For the record, I didn’t even know that this album came out. I guess Spotify’s “New Music Friday” failed me this time, but thanks to a friend’s Instagram story, I picked up on it and have been listening to it for the last week. Jaden Smith, known by the mononym “Jaden,” has come a long way since his musical debut with a verse in Justin Bieber’s 2010 single “Never Say Never.” Since then, he’s released three studio albums, three mixtapes and three EP’s along with a number of singles and music videos. His music career has garnered him Record Industry Association of America Gold certifications, a large fanbase with 8.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify and perhaps most importantly, his own name as an artist out from under the shadow of his father, Will Smith’s, fame.
This time around, Jaden released “CTV3: Cool Tapes Vol. 3,” the third installment of his series of mixtapes. Its predecessors, aptly named “The Cool Cafe: Cool Tape Vol. 1” and “CTV2” came in 2012 and 2014 and distinguished his sound and style as an artist. “CTV3” is a departure from the fast-paced rap/hip-hop sound of Jaden’s more recent albums, featuring chilled guitar-driven beats, and a placid vibe that’s easy on the ears.
Overall, I’ve been very impressed with the production and sonic elements of the mixtape. The tracklist touches the genres of moody bedroom pop and lo-fi rap, and Jaden seems honest and open in his lyrics. Sonically, the album is very well put together and features an array of orchestral arrangements from harps to soft pianos and a variety of strings. “Circa 2015” opens with an upbeat melody that is replicated on many of the tracks throughout the album. “LUCY!,” “Photograph” and “Boys and Girls” all give off the same happy feeling. In between are slower songs where Jaden seems to be talking directly to the listener. His vocal performance ranges from light melodies and catchy hooks to soft rapping and borderline talking. It’s a nice blend, but he doesn’t completely sell me with some of the lyrical content. “Falling For You,” the second song on the mixtape, reveals the chorus, “I think I’m falling for you/I think I’m falling for you/If you don’t call me, I’ll jump off the roof.” Although the lyrics later in the song reveal that it’s not as manipulative as it first seems, it still feels weird that Jaden is flirting with and romanticizing the idea of suicide. While the song in itself sounds great and features a charming verse from Justin Bieber, it comes off a little tone-deaf with the relevant discussion of mental health in today’s society. Additionally, track 5, “Everything,” includes the chorus “You’re my everything” (x8) which gets pretty redundant after a while. The album definitely has its high points, but there are a few songs that I haven’t entirely bought in to.
CTV3 has a lot of good things about it. Jaden stays consistent in his lyrical content about life experiences and longing for love, and he’s definitely matured in his delivery since the first two mixtapes. He pulls from influences like Frank Ocean, Joji and Post Malone to compose a tracklist that sounds really good. In its entirety, CTV3 is an evolution and development of style that Jaden does well. There are a few low points throughout the album that I’m not crazy about, but I enjoyed the piece as a whole. I’ve found myself putting this on in the background and doing homework or enjoying it at night when things have quieted down.
I’m interested to see where Jaden goes from here; he’s dipped into a variety of genres spanning trap, hip-hop, indie/alternative and airy pop. While it doesn’t check all the boxes for me, I think CTV3 is a step in the right direction for Jaden as an artist.