Jaden Smith Demonstrates a New Maturity and Creativity in ‘CTV3: Cool Tape Vol. 3’

The artist has been criticized previously for his lack of originality, but his new album shows improvement, with beautiful vocals and a narrative following his life at age 17.

Jaden Smith’s music, though intriguing in concept, is often sporadic and disheveled in practice. He is a human rights activist first and a musician second, tackling issues such as the Flint water crisis and food shortages in homeless communities. Although in the past he was heavily criticized by critics and former fans, Jaden has managed to bounce back, creating arguably his best project yet. His newest album, CTV3: Cool Tape Vol. 3 shows a new era of maturity and cohesiveness in his career.

Prior to releasing the album in its entirety, Jaden gave us the singles “Cabin Fever” and “Rainbow Bap.” Sweet guitar and shockingly beautiful vocals gave us a glimpse into what was to come in the album. The songs were received well, surprising critics who expected another dismissable project from the seemingly unqualified Jaden.

The stories told through CTV3 are a prequel to his first two studio albums, SYRE and ERYS. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Jaden said, “It’s kinda taking place when I’m like 15 going all the way up until 17 and like how did SYRE get trapped in the sunset,” referencing the concept behind SYRE, a boy who chases the sunset so long that it starts to chase him back. In contrast to these first two albums, there is a lively and upbeat tone, one that induces bliss and harmony, seemingly representing his emotional journey before that of SYRE.

Jaden sets the scene with “Circa 2015,” a sweet song about a budding romance and general honeymoon phase of a new relationship. A lot of layering went into this song, and it’s lighthearted, yet swells up in an emotional euphony that makes you yearn for more. The beginning of the album digs deeper, revealing the needier, darker side of this newfound love with lines like “If you don’t call me, I’ll jump off the roof” and “I gave you that ring from my soul / I love you so much more than you know.” His need for validation consumes him, and the girl he thought shared his love breaks up with him.

The album continues, recounting the plights of heartbreak and the need to fill the void that now occupies the narrator’s heart. Nearer to the culmination of the project I found myself counting down the seconds to each song’s end. At some point they became rather monotonous, blurring together into a mediocre attempt to make us pity our protagonist. 

That being said, it would be a crime not to mention one of the best songs on the entire project, “Photograph.” The sound of Jaden’s voice is different than it ever has been before; developed, and possessing a certain je ne sais quoi that can’t quite be described.

A persistent theme in the critiques Jaden has received is the lack of originality and style in his previous work. In the same interview with Zane Lowe, he said, “I have to like catch my own vibe, you know what I mean?” Before, he was caught up in the production and profundity of his music, rather than stylization. With CTV3 Jaden has finally started to find himself and his place in the music industry. Having inspirations and people to look up to is extremely important in anything you’re pursuing, but his individuality and ability to be someone others look up to is what sets this Jaden apart from the artist he was on his previous albums.

Jaden’s persistence is admirable. He is improving greatly, possibly enough to gain the traction he always dreamed of. Although the album was slow at times, overall it had a great vibe and showed tremendous growth. I would rate it a solid 7.5/10. I’m excited to see what Jaden throws at us next, and hopefully it will continue the pattern of artistic maturation present in Cool Tape Vol. 3.

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