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Jaden Smith’s “The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story” Mixtape Review

Jaden Smith Jason Levin Review Image

Following his 2017 debut album, SYRE, and its synth-filled electric counterpart, SYRE: The Electric Album, released this past summer, the inexplicably-cool 20-year old Jaden Smith delivers another wonderful album marked by profound lyricism over heavy synths and basslines.

Before SYRE’s release, Smith had released a Cali-centric EP, CTV2, a decent amount of singles, and had made guest appearances all over the map, most notably on Childish Gambino’s Kuaui. Since Gambino’s 2014 drop, I knew both artists would be stars within the next 3-5 years. With Gambino and Smith, there is this intangible quality I can’t quite figure out that simply sets them apart from any artist.  

For years, Jaden has portrayed himself through his social media posts as an ever-evolving piece of fine art: unquestionably unique, forward-thinking, and dripping in wealth.  It’s hard to tell what makes the dude so unique, but even when watching interviews with him, you can sense it. Maybe it’s his intelligence – possibly his creativity – there’s a chance he may very well be an alien – or maybe he’s just a really flipping cool dude.  At the end of the day, it’s not surprising the son of Will Smith would be a dope musician and actor, but it is surprising how incredible his talent as an emcee is at just age 20.  Let it be known that I predict Smith will be one of the defining artists of this generation, win many-many Grammys, and tour the world repeatedly.

Ok, back to the album.  The records starts off very strong with the song, “Soho”, a catchy ode to the high-end New York neighborhood.  The following track, Calabasas Freestyle, is one of Jaden’s most lyrically profound on the album – Smith raps:

Ten black sheep deep, they just want us to blend in (Oh), That’s what the neural net will say when the AI is sentient”

meaning that when artificial intelligence gets to a humanlike level, it will understand the feeling of being a black sheep (like Smith), an outcast who has pressure everyday to conform to the norm.  “Play This On A Mountain At Sunset”, meanwhile, is a pretty forgettable song featuring Jaden singing and rapping about nothing of any real consequence. Maybe I just didn’t understand it because I listened to it while sitting on a beanbag chair naked in my apartment rather than on a mountain at sunset.  Just maybe.

“Distant” is a beautiful Wanderlust-produced love song whose outro harkens back to 808 & Heartbreaks Kanye.  Jaden spits on the first verse:

“I’m staring at a butterfly in the sky (In the sky) / And the stars, waiting for the sun to rise / There she lies, in my arms / I’m a sucker for the summer nights, girl / Getting high on the farm / Let’s live it up ’cause I don’t wanna die (Don’t wanna die).” 

It’s classic summer-nights, Los Angeles Jaden.  The auto-tuned Kanye-esque outro is something new yet successful for the rapper, ending with a reference to the myth of Syre, a Icarus-like individual who chased the sun.

“Syre cried a flowing river into the valley where the sun set for hours / And on the banks of these rivers, these poems were written for miles / About the boy who chased the sunset in his unsettling trials”.

Those three lines epitomize the album, describing his raps as poems written on the river banks. A mythical place where the sun set lasts for hours. They bring to mind a visual of Jaden writing in a leather-bound notebook alone on the riverside one late night in his later teenage years.

“Better Things” is rather forgettable besides the lines “she a Beatles fan / Im’a let it be” so I won’t waste your time on that.  “Yeah Yeah” is a beautifully produced REV-ENG track with island-like feels featuring Jaden singing on the chorus, “Tonight, tonight, you’re my everything / And I will put that on everything / Your eyes, your hips, your everything / Could probably get me to do anything”.  The following track’s title, “SYRE in Abbey Road”, had me super excited for some psychedelic-Beatles-like feels, but is just Jaden singing the prior song’s chorus with a heavy filter over his voice. Quite the disappointment.

“Fallen Part 2” is a follow-up from Jaden’s prior track titled “Fallen” off of SYRE, and features the artist rapping some great relationship-focused bars and singing in his typical-synth-auto-tuned form.  He starts the third and final verse rapping, “Harsh reality, soul fatality / Heart capacity, couldn’t handle your audacity”.  It’s definitely one of the strongest songs on the album and I advise you to give it a chance. The final song, “Rolling Around”, fits well on the album featuring Jaden once again singing about an ex and rapping about his relationship; the chorus includes the lines, I’m parked outside your house (Ohh-ah) / Just thinkin’ ’bout the thousand times / We met up on the mountainside / Don’t give up on me now (Now, uh) / Talk or walk or we rollin’ around (Ohh) “ and would have been a much better fit on “Play This On A Mountain At Sunset”, the track that left my naked ass confused and underwhelmed.

Overall, the album was a solid addition to Smith’s young body of work.  Besides “Soho”, there aren’t many strong singles in comparison to SYRE. Much like the prior record, however, this album has a cohesive story-book feel to it.  Much like Drake, Jaden Smith easily ties together rapping and singing to give the world an album that’s easy to digest while still crafting unique and intelligent lyrics.  At age 20, he vacillates between machismo strength and lovesick puppy-dog vulnerability. While he was born into immense wealth and whips around the richest parts of Manhattan in a Batman-like Tesla, he has the soul of a poet similar to Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$. Before you judge the boy by his wild style and odd Instagram habit of capitalizing every first letter of a word, give the kid a listen.

Standout Tracks: “Soho,” “Calabasas Freestyle,” “Distant”

Album Rating: 7/10

Album Review By: Jason Levin