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We drive into the future using only our rearview mirror,” said early 20th century media philosopher and culture prophet, Marshall McLuhan.
Less than a century later, we have global anti-intellectualism and meme culture rearing its head like a freshly baptized baby sobbing for respite.
What do we do? Where do we go? _Who is driving this car?_
Do we need another banal photo of an ass in thong? Do we need more meat? Do we need more carbon copies and rehashings of the same superhero films nobody can relate to? (Rhetorical? Maybe.)
Is this paranoia real, justified... _necessary?_
Alternatively, Wei Po-Yang, Chinese alchemist and master of the ancient divination text _I Ching_ was said to have been quoted on his deathbed saying the most meaningless thing he could think of in all his life was “worrying.”
_So_, do we grab the drinks with little umbrellas in them
and watch the dollhouse burn? That implies_we_ burn with it. Naturally, contemporary hominids—particularly of the American ilk—won’t change their ways without a fight, being totally averse to pain and discomfort.
_...Enter the strange wraith of future hero._
There is a particular young man, somewhere between culture savant and savior. He rides a chariot of familial fame, notably with a father who at times has been called the most powerful actor in Hollywood, and a sagacious mother who is
no tourist to the silver screen herself. His name is Jaden Syre Smith: artist, musician, actor, clothing designer, entrepreneurial force and founder of JUST Water and MSFTS brand, and the philanthropist behind global non-profit 501CTHREE, dedicated to engineering practicable solutions to energy, food, and water issues plaguing Earth.
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Eloquently, precociously, Mr. Smith relays, “There are definitely a lot of people out there spreading positive messages. For me, personally, I want to continue to build platforms so other people don’t have to start something new, so they can attach themselves to what I’m doing. I think it’s important for us to keep starting nonprofits and to keep doing powerful things so we all can help each other out. That’s the most important thing.”
Smith, via his nonprofits and with the help of other like- minded entrepreneurs, recently deployed a purification device called The Water Box to Flint, Michigan—which, incredibly,
is nearing the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the contaminated water crisis, and still suffering from polluted water. The Water Box filtration machine is located in the heart of the city at First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, and will supply hope and, most importantly, up to ten gallons of filtered water every sixty seconds to the community. The machine is equipped with the bottled water quality filtration technology, with three-micron filters and an extra filter specifically designed to remove lead—the unique and fatal bane of Flint’s contaminated water supply. “The people in Flint are absolutely thrilled about The Water Box,” Smith says. “They get to use it right away. It’s free, they just have to bring their own jug and we’ll fill it up for them. The people there are trying to take showers with a bunch of 500 milliliter containers, and now they can fill up a 5-gallon container and take that home with them. When you’re trying to take a shower with bottled water that makes a _big_ difference—as opposed to having to dump 12 bottles of water on you. It still sucks, but the container size makes a world of a difference.”
The Water Box project in Flint is a work in progress. Smith is intent on preventing Flint from fading from the public view. Sadly, as time has gone on, the nation’s attention has drifted. The first year of the catastrophe Flint received 2 million donated bottles of water, the second year 1 million, and this year the number has dwindled to 600,000. Smith weighs in on the details. “They have received the least amount of donations this year out of all the years they’ve been struggling, because people forget. Flint really needed this system because now the extra water that is not coming in donations, they can get from the box. If you run this box 9-5 every day for a year, you can do around a million bottles of 500ML equivalent, which is what they were taking in donations.”
Smith’s Water Box dreams don’t stop
in Michigan—this is a global vision. “I put
the funds up for the first one and my mom \[Jada Pinkett Smith\] is doing the second one, which is going to be amazing. We will have
two machines. And then I want to do one in Oakland, because there are certain places there where the water isn’t good, and then I want to do one in Africa, the place where the idea for the Water Box was originally set to begin.”
Think globally, act locally—or what about _cosmically?_ Speaking of the cosmos, Smith is
a Cancer. Check his bloodstream... maybe it’s filled with agua. He admits in a moment of colloquial reflection, “Yeah, bro. I’m obsessed with water.”
Aside from his work slaying eco-dragons, the breadth of the man’s oeuvre is baffling considering his youthful age. He’s been
in _multi_ multi-million dollar movies—like
the remake of _The Karate Kid_, starring alongside Jackie Chan, produced by his father, a fore mentioned Hollywood heavy Will Smith (more on the patriarch later); he has produced a full-length album, entitled _SYRE_, a dreamy, beachy, heartbreak story sung down from the hills to the Pacific. He has launched a clothing line; he’s amassed over 11 million followers on Instagram.
How do we tackle this in stride?
Where have _you_ seen him?
He promoted The Impossible Burger at the chain Umami Burger for some time— encouraging us all to eat more plant-based goodies. God bless him for that; after all, one of the greatest environmental disasters we face is corporate beef—go vegetarian, you’ll glow. He’s shared a stage with Al Gore, speaking on environmental policies and political meanderings.
Aside from JUST Water, Smith’s main focus is testing
the limits of fame and personality amidst the web of his sonic endeavors. He harkens back to _SYRE_ and its influence, “_SYRE_ was about the boy that chases the sunset until it chases him,” he says, sounding like Rimbaud in a Tesla. “_SYRE_ was about young love, but more specifically it was about young heartbreak and overcoming heartbreak at a young age. People downplay young love and say, ‘Your heart’s not broken, you haven’t felt heart break and you don’t know what real love is,’ and yada yada... _SYRE_ was all about that... commentary on youth relationships and how hard they can be. As you get older you realize, ‘I was tripping, I was young, I was immature, she was immature, or we both could have done better it wasn’t that big of a deal, we were freaking out, we were in high school,’ but _SYRE_ is taking the stance of, ‘No, this is more serious.’ And for some people it’s a life or death thing. It can get very serious if someone who once loved you doesn’t love you anymore.”
Ah, but the Yin and the Yang. You knew this was coming.
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Light doesn’t last forever. Eventually the sun will go down
and the gold chains will be unveiled from the gilded closets... enter _ERYS_ (‘SYRE’ spelled backwards), Smith’s latest project; a pulsing, punkish, randy set of sounds made to set the club ablaze, born out of his first hit song, “Icon,” where he takes the gloves off.
“_ERYS_ is not about heartbreak at all. It might be about dealing with heartbreak, but it’s taking a different approach— I’m not gonna be crying in the hills and feel like I’m caught in this weird crazy world,” Smith says. “Instead, I’m going to be the world’s biggest flexer.”
We finally see some fallibility, some mortality—that is, if you consider the ego to be a fault. But maybe it’s steeped in something too raw for the ego. “I’m giving people this first look at a punk whose name is ‘ERYS.’ He’s trying to mix rap and rock n’ roll together. ERYS has an obsession with vision... I think my music is helping to facilitate me finding my way,” Smith says, seemingly thinking his way through all this in real time. “Who I am. What type of artist I am_._ The ways I like to express myself and the ways I like to deal with my own personal issues through the music. I feel like people know about my
life or what I wore yesterday or who I was with yesterday. It’s hard for me to always talk about, so I have to make up these characters that have different lives than me—because it’s not all about Jaden all the time. Through _ERYS_ I’m telling a story that might be fictional to me, but it might be a true story to someone else. Both _SYRE_ and _ERYS_ are things that I haven’t necessarily personally gone through, but it’s a metaphor and commentary on the world.”
It’s interesting to see a person who straddles the worlds of Fashion Week object fetishism and empathic philanthropy. It’s territory few are able to navigate, let alone thrive within; most either go all the way dark or all the way light, becoming some wayward bodhisattva.
The notion of walking in very different shoes has crossed Smith’s mind’s eye. “_SYRE_ is the side of me that wears the same clothes everyday and stays in this one undisclosed location and doesn’t leave. _ERYS_ is the side that is in Paris Fashion Week or on tour. There’s no way to explain it, besides letting everyone know that it’s like two different people. There’s no way to justify it as one person. When I was making _SYRE_ people told me what I was and what I was doing:_‘You’re just a boy who’s chasing the sunset,’_ and I was like, man, that’s really simple. But it wasn’t that simple when I was making the album. It was more like, _What is this? What are we trying to get at? What are we trying to say?_” He continues. He’s on a roll: “Now I can look back and explain what _SYRE_ is and I can listen to it and know what I can take away from it. When I was making it it wasn’t that clear...it’s a discovery process every time I make an album...That’s where the punk side of _ERYS_ comes in. That was me challenging myself. What happens when I introduce something else into the fold? Let me try and bend genres.
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Let me not do something that I’ve done before and that other people have done before, that’s been proven to work... I don’t know how many of the punk songs are going to make it onto the album. I’m going to release the album, and then I’m going to release another album after it called _And Everything Bad For You_. I made over a hundred songs for _ERYS,_ and there are only going to be 17 on the album.”
Youth is rebellion. But what inspires youth these days? Instagram enmeshment feels like a sparkly dungeon of _all- things_ all-things... And what happens when you have 11 million-plus followers? Where do you look?
“I haven’t been on Instagram all of 2019,” Smith admits easily. “However, I will say Instagram is power. It just matters who wields it and how they wield it—cause even if you have
no followers on Instagram you have power. If you can monitor what every single person in the world is doing it doesn’t matter who you are... that’s power... you can use that information
in all different types of ways. It just depends, who are you monitoring? Who do you spend your time watching? I like to monitor what Elon Musk is doing. What he wears. What he does. Where he goes. Who he talks to. Who _he_ monitors. Who’s important to him? Who does he follow? How often does he post? His lifestyle. His jokes. His friends..._What’s Bill Gates doing? What’s Jeff Bezos doing? Where are you guys?_”
Cut the check. Make it blank, too. Smith is putting us
on game. The eyes are on the elite. Makes sense. The new technologies are out there if we are willing to look further
than the lusts, further than the drain-swirl of the soft-porn
and ready distraction. “Stay up to date on what technology is coming, because you’re going to wake up and be surprised,” Smith warns, then strikes optimistic again. “You could spend
all of your time on Instagram watching sixty-second TED Talks, and you would be so smart. If you only followed Elon Musk and National Geographic and TED... it’s educational, sixty-second science. People think that Instagram is bad for everything. No, it’s amazing. It’s just..._what are you monitoring?_”
Jaden Smith is cultivating his own plot within superstar land, but we’d be remiss not to beg the guidance he has received from his father over time. The answer is simple, yet zenly profound. “One perfect brick,” his father would tell him on the set of _The Karate Kid_, a filmic undertaking the younger Smith thought would never end. The sentiment of the brick
has stuck with him. “He would use the metaphor of The Great Wall of China. He would say, ‘I’m gonna focus on the whole wall, but you are just going to focus on laying one perfect brick everyday.’” He pauses, the aphorism sinks in. “Just one perfect brick. That’s all that I need to worry about, and one day I’ll look up and I’ll be blown away by my own work. And that’s exactly what happens, and before I know it I’m at the beach chillin’, and the work that I put in is there.”
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As for MSFTS—which, along with being a clothing company, is also an embodiment of Smith’s guiding philosophies—it is meant “for all the people in the world who just don’t know what’s going on, for everybody whose life has mind-boggled them to the core since they were born. For the people who feel like there’s something wrong with the normal society, for the people that feel like the world as we know it
is not the only reality. MSFTS is for the people who feel like they’re not normal.”
Okay, sounds irreverent enough, commonplace enough for the young and strange—but let’s remember we’re dealing with a man out to make a dent in the Universe. Who said that? I think you know. You’ve got his invention in your pocket. Someone Smith might be akin to a century from now.
So, being different from the normal milieu isn’t enough. Smith is about action. “The actual _literal_ definition of what MSFTS is is a collective of individuals dedicated to raising the consciousness of humanity through arts and science. That’s the mission statement, and that’s what we do: come together, make albums, make clothes, make movies. That’s our way of raising the consciousness of humanity, with entertainment and fashion. MSFTS is a part of what we did in Flint.”
And we shall see where _ERYS_ leads us. The man _and_ the music. Surfing on waves of punkish water.
Glimmers of hard-to-find honesty. Splashing up in booms and baps of rap-rock-punk, the likes of which we maybe have never heard before. A new kind of message within the lens of _ERYS’_ landscape.
Planting the seed. Watering the seed. Watching it turn into a flower. One brick at a time.
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* * *
**The Cause & Effect Issue:** _Ditto!_
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Photographer: [Moisés Arias](https://www.instagram.com/490tx/).
Stylist: [Jay Hines](https://www.instagram.com/jayhines_/).
Groomer: [Giulio Panciera](https://www.instagram.com/giuliopanciera/).
Hair & Colorist: [Laurie Anne Zanoletti](https://www.instagram.com/lauriezanolettihair/).
Location: [Hôtel De Crillon](https://www.instagram.com/rwcrillon/), Le Comptoir Paris.