Jaden Smith - The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story (Review)

Martin_Canine
JADEN SMITH
The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story
★★★★★

Will Smith’s legacy and impact on pop culture is colossal. His blockbuster movies like i, Robot and I Am Legend, as well as his serious performances in Seven Pounds and Ali (the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination) were highly popular, and even more obviously, his comic roles as in Men in Black and Hitch earn him a place in modern cinema history. But it is The Fresh Prince of Bel Air that cemented his status. The sitcom became one of the most acclaimed shows of its generation and also helped Will establish himself as a rapper. In-character, he released five albums together with DJ Jazzy Jeff, with the second having been a massive commercial and critical success, and definitely helped boosting hip hop’s mainstream popularity in general. It was perfectly suited for wider audiences: clean and positive, the music did not challenge society’s expectations that was shocked by the brutality and language of rap music coming from regions of America in which violence and poverty are part everyday life. Over the years, the status of artists such as N.W.A. rose, while Smith’s as a musician declined a bit (most people will call him an actor rather than a rapper), but it would be wrong dismissing the part he played in forming the modern music landscape. And then, after a two decade long career of being everyone’s darling, he started to let his young son co-star next to him in his movies - which was, in turn, the beginning of Jaden Smith’s career.

Child star. Pushed into media presence by his superstar parents. Razzie award winner. Jaden Smith’s reputation couldn’t look any more devastating, and the world couldn’t have been much more unfriendly towards him, especially taking into account how he has been in the spotlights since a very young age. Partly you have to say his selection of roles is often questionable, considering of remakes and films by usually great directors at the low point of their career. Jaden Smith got the full bandwagon of hate a “rich kid” can get, and while his performances in movies weren’t at all overwhelming, the circumstances played a major part in his reception. When After Earth, an average science fiction flick by M. Night Shyamalan (whose career was in a creative crisis at that point, but who fortunately found back to form later on), was a critical failure, he departed from his Hollywood career - and dropped out of the public eye. Sadly - every piece of work that came afterwards could have earned him praise of it was the first impression we got of him. Time to give him some much needed praise for his recent art.

Even though much like his father, his genre is hip hop, the two couldn’t sound any more different. Jaden Smith now lives in a world where hip hop is one of the, if not the foremost genres. And it evolved. Dramatically. Comparing the first Fresh Prince album with the newest of his son, you can barely call these two records the same genre. US hip hop’s aesthetics moved from funky beats and rappity-rap-rapped bars to genre-bending soundscapes that are allower draw from a variety of experimental structures and compositions. And Jaden Smith takes it one step further. Last year’s SYRE was an unpredictable savage collection of songs that had you going wild - this year’s The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story is a calmer, ambient suite that slows down your pace to let you savor the moment. It reminds me very much of Dat Adam’s masterpiece HYDRA 3D. Both albums are meditative records freed from commercial boundaries by young artists that just want to give in to the music, let life flow by, and connect with Planet Earth, but are still on friendly terms with modern technology and reference their favorite works of pop culture. The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story has barely song that has hit potential (apart from Plastic, which is the album’s most straightforward song), instead it has one big visionary sound collage that slowly keeps shape shifting throughout while taking its time to sink into its spheric, druggy flanger synths, trap snares and autotuned harmonies. Just one word: Distant. Even Kanye West couldn’t have produced this one any better.

Jaden Smith creates his own postmodern, label free utopia in which the individual can fully unfold their emotional cosmos without having to work along the terms of a judgmental society. In this world, the only problems are interpersonal. A love lost, a love found. At parts, the mixtape plays like a coming of age film set in a world of luxury and exclusive places and starring a young adult whose goals are transcendence rather than your typical everyday problems. The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story is a thoroughly bohemian record, although it does embrace the fact that Jaden Smith is a rich kid. But the expensive brands and clubs are part of his self expression rather than status symbols, and he often forms a spiritual connection to them. Next to some of Kanye West’s albums and Cro’s tru., it might contain the most goosebumps inducing first world celebrity poetry of this decade, especially when exploring his relationships, which hd does often on the 11 tracks. May it be longer pieces of text like “Said she wanna go to SoHo / I just took one sip, all them cars move in slow-mo / New supermodel bae, try to keep it on the low-low / Broke up with me one day, girl your heart's just so cold / Said that I'd give you the world and you turned it to a snow globe” or just short sentences like “Tequila with the juice, mix it all with the music” or “Talkin' bout no problems that I can't find / Water on the beach, landmine”, Smith develops a distinctive, melodramatic, “rich and sad” way with words that makes his MSFTSRep mentality audible.

The 36 minutes of the mixtapes feel like driving through the sunset with some funny stuff rushing through your body that slows down your tempo, strengthens your feelings and numbs your sense for your surrounding. You’re fully caught within yourself and the ones with you, and you do what feels good right now, not caring what comes afterwards - but knowing that it will ultimately come back to you, sometimes very hard. This strange mix of absolute bliss and utter melancholy makes The Sunset Tapes: A Cool Tape Story so intriguing, and such a perfect listen for the generation of the late 2010s.

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