Let Jaden Smith Live, Though Maybe Don't Let Him Rap

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So on account of this bonkers T Magazine joint interview with his equally loopy sister, my colleagues have spent the better part of the week uncouthly debating the merits of one Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada, brother of Willow, shaky actor, convulsing rapper, amateur philosopher ("There's a theoretical physicist inside all of our minds, and you can talk and talk, but it's living"), professional Twitter enigma ("I Build Pyramids Constantly"), unwitting Tinder wingman, 16-year-old.

He's a world-class content generator right now, this kid. Mad clicks, sweet uniques. But why? Is this a cool and good person, or a standard-issue teenage doofus whose parents just happen to be richer and more famous than God? Are his fans being ironic and cruel? Are they even fans? Are his haters just haters? (They're definitely haters.) What percentage of your non-working daily life should you devote to engaging with his art or celebrity, if the two can even be separated, which they can't? Hot or not? (Ancient reference.) Swipe left or right? (Current reference; still sounds ancient.) How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren't Real?

I will settle this.

Below, please find a full assessment of Jaden Smith's skill set, or in any event his range of public activities. What qualifies me to do this? Nothing whatsoever My impartiality. Everyone I know who already has an opinion about this is way too aggro about it, whereas I have no emotional investment to speak of. I am a Jaden agnostic, as naïvely and benignly confused by his activities and pronouncements as would be a newborn baby, and as a wise man once wrote, If Newborn Babies Could Speak They Would Be The Most Intelligent Beings On Planet Earth. Which makes me a genius, but what does it make him?


Let's find out.

The Actor

So young Jaden debuted alongside his father in 2006's mom-beloved tearjerker The Pursuit of Happyness, and then starred alongside an alarmingly disheveled-looking Jackie Chan in 2010's tween-beloved Karate Kid reboot, but he was supposed to truly take the multiplex throne with last year's nobody-beloved post-apocalyptic father-and-son space-doofus debacle After Earth. M. Night Shyamalan directs, which you hopefully won't notice; Will Smith again co-stars, which unfortunately you also may not notice, as he's doing the inexpressive-hardass-dad thing so as to theoretically confer more charisma and star power onto his on- and offscreen son, except that never works.

The result is essentially live-action Metroid + the mountain-man Dr. Pepper 10 ads + a friendly eagle + a pile of dead monkeys. There is no cheeseball Shyamalanian twist, but neither is there anything to replace it. Jaden tries out several weird accents but has ditched them all by the time the friendly eagle shows up; "I can convincingly act like I'm cold" is not a boast I expect to hear from him, ever, no matter how long his rap career lasts.


Everyone hated it. We're talking "11 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes" hate, which frankly feels excessive, critics nationwide congratulating themselves on cleverly decoding the subtext of a movie wherein Will and Jaden Smith play a beloved general (named Cypher Raige!) trying to coach his impetuous, spirited, but not-ready-for-prime-time son (named Kitai Raige!) to greatness from afar, which ends (spoiler alert: Nobody cares) with Jaden climbing a fucking volcano in like 90 seconds and Emerging Victorious. Life did not imitate art. It sucks, but it doesn't suck that bad; nonetheless, it has perhaps permanently changed Jaden's trajectory, from nepotism-borne Hollywood royalty to Twitter-philosopher-borne internet royalty. To quote a rap boast Jaden does feel comfortable making, "I'm still a movie star even if they flop, see," which may not be true, but he also says, "My failures crush your successes," which is definitely true.

The Rapper

Both those gems come from Cool Tape Vol. 2, his latest mixtape, which dropped midnight Tuesday as an iTunes app (don't worry, it's free); though it's not exactly a struggle rap situation, I will tell you right up front that unlike Kendall Jenner, I can't in good conscience recommend it the way I would Rich Gang or "No Flex Zone" or even, like, "Tuesday." I did a little transcribing.


I got the fam
I got the tunes
We got the crystals
We got the candles
We're sitting in a circle
We're sitting in a circle
Circles and squares
Circles and squares
Urkels and bears
Let's go
Let's go
I'm apprehensive
I don't pay attention

(Yeah, "Urkels and bears." Don't you dare try and talk me out of "Urkels and bears.")


That's from a throat-clearing intro, though, which is maybe unfair; less so "And she said she Norwegian / Been a minute since I've been up in that region" or "We get all the fish in the sea 'cause we on jet skis" or "'Cause I'll poop all on your party / I don't drive no white Ferrari" or "I ain't really with the wifin'." He rhymes renaissance with tennis box, and Hennessy with Tennessee. His flow is clunky and halting in the manner of any awkward-cute 16-year-old, celebrity or otherwise (beats the hell out of Chet Haze, fwiw); the eight-track affair's centerpiece is a 10-minute sad-eyed quasi-prog epic called "Let It Breathe" that climaxes with Jaden lamenting a crush and mournfully repeating, "She's in her 20s" 13 times.

Sonically the whole thing is clearly indebted to Drake in primo lint-roller mode or Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy if the fantasy were neither dark nor twisted nor especially beautiful/fantastical. But the ultimate lodestar here is Frank Ocean, the whole melancholy California bedroom-rap thing, which is ambitious and in good taste, is the nice way to put it, plus overall highlight "PCH" actually comes close to triumphantly climbing that particular volcano, if only because Jaden does comparatively little rapping and Willow shows up to do all the singing.

I can't claim to find any of Jaden's musical output life-changing, but nothing here is actively terrible, and there's even a celebrity-gossip angle if you get really bored: "You gettin' uncomfortable like my parents' fights" will wake your ass up, as will "I'm dealing with my parents, and apparently / They say I qualify for some psychiatrical therapy," which would not seem to gibe with the core tenets of Scientology, but as the kids say, that's none of my business. I probably won't listen to him ever again after I'm done writing this, but that's a fairly common rock-critic phenomenon, in case you weren't aware of that.


The Fashion Icon



The Deep Thinker

But maybe all of the above is moot; maybe all that really matters Jaden-wise forevermore is the zany Twitter account ("Most Trees Are Blue"), plus this (it bears repeating) bonkers T Magazine Jaden/Willow interview, which has come closest to breaking the internet since the last thing that tried to break the internet, and nobody shows their ass this time, unless you classify telling a reporter that "I mean, time for me, I can make it go slow or fast, however I please, and that's how I know it doesn't exist" as showing your ass, which maybe you do. This conversation is pretty much designed to troll the universe. Pound for pound, the dumbest part is probably ...

JADEN: You never learn anything in school. Think about how many car accidents happen every day. Driver's ed? What's up? I still haven't been to driver's ed because if everybody I know has been in an accident, I can't see how driver's ed is really helping them out.


... but here it's important to note that what you're looking at is a 14- and 16-year-old navigating a Q&A where honest to god the second question begins "I'm curious about your experience of time." A familiar refrain of my generation is "I'm glad the Internet wasn't around when I was a teenager"; I for one am greatly relieved that Adolescent Me had neither a Twitter nor a SoundCloud account, and that a theoretically high-end fashion magazine never goaded Adolescent Me into talking trash about driver's ed, which as I recall was pretty pointless, and Adolescent Me would've been glad to say so, adolescently.

Nobody asked in part because (it also bears repeating) my parents aren't richer and more famous than God, which is the other half of this equation. But here, too, that really only invites you to project Jaden and Willow's parents' alleged Scientology inclinations onto typical new-age teenage profundities on the order of "When you think about an apple, you also think about the opposite of an apple." I'll bet all the money in Jaden's pockets vs. all the money in yours that at some point in your life, you have said words to the effect of ...

JADEN: That's another thing: What's your job, what's your career? Nah, I am. I'm going to imprint myself on everything in this world.


... and maybe even ...

WILLOW: Caring less what everybody else thinks, but also caring less and less about what your own mind thinks, because what your own mind thinks, sometimes, is the thing that makes you sad.


... and especially (minus the first part, probably) ...

WILLOW: I went to school for one year. It was the best experience but the worst experience. The best experience because I was, like, "Oh, now I know why kids are so depressed." But it was the worst experience because I was depressed.


The difference is you didn't say it into a stranger's tape recorder.

Watching Twitter, Facebook, and Slack light up with incredulous quotes from this thing over the last 48 hours, it occurred to me that the artist I most closely associate with Jaden Smith is Lil B, that in both cases Wacky Internet Charisma seems to account for somewhere between 95 and 98 percent of the appeal. This is probably a wildly offensive notion to many Lil B fans, though, and the Based God has roughly a 500-mixtape head start, so maybe it's more accurate to say that the Venn diagrams of people who love Jaden and people who love Lil B overlap slightly, and the Venn diagrams of people who hate Jaden and people who hate Lil B overlap significantly, and the Venn diagrams of people confused by Jaden and confused by Lil B overlap exactly.


It's hard to cut through the irony of stuff like this, to separate admiration from condescension, to discern who's laughing at (or with) whom. The simplest explanation, of course, is that it's all just young people laughing at old people, that we pre-millennials can yuk it up over post-millennials droning on about Prana energy and the soft spots on babies' heads all we want, but in the end, as a then-young lion hellbent on imprinting himself on everything in this world famously declared a quarter-century ago, Parents Just Don't Understand.

Rob Harvilla is Deadspin's culture editor. Yes, there is one. He's on Twitter.

Top photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP; second photo by Kevin Winter/Getty.

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