The independence was an extension of her younger years, when she used to shrug off her mother’s assistance—“I would rather risk falling off the counter, because I didn’t want to have to ask anyone for help,” says Jhené. Any cynical label head will tell you that juggling single motherhood with two jobs is a tough blueprint for success.
Omarion remembers impromptu jam sessions with a very pregnant Jhené and his brother in the neighborhood party place Purple Room at their L.A. home on Crest. “The labels were trying to make her the next whoever, something they feel like they can sell,” he says. “Eventually, that little voice inside can’t hide. Fans gravitate towards her energy and her effortless tones."
Still, it’s Jhené’s maternal nature, on wax and off, that has made her a genuine source of comfort for fans. “Just like Jhené and I are both mothers, so are half of the women in America,” says singer Monica, who had her first of three children at 24. “It strengthens your connection with your audience. They get that chance not to just look at you like an artist, but realize that we’re so much like them.”
F-bombs are flying on-stage at the Gobi tent at Coachella. During her first show, Jhené brought out Childish Gambino and Drake. For this second act, fittingly on 4/20, she’s repping the West Side. L.A. rapper Kurupt does a live rendition of his Snoop Dogg smash, “Ain’t No Fun (If The Homies Can’t Have None).” Jhené has no problem playing hype woman, bouncing around to Dr. Dre’s G-funk beat. Andre 3000 is in the audience. But the real scene-stealer is Jhené’s five-year-old daughter, Namiko, who helps momma with hook duty for “The Worst.” Jhené later Instagrams a photo of the two walking off stage, hand in hand.
The all-access pass Jhené provides fans has made her one of them, as opposed to an untouchable artist with a navy or hive behind her. Her daily entourage consists of her two pre-fame best friends, Krissy Namaze and Arielle Vavasseur, her manager, Taz, and Miyoko, who are regulars on her Instagram photo map (now followed by 1.3 million). Unfiltered selfies and photos of Nami also rake in the double taps. When her older brother Miyagi died from brain cancer, she released a tear-soaked ode called “For My Brother.”
Jhené still occupies that space between anonymous and famous. And her major-label debut, Souled Out, continues to be a waiting game (it’s scheduled for an August release). There’s a possibility that she’ll create an accompanying film, inspired by the Walt Disney biopic, Saving Mr. Banks. “I want to incorporate elements from the story of Christ and Buddha and my story. You know, add some fantasy to it,” she says back at the restaurant. She’s wrapping up her unfinished meal, including her sister’s ginger-carrot concoction.
Yes, this vision board for her album sounds like Pixar meets Intro To Philosophy. It’s a weird yet whimsical life view that proves she’s at ease with not knowing all the answers, and being a little quirky in the process. “I will never rush anything just to say I’m 28 with seven albums. One or a few of those albums will be crap,” she says, likening her project to a sequel of sailing soul(s), with happier songs, fewer rap collabos and more spiritual healing. “This album, from top to bottom, sounds like you’re on a journey. Once you get to the last songs with my daughter, the songs where I’m talking about what life means,” she says, “it’s just enlightenment.”