I don’t understand the story Jaden Smith is trying to tell me. He’s pitching me, with rapid intensity, the plot of his new 17-song concept album, ERYS. Mentions of classic late-Seventies cinema intertwine with colorful substances that make people into zombies. Jaden’s description of the new album is all plot-driven, but it’s difficult not to view the story of a renegade Los Angeles leader named Erys who gives a pink mind control substance to the masses a very clear metaphor.
At 20, Smith has already willed himself into multiple careers through one simple premise: People find it entertaining, if not enlightening, to watch Jaden Smith do stuff. Movies, anime, rapping, philosophical tweeting, moonwalking; by carrying himself as if he understands something his audience never will, he becomes captivating. It’s what makes ERYS, equal parts fascinating and confounding. For nearly 80 minutes, Jaden tries almost every sub-genre that’s currently dominating the Billboard Hot 100. Emo rap acts as the album’s spine, but trap, electronic, and punk rock all make appearances.
The recording of ERYS started in the last few months of 2018, and was partially informed by the response to SYRE. “Sometimes I wish that I wasn’t so emotional, but I’m glad that I showed the world that side, because it seemed like they liked that side,” Jaden says of his debut studio album. “But you always have haters and you always have people that are going to doubt you and this album is really for my haters and that’s why it’s so aggressive.”
What is the story for ERYS?
It’s pretty much the story of a young man named Erys. He lives in Los Angeles, but it’s in a world where Los Angeles has almost been destroyed a little bit. You don’t really know what happened, but it’s like a dystopic Los Angeles. It’s like The Warriors where everybody is running around, and it’s this interconnected web of these young kids who run the city. Erys decides to be the leader and take over the city. He gains control of everyone by the means of fear almost. It doesn’t end well for him, but that’s kind of the end of the story.
Personally, what were you going through during the process of ERYS? It’s a darker album.
Everybody has two sides, man. You have two hemispheres of your brain. You have the left hemisphere that controls the right side of your body, and the left hemisphere only thinks in math, statistics, straight lines, dude, like point A to point B. It’s more of an analytical side of your mind. If you’re hungry, then you need to eat food immediately. Opposed to, “Oh, you should eat something that you really like. Like a nice view, someplace where the flowers smell nice.”
The right hemisphere of your brain, which controls the left side of your body is more emotional, thinks in circles, “Oh, we should go to this restaurant, not because we need to just eat food, but because we want to see a nice view, because we might fall in love. Because it might have a garden there.” That’s the right hemisphere, so that’s kind of like Syre. The right hemisphere is like “I want to be by myself. I’m sad. I’m going to be in the Hills. I’m sad. I’m emotional and I can’t do anything. That was Syre.
ERYS, which is SYRE reversed, is the complete opposite. Erys is more so about the city. He’s like “I like being in the city. He still likes pink and the sunset, but he cares so much more about the city and his homies and making sure he is the leader of the generation. That’s what the metaphor for Los Angeles is for in the movie.
SYRE’s first four tracks spell out the color “BLUE.” The first four tracks on ERYS spell out “PINK.” What’s the significance of pink?
Pink for Erys is really everything. All he really has is pink. He finds this new substance; this thing it’s called “vision.” And he puts it in these pink packs, and he gives it to everyone, and when they take it they start becoming his minions pretty much, do whatever he wants, in like a zombie, soldier type of way. That’s what pink is for Erys. Pink for him is control. Pink for him is power. He is pink. Everything is pink for him. That’s why everything on him is pink, hair’s pink, car’s pink. Everything is pink.
Tyler, The Creator is famously prickly and selective when it comes to features. How do you get him to not only hop on “Noize,” but deliver such an impressive verse?
I don’t know. He just likes me. That’s the only way that I can — it’s impossible to get him on. There’s so many people that I really wanted to get on the album. A lot of people didn’t work out, but I’m so happy that I have Tyler and [Kid] Cudi and [A$AP] Rocky. Honestly, I don’t know how Tyler did that. He sent me the verse back, believe it or not; he sent me a version of the verse that was even crazier, which I loved. I would’ve definitely kept it on the album, but then he switched it up even more. I loved it even more. He’s the best.
Did you learn anything from touring with Fall Out Boy? “Fire Department,” is such a rock song.
One hundred percent, I learned so much from them. Shout out, Pete [Wentz]. I love him so much. He’s such a legend. Seeing them perform like “Wow, this is what real rockstars look like onstage. I was like, “Dude, that is so dope.” Being on tour with them was a dream come true. To open up for them, it just gave me so much perspective, and it’s opened up my eyes. Then going on tour with [J.] Cole and [Young] Thug and Earthgang was literally the best one of my life for me as a rapper. Then being on tour with Post Malone in Australia was so fucking crazy, because he’s so good at playing guitar. He is so good at playing guitar, and I was working on a lot of ERYS on tour with him. I was actually finishing it up. I played some people “Fire Department” who are around him, who are really into fucking punk shit and they fucked with it… I really want to change the world with this one.
Tyler told me that I needed to start listening to more old music, because he’s pretty much like my taste in music wasn’t there, and that I needed to listen to old music and I needed to educate myself. If I really am going to be an artist, I need to know who came before me. So then I started doing this whole music history intensive with my guitar teacher, Nick Stoubis. He’s next level, but more than my guitar teacher he’s my music teacher. We listen to old songs, and we break them down. We figure out what key they’re in. We figure out what tempo they are, what time signature they’re in and when they’re made and what climate was the sociopolitical state of the world when this music was being released and how did that have to do with the effect and impact that it had on the population.
We started doing all this, because Tyler told me that I needed to educate myself on music and I really started doing that. I moreso applied everything I’m learning in class to my next album, which I’m going to be releasing. Cool Tape Volume 3 is my next album. I just want to say that, so people know for sure. They’ll go to this interview and know that that’s the next one coming. That’s where I started putting all this new music inspiration that Tyler inspired me to learn about. I put it into the next album.
On “Mission,” you sing, “I’ll never be an XXL Freshman,” which was surprising to me. It feels like you’re already a star. You’re already past that. Does an acknowledgment like that still matter to you?
Shouts out to everybody. I just want to make this clear too right now. Erys can be a real hater sometimes, and he can be really mean. I’m not necessarily like that. So shout out everybody. It’s all love, and it’s all good. Erys just doesn’t have a filter sometimes, but hopefully, people like the album.
“Tyler told me that I needed to start listening to more old music, because he’s pretty much like my taste in music wasn’t there and that I needed to listen to old music and I needed to educate myself.”
How did “On My Own” featuring Kid Cudi come together?
What people don’t know is me and Cudi have been making songs together for a really long time, since I was 12. I remember songs that we had for a long time, but they just weren’t ever good enough. Now they are and I’m so happy. Me and Cudi finally got one. That’s a dream come true to me. It’s such a big moment for me.
What has your water company accomplished in Flint with your new filtration system?
We just put a water filtration system in Flint. It’s one of five as of right now. We’re going to have four more there. But what it does is it filter about ten gallons of water every 60 seconds. It’s taking dirty Flint water and filtering ten gallons of it every 60 seconds that somebody lines up outside of it and gives it to them for free. I’m really proud about that. That’s something we started with, 501CTHREE, and that’s something that we can plan to continue to do for a long time.
Emotionally, what has that experience been like helping people in Flint that look just like you, that look like me, and that the powers-that-be have put to the side and forgotten?
I want to show the young kids in Flint that there is a young kid who looks like them that’s coming into the city and he looks cool, he has diamonds and he’s a rapper and stuff, but he also cares about science and using science to benefit the people in society that are the most vulnerable, which happens to be minorities a lot. But regardless of who needs the help, I want to be there for them to supply potential solutions. That we can work with the city and make them actually help the residents for free, like what we’re doing in Flint.
So that’s water box number one, but I have two and three going up shortly. So now it’s going to be 30 gallons of water every 60 seconds. The seconds are going to be the same, but the amount of water that we can deliver is just going to go up and up and up with the amount of filtration systems we have.
From one Batman fan to another, how do you feel about Robert Pattinson getting to play Batman?
Oh my gosh, I don’t even know what to say. Amazing things are happening every day that you don’t even know. I don’t even know. I’m at a loss for words with how excited I am for him. It has to happen. It has to fucking happen. He will be the best Batman. I’m losing my fucking shit.