When Jhene Aiko first came onto my feed, I immediately fell in love with her sound. As a Kendrick and Gambino fan, I stumbled across her in 2013 with the release of her EP Sail Out, on which they were both featured. Rich and soothing, Jhene’s vocals echo over rhythmic bass lines and snardrums, every word carrying its full weight. Unlike a lot of R&B today, Jhene’s lyrics are completely biographical–generally the result of her personal journal. And as I began to listen to more and more of her music, inclusive of her 2011 mixtape Sailing Soul(s) and her first studio album Souled Out (2014), the pieces of her story began to fall into place. Jhene is a self-proclaimed sailing soul; she’s the definition of wanderer and her music is reflective of that.
From discussing her heartache after her brother’s death to the trials and triumphs of being a young mother, Jhene doesn’t sugarcoat any of her experiences, holding incredible range in her subject matter. One minute she’s delving into her sexual exploits on “Maniac”, the next she’s lamenting on “Pressure” about the struggle to maintain balance, and then she’s expressing her philosophical ideals about managing life’s purpose and struggles over “W.A.Y.S.” Regardless the topic, Jhene is always consistent in content. But beyond her poetic power with words, Jhene likes to push the boundaries of her genre, dabbling in intricate electronic sounds alongside a variety of orchestral additives. Some examples including the major-key oriented guitar riffs on “Spotless Mind” and the minor-chord progressions of an assortment of brass instruments at the end of “Oblivion”. And together, Jhene’s beautiful lyrics coupled with excellent and elaborate production, create a complete experience for listeners.
A complete experience that builds continually upon itself recursively, her past experiences–and thus her past work–bleeds through into her new pieces. So when she released her second studio album Trip on September 21, 2017, although it was an unannounced surprise, the content was anything but; it fit with all that Jhene had revealed herself to be over the years. A 22 song album, shared alongside an associated short-film and poetry book, Trip really lives up to its name. As a listener, you are brought along for the ride as Jhene catalogues all the emotions she’s felt since entering the world of music.
From the energetic and optimistic “OLLA (Only Lover’s Left Alive)” to the bitter yet removed “Never Call Me”, Jhene’s range continues to shine through. And even if you don’t vibe with every single song, odds have it that at least one of Jhene’s plethora of emotions is bound to click with you. Filled with voiceovers and musical lulls, Jhene doesn’t just keep the album running with hard-hitting pieces; she allows the empty space to speak for itself, thus explaining how trips aren’t always excitement. There is beauty in the quiet and wonder in the calm, an inner peace that Jhene not only embraces but embodies. All in all, Jhene has definitely made her mark. Whether its featuring with artists like Drake or the Chainsmokers, collaborating with Big Sean to form Twenty88, or blessing our feeds with Trip, Jhene’s sweet and sensitive sound reigns supreme in the mellow undergrounds of the R&B scene.