Jaden Smith might be the son of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but he wants to take on Silicon Valley. On the way to my meeting with 19-year-old Smith at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, he tweeted this at Elon Musk. I saw this from a gray Tesla Model S, driven by a Tesla employee, which he hired to fetch me over to him:
In the same way that other hip-hoppers might rap about Mercedes-Benz, Smith rapped about about Tesla in his 2017 debut album, Syre.
Were you goin’ fast son? Yes, sir
It was that autopilot on the Tesla
Heart palpitating so my chest hurts
Probably see it through my sweatshirt, yellin
He really admires Musk as a “as a thinker, as an entrepreneur, as a helper to humanity,” he explained to me. “You know, he reduced the cost of space travel by 70%, and no one before him did that. So he really changed all of our lives. He jumped us into the future so far by being able to just go to space for fun.”
Smith isn’t exactly right about that. SpaceX, Musk’s rocket company, has no future plans to offer tourist rides “for fun.” At best, SpaceX announced that two private individuals have put down a significant deposit with the company to take a manned mission around the moon by 2018, but that timeline is no longer realistic.
Nonetheless, “I want to be that person who can change people’s lives so drastically in every way as well,” Smith added. “Like [Musk] did something that NASA couldn’t even do.” (That part is more or less correct. NASA could technically develop rockets like SpaceX, but it chose not to due to financing and policy choices.)
Unlike most Tesla fanboys, however, Smith has actually met Musk in person. But he wouldn’t reveal much about their conversation, noting that it wasn’t anything significant—he kind of just gaped at Musk, in the same way that some of Smith’s fans have probably gaped at him. Smith aspires to be an entrepreneur like Musk.
So in 2015, Smith launched a bottled water company, Just Water. Yes, not quite rockets. He’s meeting with me to talk about that—so let’s talk about water. The product is packaged in 82% plant-derived material; the vessel is cardboard and the bottle cap is made from sugarcane. The original Just Water retailed for 99 cents per bottle, which Smith used to emphasize in interviews as a egalitarian price point, but the brand’s new line of infused waters (the apple cinnamon flavor does, indeed, strangely taste like apple pie) are priced between $1.69 and $1.99 on Amazon.
But getting you, probably a fan of his if you’ve read this far, to drink Just Water every day isn’t the ultimate objective, he says. “My final vision is to take that huge amount of plastic and turn it into an industry of creating [points to a piece of dry wall], you know, this is a bunch of Just Waters compressed into a cardboard material.” He thinks that we can get rid of plastic altogether by turning it into building material. ”This will just be our clay for the next few decades.”
Unlike Musk, however, Smith is not an engineer by training—he is a celebrity offspring, albeit one with is own brand of eco-wokeness. He repeats throughout our interview that 3.4 million people die from lack of access to clean drinking water every year (a true statistic), but his $1.99 bottled water brand isn’t (currently) solving infrastructural water sanitation problems. He is articulate and polite and media-trained (“You are so good with interviews,” someone from Just Water’s PR agency told him after our interview). His debut album received mixed reviews. Pitchfork called the lyrics “some of the worst in rap this year.”
But visionaries—like Musk is, and Smith hopes to become—never really care what the critics think. Musk, as his followers know has publicly retaliated against commentary from tech publications like Wired and would probably tell Smith to do the same if—and when—fawning posts from media Business Insider to High Snobiety turn negative.
Smith has a vision that he intends to fulfill, and he isn’t so worried about the logistics for now: he wants the affluent to only drink sustainable bottled water. And then, like what Musk is trying to do with the more affordable Tesla Model 3 (starting at $35,000), maybe sustainable bottled water will be the only acceptable norm.