It’s been over a decade since Jaden Smith first teamed up with his father, Will, in a saccharine melodrama called The Pursuit of Happyness. Since then, the father and son duo have joined forces a handful of times, most notably on the bloated sci-fi saga After Earth, which the senior Smith called “the most painful failure of his career,” mostly because he blamed himself for stopping his son’s ascension to movie stardom dead in its tracks. But when you’re the prodigal son of one of Hollywood’s most famous families, no door stays shut for long.
In the years since, Jaden has emerged as a pop culture powerhouse in his own right; fashion icon, Twitter guru—and thanks to his sprawling hip-hop opus SYRE: A Beautiful Confusion—rap star. In fact, Smith’s sudden chart ubiquity might make some of his counterparts think twice the next time they invite him to hang (more on that later). At just 19-years-old, his resume runs deep. But when we sat down with the budding multi-hyphenate, it was to discuss a side of him most people don’t know about—that of eco-entrepreneur.
In 2015, Jaden and Will joined forces one more time, when they founded the eco-friendly bottled water company JUST. The water’s boxed packaging is made entirely from renewable resources and it’s about to enter the growing flavored-water market. As Smith tells it, it might just be their most important project yet. Here’s Jaden on why JUST matters, his offbeat approach to fashion, and why he probably won’t be hanging out with Kanye West anytime soon.
Hip-hop is almost single-handedly carrying the music industry on its shoulders. What is it about this moment that has propelled the genre to the center of the culture?
Since I know that people are going to take pictures of me, I know that if I wear the same thing every day they won’t publicize it.
I feel like it’s the history that has led us to this domination of music. I wonder all the time. If you look at the top charts of streaming platforms—which really determines who’s listening to what—the top 10 is always rap music. It’s crazy and I really don’t know why. I honestly do not know why. I like all types of music. Even though rap music is 80 percent of what I listen to, it’s not the only thing I listen to.
How have your friendships with people like Drake, Kanye, and Donald Glover influenced your own art?
It’s really changed. I always felt like Little Homie before and that allowed me in all of their circles. But now that I’m on the charts next to them, I’m not really Little Homie anymore.
So you’ve earned some acceptance?
No, it’s more like, “You can’t hang out with us anymore. We didn’t know you were making an album this whole time. We thought you were just Little Homie giving us free water and shit. You’re not really cool with us anymore.”
Do you think the Soundcloud rap movement is the future of hip-hop or do you see it as something that will fade away?
It depends on what Soundcloud does. First it was going away, then somebody bought it, then it was subscription-based. I think Soundcloud is just really confused. But if they stick around people will still use it because people love some off-kilter shit.
You have a unique approach to fashion. What do you take into consideration when you put together an outfit and walk out your front door, knowing you’ll be photographed wherever you go?
I always felt like Little Homie before. But now that I’m on the charts next to them, I’m not really Little Homie anymore.
This is my 100th time wearing these pants. This is my 70th time wearing this shirt. And this is my 300th time wearing these shoes. Since I know that people are going to take pictures of me, I know that if I wear the same thing every day they won’t publicize it. It’s like doing an interview and saying the same thing every time. Eventually people are going to stop using it so I try to wear the same thing as much as possible. There are certain times, like the Grammys, when I decide to wear some pants I haven’t worn in a while or just make something like a new jacket. If I really want to surprise the world I’ll just make something. I have a new collection coming out soon and a lot of the shirts are going to surprise people.
We’ve been following the build up to your upcoming movie Skate Kitchen. Can you talk a little bit about your involvement in the project.
I’m so excited and I want people to check it out. I will say that I’m not the main character so people are not confused by that. There’s a whole cast of people. It’s not a “Jaden” movie.
So how did you get involved?
Me and the director [Crystal Moselle] had a sit down. She said she wanted to make a movie about skating and I said, “I’m in.” She said, “Do you want to read the script?” I said, “Yes, but I’m in.” We shot it here in New York and it was such a cool experience because I got to skate in the parks and get in the New York skate scene. Now, if I go to an LES skatepark people are not going to be like, “What are those? You’ve never been here!”
You’ve been extremely passionate about starting JUST Water. What does being a young activist means to you?
It came from the 11-year-old me who just wanted to make something better for the environment—an alternative for people so they don’t have to be drinking out of petroleum-based plastic all the time. That’s really the goal and I feel like people are slowly waking up to it.
When did you become woke about the environment?
I was 10 years old. I figured out that plastic was bad and our recycling systems were not as they should be. There were these Pacific garbage patches floating around the ocean and I kept telling people about it. It was like someone had died. Then I found out that those plastics break down, fish eat them, and then we eat the fish. It gets inside of us. It’s uncomfortable. It’s gross.
You and your father have worked together before but what has this experience been like, getting to build something so important with him at your side?
It’s been such a breath of fresh air to show people this side of us. This is not us trying to promote a new movie or new album. This is us trying to help the world and educate people by making them aware of the harm they’re doing by continuing to use petroleum in this way.
Do you have a message for young people who may not have the resources you have but who are equally passionate about building something meaningful?
Align yourself with us. DM us, contact us in any type of way. We’re always looking for young designers and youthful people to help us with the mission. We also challenge young people to design furniture made out of recycled plastic. If you can do something dope out of plastic let us know.