Review: Jhené Aiko Elevates On Her Moody ‘Sail Out’ EP

Def Jam’s next big thing delivers enough bars for the men and lyrical comfort the ladies

You will get high while listening to Jhené Aiko. Forget the fact that she hit the bong for the majority of the recording process for her pristine 2011 debut mixtape sailing soul(s). On her self-made Sail Out EP, a seven-track rack of spark notes that offers both an intro and late pass to her under-the-influence influence, there are no stripper anthems or ruckus-starting bangerz for the Miley club. The only turn-up is the ascent to metaphysical (and often substance-induced) bliss.

It’s a trippy ride once you enter the gates of her smoky wonderland. Though the vocalist of Japanese, Black and Native American descent has mixed feelings about love and life, she’s blunt, begging, “Can I hit it again?” on the Vince Staples-featured opener “The Vapors.” And this she does, repeatedly, via notes catering to every shade of blue on the feelings spectrum. The clouds disperse for the radio-ready “Bed Peace,” co-starring Childish Gambino, that nods to late legend John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono’s Bed-In for Peace protests in the ’60s. Playing into their rumored romance, Jhené and Donald spread the “fuck war, make love” mentality with hippy gestures and bubbly lyrics even her 4-year-old daughter Namiko could sing.

The PG-rated entertainment doesn’t last long as she zips into the literal bedroom piece “Stay Ready (What A Life)” featuring hip-hop’s golden child of the moment Kendrick Lamar. This marks the duo’s second collabo after “Growing Apart (To Get Closer)” which made a cameo on both the aforementioned sailing soul(s) and K Dot’s early project O(verly) D(edicated). While the Compton kid’s frisky bars boast hitting it raw, Jhené’s flair for double entendres compare sexing to living (“There’s no better time than now”) just before the second half fades out.

Lighters stay elevated as the Artium signee taps her other favorite Black Hippy member Ab-Soul for a lyrical game of puff-puff-pass on “WTH,” remixing the acronym for “What The Hell” to “Way Too High.” Soon, the downward spiral lands us back in reality as Jhené starts to toss out her frustrations like yesterday’s rolling papers.

When her most Drake-esque record “The Worst” arrives, ex-texters should refrain from reaching for the iPhone. Not to be confused with her tour mate’s “Worst Behavior” (#worst), Jhené calls bullshit on a former flame as she tries to kick the habit that is her ex, even spinning a Shawn Carter line (“Everybody’s like please don’t like him, he’s no item/He don’t wife ‘em, he one-nights em”). Whatever high notes were left, you won’t find them here as the two most sobering tracks are saved for last. The ominous “3:16 A.M.” leaves no cold stone unturned as the singer explores dark feelings akin to suicide against a haunting, chest-beating melody produced by her frequent collaborators The Fisticuffs. The bonus “Comfort Inn Ending (Freestyle),” produced by her Artium label head slash legendary producer No ID, also showcases Aiko channeling Aubrey once more as she reprimands John Doe for trusting “these hoes” and herself for trusting him, all while name-dropping faster than a teacher checking for attendance.

The only things absent are the lighthearted “Burning Man (3:16PM)” and the other No ID production “Everything Must Go,” which will probably appear on her debut album Souled Out, tentatively due in early 2014.

While Rihanna has become the go-to gal for badassery and Beyoncé’s Mrs. Carter regimen has crowned her untouchable, Jhené offers an intoxicating alternative for those in need of some soul-searching. A single mother at 25 with several false starts in the industry coupled with family struggles (she lost her brother to cancer last year), Jhené doesn’t come pre-packaged as a cookie-cut starlet navigating the shallow show business. Which is why it feels more natural to compare her to one of the boys. She isn’t looking to hit Mariah falsettos or compete for arena space with the Rihs and Beys, but has instead made the struggle her signature. Sail Out reminds you it’s okay to let it burn. —Adelle Platon