The Smith family has been a prime Hollywood family since the early 1990s all thanks to NBC’s sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. We’ve seen the transition of Will Smith from TV comedian to mediocre rapper (although “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” will always be a fun dance track), to respected movie actor. His wife and children have also followed similar suits through artistry, but one thing that’s for sure – with the release of his sophomore project SYRE, Jaden Smith proves to be more musically artistic than his old man.
There are several father / son combos in hip hop, like Big Pun (RIP) and his son Chris Rivers; Drake and his father Dennis Graham; Master P and Romeo; and of course the combo this whole article is about. Of course not every child follows their rapper dad specifically, but it’s rare to have a significant artistic shift (through fashion, lyric style, and audience following). For Jaden and Will Smith – we have seen a dramatic disconnect between the father and son pair over Jaden’s choice to wear dresses, or have flowers in his hair for photoshoots; but what about their music? Taking the time period out of the conversation, let’s take a look at their sophomore albums (released almost 20 years apart) to determine each Smith’s mindset during the creation process.
First the OG – Willennium (released November 16, 1999) includes the movie title track for Wild, Wild, West and ironically opens with baby Jaden arguing his dad about adding the single to the album. He recruited artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Lil’ Kim and Eve to give a “little taste of the old school”, yet hip hop was barely a decade old as a mainstream music genre, and most artists incorporated the same East or West coast sounds in all their music at this time. The experimentation in rap was just beginning as we moved into the 21st century, so calling out old school sounds seems more important of a lyrical piece now then it would have back then.
Will Smith may represent midwest hip hop during the 1990s, but he will forever be a party / pump up the energy kind of rapper. His music is a bob-your-head-to-the-beat but similarly to most artists during this era, his topic of conversation was light. Even as Smith raps “no more piggyback rides in the mall, no more ice cream cones to share, no more sittin’ just playin’ with your hair” in “No More”, the listener doesn’t get a sense of heartbreak or anger, instead it’s a matter of fact feeling, as if Will just made the track because that’s a popular topic in music.
The rest of the album nods to Men in Black, Pulp Fiction, smoking weed with friends, and minimal disses like rappers being forgotten after going platinum. Of course, Will Smith also mentions his work to the top, but as we’ve seen in rappers today like Drake – TV is the reason they have a music career, not the other way around.
Certainly Jaden Smith is in a similar boat as a celebrity’s child; and had the platform to begin his career at an early age. As a child actor, Jaden was exposed to different cultural styles, personalities and experiences that have influenced his now-adulthood, such as his support for gender neutrality. Named after himself, Jaden’s sophomore album SYRE, is a literary work that was influenced by pieces of his life. In “Rapper” he even goes as far to note the difference in hip hop subgenres today, “sometimes I feel like a trapper, sometimes I feel like a rapper”, which has been sparking debate from artists like Joey BadA$$ who believes that the hip hop genre as a whole should be reestablished and better defined. Contrarily to his father, Jaden successfully shows his artistic fluidity instead of focusing on one flat style; he is driven by creation rather than record sales and popularity.
The track “Icon” on SYRE is a literal term for Jaden’s approach to the industry and the separation of generations. Now, as millennials we categorize celebrities who influence us and procure conversation around once-controversial topics in our community. As an icon, Jaden is using his platform for equality and change; whereas Will Smith at Jaden’s age was simply popular. The OG’s (for the most part) were just enjoying being at the top, and now are iconic through t-shirt prints or GIFs, instead of through work. I think it’s also important to note that during the 1990’s, a celebrity status in hip hop came with an amount of respect for these artists representing the streets or the struggle, and today we don’t applaud rappers going to prison (as if that was a way to make them harder in their music) or being hard gangsters. The millennial generation is empathetic to indifferences, and pushes individualism more so than ever in the hip hop world.
The Smiths are most certainly influential in their own ways, but cross comparatively are true representatives of the times in which they’re work resides. For Williennium and SYRE, each sophomore album is a direct result of the influence from experience Jaden and Will have had and deserve to be celebrated for their response to the world around them in which they were released. However it is notable to say that perhaps Will is more critical of his son simply because of the generational gap because of course, dads will be dads.
(Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)