment snappy snares and driving kick. Willow Smith provides vocal fillers and moving hooks that sound like they are coming from someone a decade older. All of this together develops the character of the tape and supports the heavy messages Jaden is delivering.
I confess, some of my initial hang-ups with Jaden Smith remained as I listened to CTV2. I found myself doubting that his sixteen years of celebrity kid experience gave him any authority to speak to some of the issues he touched on in his mixtape. For example, I began to scoff when, in “Let It Breathe,” he describes his infatuation with a girl “in her twenties” with so much injured sincerity. Then I thought, that’s exactly what this is: sincere. Jaden Smith might not have everything figured out and might think he knows more than he really does, but trying too hard to be deep and find relevance is just part of the teenage experience. As far as his fleeting infatuation with a girl too old for him, in my experience the immature and (in retrospect) silly crushes of high school feel significant at the time and are not quickly forgotten.
Smith should not be faulted for expressing what he is feeling and experiencing right now, and his music shouldn’t be rejected based on the stage of life of the person making it. In fact, Cool Tape Vol 2 is strong, filled with interesting production notes, musical highs, and honest, even meaningful lyrics. I hope Jaden continues to explore his craft and his outside-of-the-box view of the world. We might be in store for some weird antics and nonsensical moments in the future, but what might also emerge is some truly thought-provoking art.