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The Vixen Q And A: Jhene Aíko Talks 'Sailing Soul(s),' Explains Relationship With B2K & Chris Stokes + Plots To Save The World

Jhene Aiko’s thoughts and ideals for the world may serve a better purpose within the pages of a fictional literary work, but her lyrics are conceived from non-fiction tales of love and love lost. Also birthed are the hopes of a utopian universe where people relate to one another on a peaceful, non-judging plateau, freeing themselves from the chains of who others want them to be. She’s literally trying to save the world with the wedlock of writing and sound. Over Fisticuffs’ productions, the 23-year-old Piscean singer and superheroine sings her hopeful mission that is far from fictional. Willing to share her personal story and path with VIBE Vixen, she adamantly denies a bloodline with Lil’ Fizz of B2K, explains why Tupac is her idol, credits Brandy for teaching her how to sing and explains why she’d sign to Kid Cudi’s future label, hands down. –Niki McGloster


What’s been going on since your debut self-titled album?
It actually didn’t drop because something had happened at Epic [Records]. My A&R got fired and all this crazy stuff, so I ended up just asking for a release from Epic and from TUG, and I just started to focus more on school. You know, I was still singing, and I was still working with a couple of the producers that I had met while I was signed, but I was more focused on school. Then, I got pregnant when I was 20. Like, I took my last meeting a couple of weeks before I found out I was pregnant.

Let’s rewind a little bit. What occurred that made you sever ties with Epic and TUG?
I kinda felt like they were lagging their feet, and I wanted to finish school and not really be tied up into the music so much at that time. I believe I was 16 or 17.

Were their arguments and bad relationships forming with them when you decided to leave?
No. Everything ended well. Like I said, my A&R stopped working for Epic. His name was David McPherson. They had brought a new A&R on board, and she didn’t really didn’t know a lot about my projects, so she kind of just put me on the back burner. And it was obvious that they were not going to do anything [with me]. My mom was my manager at the time, and I sat down with her and I was like I would just rather be released and be free to do whatever I want rather than wait. The same thing with TUG ‘cause they were pretty much doing the same thing. I wasn’t really working and I was doing everything on my own, so I decided I would just rather be a free agent.

When most people hear your name or see who you are, they automatically think about B2K. Weren’t you related to one of them?
I’m glad you brought that up because I’ve been wanting to tell everybody this. Like, I want to scream it at the mountain top! The whole me being Lil’ Fizz’s cousin was a marketing tool. At the time, I was 12 so I didn’t really care. I wasn’t really involved in that decision, but Drew, that’s his real name, is really close with my family. I’ve known him since I was eight and he was like a cousin. He used to be in a group with my oldest brother when they were little, like 10, so I did grow up around him, but I didn’t know that they were going to say in parentheses by my name “Lil Fizz’s cousin.” Everybody says that, but I don’t really reply to it anymore because it becomes a lot to explain.

What’s your relationship with Lil’ Fizz and the other members of B2K now?
I honestly haven’t talked to them in years and years and years. Omarion is my daughter’s uncle so I see him more often, but I don’t have personal relationships with any of them anymore. Not because there’s anything negative between us, but they’re busy and I’m busy and they live far away.

Even though you haven’t spoken to the TUG camp in some time, I’m sure you’ve heard about Raz B’s accusations against Marques Houston and Chris Stokes. Since you got to witness all of them being so close and now seeing what has transpired, what are you feelings about the whole thing?
Honestly, I didn’t feed into it. When I would see posts about it, I wouldn’t even click on it or anything because I just feel like… I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t there. I knew Chris since I was five years old, but I was never as close to him as everyone else was, so I didn’t really want to know what was happening with that. All I knew was the allegations, and I feel like it’s a sad situation if it’s true or not. What is anyone gaining from this? If it’s true then he’s going about it the wrong way. From what I do know of Chris Stokes, he’s a great man. I just wish they can figure something out and be at a better place.

True, it would nice for that whole situation to be cleared up. Let’s talk about your current project. Where did the concept of sailing soul(s) stem from?
The concept came from the meeting right before I found out I was pregnant. I had a meeting with this label head and at this point I had done so many meetings. I had been doing it for like five years, and I was excited to have the meeting, but it wasn’t hype. I was going to go in there and be myself, I’m not going to really care. I wore a little bit of makeup and I dressed how I would dress. Went in there, sang for them, did the whole meeting thing and he was like, ‘I love your voice, I love everything but when you come into these meetings you have to sell yourself.’ I was just speechless when he said that, and I have no filter when it comes to speaking my mind so I bit my tongue so hard. I wanted to say, ‘No! I don’t have to sell myself. I am me.’ You like me or you don’t. After that, I found out I was pregnant and I was on Twitter one day and said something about selling your soul, but I spelled it wrong and Chase N. Cashe corrected me. I put “sailing souls” and he said, ‘Oh, that would be a nice name for an album.” And everything started happening after that.

When did you begin developing the mixtape and putting it together?
My daughter was about six months when I really started working on it. At the time I was going through so much in my life that it was so easy to write the songs. I had just had a baby and I was dealing with baby father issues and I had a boyfriend. The songs were just coming and coming. I just had so much to say, and when I was signed, I never really got a chance to write my own music. I always wanted to do a mixtape and before I got pregnant I was about to get back into it ‘cause I was working with different producers and things like that. Fisticuffs, who produced the majority of sailing soul(s), I’ve known them for awhile and worked with them on different projects. So yeah, the concepts were just coming and it only took about nine months to complete.

Your sound from before is very different now. It takes on a whole new life and is more real, so where do you think you fit in with the music industry as a whole?
Honestly, I don’t think it fits in and I think that’s why it stands out. It’s about what I’m saying. It’s a marriage [with] real music. Fisticuffs, they don’t use any samples and they use live instruments a lot of the times in their beats, so I would go in there and I would be singing and they would be making the track. It was like a complete marriage of sound. I wouldn’t write anything down, just sing it on the mic and come up with everything off the top of my head. I feel like it doesn’t have to sound like anything that’s on the radio to be good music.

There can be more of a storytelling or raw aspect that is appreciated in music outside of the radio. Are you signed to a label right now, or are you looking to be signed?
Right now, I’m not signed. I have a management team called LA’s Finest and we’ve just been doing everything on our own. I’m not really looking for anything. I’m seeing what comes to me.

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Erik Umphery

Meet Ebenezer, The Crooner Poised To Restore Soul Into Modern R&B

Ebenezer is a man of few words but the purveyor of a million feels throughout his music. Before the novel coronavirus left the singer-songwriter isolated in Los Angeles, the London-born artist was at the VIBE office in New York a few moons ago playing his latest project, Bad Romantic 2.

A few laughs fill the room but what really takes over is the boptastic tune "3 am in London." With a sample from Kandi Burruss's 2000 release "Don't Think I'm Not," we get a look into his creative process. After revealing his origin story in 2018 with 53 Sundays, Ebenezer returned with the Bad Romantic series. It's a title bestowed to him by the many women he's dated. As a songwriter, engineer, producer, and composer for himself a slew of other artists like Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Stefflon Don, K-Pop faves SuperM and Craig David, love seemed to slip through the cracks. 

"I always try to make time," the crooner insists. He might not get love right all the time, but his determination to enrich modern R&B is a sword he's willing to fall on. While sharing stories behind cuts from Bad Romantic 2, a grin comes across his face as every tale is connected to love lost.

"It wasn't like there wasn't any lack of effort. It's just the way my schedule worked," he said about the making of "Flexible," a track bound to lead a quiet storm playlist. "I remember working so hard at the time that I was sleeping in the studio. I didn't have any money to go home [to London] so I had to work until something gave. I would mention how difficult it was but maybe she didn't understand the hustle or the grind at the time."

His hard work led to his latest single, "Flaws And All." The track speaks of his efforts to make love work no matter what, a notion anyone can relate to. As we continue to talk about love, one thing is for certain–Ebenezer is in love with creating. His eyes light up while breaking down each track and his shoulders ease up when he speaks about his versatility. In addition to the world hearing Bad Romantic 2, he's used social distancing to produce songs via his "Quarantine Studio Sessions."

 

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A post shared by Ebenezer (@ebenezersworld) on Mar 27, 2020 at 10:56am PDT

Below, get to know a little more about the elusive artist, the making of Bad Romantic 2 and some of his biggest inspirations.

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VIBE: With you producing at a young age, did you have support from your family?

Ebenezer: I'm a London boy but my parents are originally from Nigeria. They were on the run from immigration at one point but after things calmed down there was a big focus on education. They were like, "No you, can't. Education first." There would be big arguments and fights but eventually, I chose music. Or maybe it chose me? I started working and producing while on the phone with artists and things came together.

But I owe everything to my mum because she is the biggest cheerleader I've ever had. This woman had three kids and did everything to get by. She held it down. I had cousins who called immigration on us and they're supposed to be family–immigration comes kicking open the door and raiding the house. So I believe that the blessings I'm getting now are from God and our prayers.

What do you enjoy the most: producing/engineering or writing? 

I don't know if I can choose. I just use different parts of my brain for producing and writing. It is fun to split them up and bring them together at times.

What's your voice in R&B today? 

From childhood to the present, I've been in piece of s**t relationships and my songs reflect that. It's not be being vindictive to my exes. I take full responsibility for the things I've done and I try to be honest as I can in my music. The worst thing I could do is be one-sided.

There's that aspect of accountability missing in R&B these days so I get it. How is creating R&B-pop music for K-Pop artists? You worked with SuperM recently and it seems like they really enjoy the era of 2000s R&B. 

It's easier because they let you do whatever you want. You want a variety of harmonies because there's a lot of people in one group. But I like creating for K-Pop artists because you're able to let every individual stand out and have their own moment. It's dope they're adopting that sound.

Who are some of your inspirations? 

Kanye West for sure. My brother was a big hip hop head so I grew up on Rakim, Big L, Big Pun, Tupac, Biggie, Jay Z, Wu-Tang, but my decade has the Drakes and the Kanyes, so they were my biggest inspirations. College Dropout was the album that had me say, "I'm doing this music thing, I don't care."

My sister is a big R&B fan. She played a lot of Jagged Edge, Jodeci, stuff like that. So I was lucky to have the hip hop side and the R&B side presented to me all at once.

In addition to love and relationships, what else drives your creative process? 

It comes in stages for me. I like to make projects with a theme. For example, 53 Sundays was a project about growing up in London as an immigrant and the adversity we experienced racism and gang violence. It's how I overcame it and how my family dealt with it.

There's a lot of self-love in those songs because nothing is free, especially coming from having nothing. You have the Bad Romantic projects that are pretty self-explanatory in the title [Laughs]. I'm going to make it all tell a story so when you look back at the projects, it's a timeline and you'll see who I am.

What makes a "Bad Romantic and a "Good Romantic?" 

My exes are bad romantics. [Laughs]

So it's their fault? 

Nah, my exes would say there are some things that I'm good at and some things I'm terrible at. There are different love languages and what someone may require, I might not speak it. I like to provide gifts because growing up with nothing, you never want to see anyone without.

But I struggle with time because I'm always working and they had it. I have this thing called "The Okay Attitude." You can write me a novel in a text and I'll say, okay. Life expectancy for us is low as it is and we spend most of our time arguing about trivial things so if that's how you feel, that's how you feel.

And a "Good Romantic?"

Being attentive, caring, not being so selfish. I don't know, everyone is different. Some people require a lot. They say, "Shower me with gifts." But others say, "I just want your time, whenever you can afford it."

Unfortunately, I can't afford it.

What do you want listeners to get from your music?

That I'm just a bad romantic that's trying to better himself.

Stream Bad Romantic 2 here.

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PARTYNEXTDOOR performs on the Main Stage on Day 1 of Wireless Festival 2018 at Finsbury Park on July 6, 2018 in London, England.
Tabatha Fireman

New Music Friday: PARTYNEXTDOOR, Jeezy, Jessie Reyez And More

This week has a flood of new music: PARTYNEXTDOOR has returned with his first album in four years, Jeezy surprised fans with a new release, and Knxwledge has released a new album. Look below for more on the new projects to drop this week.

PARTYNEXTDOOR – PARTYMOBILE Fans of PARTYNEXTDOOR have been waiting for years for another album – despite dropping two EPs in 2017, it's been nearly four years since a full-length project from the Canadian singer/songwriter, while other artists ate while being inspired by his sound. Today sees the release of PARTYMOBILE, his third studio album. Anchored by the single "BELIEVE IT" featuring Rihanna (who he previously wrote the "Work" for), the album also has appearances by Drake and Bad Bunny. Apple Music | TIDAL

Joyner Lucas – ADHD With the success of his Will Smith homage "Will" earning him millions of views on YouTube (and kudos from the Fresh Prince himself), Joyner Lucas plans to build on the momentum with his new album ADHD. His third album has more star power than any of his previous records: Young Thug, Chris Brown, Logic and Fabolous all make appearances and producers such as Timbaland and Boi-1da lend beats.  We'll see how his proven lyricism stands up with the expanded budget. Apple Music | TIDAL

Jeezy – Twenty/20 Pyrex Vision While the word was that Jeezy's 2019 album TM104: The Legend of the Snowman was supposed to be his last, the ATL rap legend returned today with a surprise release. Jeezy fans should be satisfied: all of the seven tracks on Twenty/20 Pyrex Vision are produced by longtime collaborator Shawty Redd. While bumping this in the whip might be difficult with the coronavirus shutdowns, this is still a welcome addition to the catalog. Apple Music | TIDAL

Jessie Reyez – BEFORE LOVE CAME TO KILL US Mortality isn’t an easy topic, but Jessie Reyez isn’t here for an easy battle. A year in the making, her debut album Before Love Came To Kill Us takes listeners on a journey of love and death, a beyond timely notion no one can ignore. Tracks like “Intruders” and the 6LACK-assisted “Imported” takes us on the edge of love’s despair while her harmonic collaborations with Eminem feels like redemption is right around the corner. The Grammy-nominated singer has come a long way since YouTube covers and her breakout single, “Figures” but luckily for us, her explorations with love are almost infinite. – Desire Thompson | Apple Music | TIDAL

Knxwledge – 1988 Some music fans may have just learned about Knxwledge in recent years, because of his album with Anderson .Paak as the duo NxWorries and his contributions to Kendrick Lamar's Grammy-winning To Pimp A Butterfly. But real heads know his work extends long beyond that: the producer has dropped hundreds of beat tapes on Bandcamp, each of them showcasing his off-kilter, soulful soundscapes. His new album 1988, according to a press release, precedes his prolific run though. "As the story is told, little baby Knx was left alone by his mother for just a few moments and crawled to a family member's vintage SP-12 sampler. When his mother returned he had already produced his first beats and nearly mastered the machine," reads a press release. "These tracks, all produced before nap time while rocking a Nike diaper, were stored over the years on floppy discs, then brought to his studio in recent months where they were finished up, mixed, and mastered." The album features .Paak, along with Durand Bernarr and Rose Gold. Apple Music | TIDAL

Little Dragon – New Me, Same Us Swedish band Little Dragon has been consistently making music for some 13 years, and they say that their sixth album, New Me, Same Us, is their "most collaborative for us yet. ... We worked hard at being honest, finding the courage to let go of our egos and be pieces of something bigger. We are all on our own personal journeys, full of change, yet still we stand united with stories we believe in, that make us who we are.” Apple Music | TIDAL

Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby (Remix EP) Ari Lennox's debut Shea Butter Baby was one of VIBE's favorite albums of 2019, and the singer has returned with a short EP that remixes three of its highlights. "BMO (Remix)" keeps the original while adding a feature by Doja Cat, Smino appears on "I Been," and "Facetime" has an appearance by Durand Bernarr. Apple Music | TIDAL

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PARTYNEXTDOOR Enlists Rihanna For "BELIEVE IT"

It's been four years since PARTYNEXTDOOR's last LP, but the Canadian singer/songwriter is back – with Rihanna in tow for his new single.

Produced by Bizness Boi, Cardiak, and Ninetyfour, "BELIEVE IT" reunites PARTYNEXTDOOR and Rihanna for the first time since "Work," Rihanna's chart-topping hit that PARTYNEXTDOOR wrote.

The song appears on PARTYMOBILE, the new album by PARTYNEXTDOOR. Listen to "BELIEVE IT" above.

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