Jaden Christopher Syre Smith may come from Hollywood – and music – royalty, but he’s created his own Gen Z identity as a rapper, singer, actor, fashion icon, entrepreneur, activist and philanthropist.
Smith – who today prefers the mononym ‘Jaden’ – is endearingly expressive. He became a viral oracle, philosopher, and countercultural influencer tweeting musings like, “How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real”. Then there’s his cosplaying as Batman or stanning Twilight. But he’s accomplished much of value in his 22 years. If anything, Jaden is underrated.
The son of actor/musicians/mega-celebrities Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jaden grew up around Malibu, California. Initially, he was a kid actor, co-starring with Dad in 2006’s blockbuster The Pursuit Of Happyness, which generated Oscar buzz. Eventually, Jaden followed his younger sibling Willow (of ‘Whip My Hair’ fame) into music – and, in later years, this has been the focus. (Mind, he did surface in Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix hip-hop drama The Get Down.) Jaden is also an environmentalist, devising JUST Water, a sustainable water bottle company.
In 2012 Jaden aired a mixtape, The Cool Cafe: Cool Tape Vol 1, with input from DJ/producer Marc “MK” Kinchen. However, the Roc Nation signing arrived as a rap auteur with 2017’s narrative debut, SYRE – revealing guests such as Raury, the Atlantan “indigo child”. Mid-2019, Jaden dropped the sequel ERYS – a darker, harder, trap-leaning excursion featuring his BFF Tyler, The Creator and KiD CuDi.
Now Jaden is promoting CTV3: Cool Tape Vol 3, his most imaginative project yet (with a spin-off EP SURF’S UP) – coasting through avant ‘n’ B, Fresh Prince-mode jazz-hop, and surf-pop. Jaden’s lyrics are simultaneously eccentric, nostalgic and unnerved – CTV3 capturing the zeitgeist.
Jaden reconnects with Justin Bieber on the romantic Motown jam ‘Falling For You’ – the pair previously cutting 2010’s ‘Never Say Never’. Plus he has another song with Raury, ‘Endless Summer’. Notably, Jaden’s curation feels personalised. He typically eschews flossy producers – although the UK’s BURNS, heavily involved in Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, helms the boho single ‘Cabin Fever’.
Jaden has a bond with Australia. In March 2019, he launched JUST Water here, completing a shift incognito at a Melbourne Woolworths, before returning on a Coachella high to support Post Malone.
Jaden was supposed to join The Biebs (and Kehlani) on a North American tour from May, only the dates were postponed due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, he’s partnered with Snapchat for a Snap Originals series, The Solution Committee, discussing social issues, to commence on 21 September.
Music Feeds chatted to Jaden about his Woolies shift, his music and discovered which cult Aussie band inspires him.
Music Feeds: You were in Australia not long ago. So it’s super-exciting to talk to you about CTV3: Cool Tape Vol 3.
Jaden: Yes, I’m so excited, thank you. This is an album that I’ve really been working on for a long time. So I’m happy.
Music Feeds: You’ve suggested that CTV3 is the completion of two trilogies – your album trilogy and your mixtape trilogy – but it tells a story as well. What was the concept?
Jaden: Yes, so it’s kind of like the prequel to my most popular album, which is SYRE – it’s a prequel to that album. So it comes before that album and it kinda explains the story of how I got to that place to end up there.
Music Feeds: Well, I wondered how you are growing, and evolving, as an artist and challenging yourself and what this project represents creatively to you?
Jaden: You know, for me, it’s the moment where I kind of [started] – I came into the game. I journeyed off into a lot of different directions. Then I came back to the centre of how I really feel in the story of me. So it’s me returning home. It’s me coming back home. It’s me leaving tour. It’s me leaving Paris and New York and all these sort of places and returning back home to Los Angeles.
Music Feeds: I love ‘Cabin Fever’. You’ve said that is “a quarantine love song,” but it also feels symbolic – like it might be a comment on the things that are happening in the wider world at the moment. But what does that song mean to you?
Jaden: Yeah, for me, it’s really about being separated from the person that you love and that you wanna see – and then not being able to see them… You want to see them and you really want to be with them, but the whole world is keeping you separate. That’s really what the song is all about. But [it’s] generally having cabin fever about being stuck inside and dreaming and fantasising about the summertime and being able to be with the person you care about.
Music Feeds: You reunited with Justin Bieber for ‘Falling For You’. How did that song come together?
Jaden: So it really came together just by us working together for the past 10 years. We’ve been making, like, maybe a song every year for the past 10 years. Then it just got to a place where we were like, “Hey, let’s do this. Let’s make another one together.” And we did it. We just made it happen. I reached out to him and we worked on it for a long time and then we finally got [it] to a place that we thought was OK to release.
Music Feeds: You also reunited with Raury, who’s one of my favourite artists. What kind of rapport do you have?
Jaden: Yeah, we really have worked together – and we really like to work together. We’re really close friends. He’s one of my favourite artists, too. That’s really why I wanted to work with him, ’cause he’s so talented. I just feel people need to pay attention to what he says and the things that he does and the music he makes because it’s spectacular.
Music Feeds: Your sound is like nobody else’s. That’s what I love about this record, particularly. There’s almost a ’60s Woodstock feel. I know you love The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But what kinds of things have influenced the sound palette that you were after?
Jaden: Yeah, that ’60s Woodstock feel is a huge inspiration for this whole thing. I love The Beatles. I love The Beach Boys. I love [Byron Bay band] the Babe Rainbow. I wanted to just expand my musical vocabulary and the sounds that I use to make songs.
Music Feeds: When I listened to ‘Circa 2015′ it reminded me of how I felt when I heard KIDS SEE GHOSTS’ ‘Reborn’. Do you still hope to do a full collaborative album with KiD CuDi?
Jaden: You know, that would be a dream. Yeah, to do a full collaborative album with CuDi, that would be really awesome – because I love him on anything. Album, movie with CuDi, TV show – anything.
Music Feeds: What do you hope fans will respond to and pick up on with this album?
Jaden: I hope they just pick up on the fact that I’ve really gone out of my comfort zone and I’ve really tried to expand my sound on this album and I’ve really tried to do something different. I hope that they can really see that and hear that from me. I just want them to see it.
Music Feeds: Your music is so cinematic – and I can imagine that you pay a lot of attention to the aesthetic as you go along. Maybe you have a visual in mind. Is that how it works for you?
Jaden: Yes, I always have a visual in mind when I’m making music. I always have the sunset in mind or the hills or the beach.
Music Feeds: You’ve fulfilled a musical arc with CTV3, but where would you like to go next?
Jaden: Into philanthropy; into 501CTHREE [in Flint, Michigan]; into giving water filtration systems to communities of people who don’t have clean drinking water and being able to give them access to a filtration system that can allow them to not have to adjust poisonous water on a daily basis.
Music Feeds: You have a film, Life In A Year (a weepie romance with Cara Delevingne, licensed by Amazon) coming out. What else is on the horizon for you? I know it’s a strange time to be touring or making films, but do you have anything you want to do once this is all resolved?
Jaden: Yeah, I wanna get on a plane… My big thing is I would love to do another tour in Australia. So I just wanna get on a plane; I wanna get out there. I want to get in front of people and I want to perform my music.
Music Feeds: We bugged out when we heard you came to Australia earlier last year – it took everyone by surprise. I can’t believe you did the Woolies thing!
Jaden: Yeah, I know – that was really fun! I loved that. That was awesome. I was so happy to do that.
Music Feeds: What are you listening to at the moment? Do you have any hot tips for us, other than your album?
Jaden: Yes – an Australian artist named the Babe Rainbow.
Music Feeds: I guess touring is difficult at the moment. You alluded to the fact that you’d like to get back on the road. I think you’ve put some touring activity on hold. But what are your plans on that front? Will you try to get back on the road next year?
Jaden: Yep. It just depends on what’s going on with the world. But I would love to get back on the road and in front of people as soon as possible.
Music Feeds: You were going to go on tour with Justin at some point. So I really hope that happens.
Jaden: Me too. Me too.