Jhene Aiko 'ELLE' Magazine

Jhene Aiko Talks ‘Souled Out,’ Love & Being Vulnerable

If you are still searching for the reason you have fallen in love with Jhene Aiko, the adjective in the haystack is "honest." Refreshingly offering all of herself on each emotional opus, it is the petite singer’s transparency that is transforming our VIBE cover star into a budding powerhouse. Now, her willingness to exposure has taken shape on her debut LP Souled Out, where she zeroes in on herself more than ever. -- Iyana Robertson

VIBE: Souled Out is finally is here. Does it feel like a weight’s been lifted?
Kind of. I feel like the work is never done. I’m ready to start the next one. I’m just excited that people can finally hear it.

The album had its pushbacks and it got delayed a few times, but everything happens for a reason. So were there some benefits to the extra time?
I think time is always good, just so that you can really make sure to take your time with each song. I don’t know though, because sometimes I like to take maybe too much time [laughs] with each song to make sure that it’s right. ‘Cause it’s like you’ll always want it to be better, you know? But I do think that everything does happen for a reason, so though the release changed, for the big picture it was for a reason.

Your music is the picture of bluntness and vulnerability; you just are what you are and that’s that. Is it ever hard to go as far as you go? Do you ever shock yourself with what you end up writing or saying?
Nowadays, no [laughs]. I just sort of let it flow. I try to stay away from saying anything about anyone personally that they wouldn’t want other people to know. I just keep it based on me and my feelings, and as long as no one else is involved - like me telling someone else’s secret - that’s where I draw the line. I just like to keep it honest so it’s what I’m going through. As honest as possible.

Is that ever hard, to share your vulnerabilities with everyone? Or is it just the way you deal?
Not yet. It’s just been the way that I’m dealing with whatever it is, you know? It’s almost like therapy. So the first step is acceptance and really understanding what you’re going through. I don’t know, it’s always worked out because the more honest you are, then the more people you have coming up to you telling you that they relate. And I think they relate so much because it is just so honest and... relatable [laughs].

I’ve heard a lot of people try to describe why they’re feeling you, and they can’t. They’ll say ‘Is it her voice? Is it her vibe? I don’t know, but it’s something.’ And I think that what it is: you’re honest.
I think it’s just being a regular person, and not being afraid to be regular. Not trying to seem perfect or portray someone that thinks they have it all together. And I think that’s what a lot of celebrities do, period. I don’t consider myself that, I just consider myself someone who’s sharing my story, and that’s what I am. I don’t see it as I’m this person that’s different from anyone else. So I think people pick up on that and that’s why they gravitate towards it.

SEE ALSO: 55 Lyrics You’ll Be Tweeting From Jhene Aiko’s ‘Souled Out’

Yeah, that's definitely what it is. So, the EP Sail Out was sort of an appetizer for Souled Out. Describe that transition.
So Sail Out was what I think people were used to. Some people were just finding out about me through the Big Sean song, or the Drake song, and I feel like it was easy to digest because it was feature-heavy and hip-hop influenced; stuff you wouldn’t mind hearing on the radio. And the album, Souled Out, is a little more of the main course. It’s like really digging into who I am and what I’m all about, and giving you a hint of what I can do and where I can go. I feel like each project is just going to be transitioning to the next, and just show evolution. It’ll always be progressive.

Love in all of its forms, from your family to men, is a common theme for you. What would you say Souled Out says about love?
I would say that Souled Out says that love is everything. Love is pain. Love is happiness. love is acceptance. Love is just the strongest energy in the world, in the universe. Every song on Souled Out is really based on love. It starts off with relationship, then family and just life, all these different things. And I just think it’s because love is the universal energy that creates everything. It creates life. It creates death. Yeah, I think that answered the question maybe [laughs].

For most artists, their art sort of imitates their life in some way. How does Souled Out reflect you?
I think Souled Out is a direct reflection. Like, these are the relationships I’ve been through and the things that I’ve been through in life period. They are all true - true feeling and true stories - so it’s literally a direct reflection.

If you had to sell someone on the album with one song, which one would you choose and why?
Hmm, that's a good one. I would make them listen to “W.A.Y.S.” I would say it’s a good introductory song into sort of my beliefs, and a little bit of what I’ve been through. And not only that, but the music is amazing to me. Though it is a thought-provoking song, the beat is something you could ride along to in your car, or if you into bass and hearing things loud. It’s like one of those songs you can bump. Even though I’m talking about really serious stuff, the music adds another element to it. I think it’s just a well-rounded song altogether.

“Promises” is the softest spot on the album, the most tender song. And you have your daughter on the song as well. Before you guys recorded it, did you talk to her at all about what the song was about?
Every so often we have conversations like that, but before we did this song, no. She’s always with me in the car when I’m writing and when I’m singing along to instrumentals. And she pretty much knew the song before we went and recorded it, which is why I thought it would be a good idea for her to sing it with me.

And what was your reaction to the final version of the song?
It was a song that I was working on for a while because musically, they were changing and adding things a lot of the time. And then I would go in and re-sing a few parts. So yeah, when I heard it all together, they added beautiful instruments in the background. It really took the song to another place and really painted the picture with the music. So I was really pleased with how it turned out, because I just wanted to tell that story and get those feelings out. But then when I heard where No I.D. took it with the music, it was super crazy.

Tell me about the two exclusive tracks on the deluxe edition at Target: “You vs. Them” and “Beautiful Ruin.”
“You vs. Them” is a song off of Sailing Souls, my first mixtape in 2011. And it’s just a fan favorite; everyone is always asking me to perform it at shows and they’re always quoting the lyrics from it. So out of all the songs from the mixtape, I thought it would be a good one to reintroduce to people that maybe haven’t heard the mixtape. And it’s an acoustic version, so it’s just me an a guitar. Then “Beautiful Ruin” is a song that I initially put out on YouTube. Pretty much when I was writing the song, me and Steve Wyreman, who is on a lot of the tracks from Souled Out - he’s playing live guitar on several songs - anyway me and him went into the studio and I was like ‘I have this idea for a song.’ And he just played while I was singing. I already had a melody and he’s amazing so he just followed along. We recorded it on Photobooth and I put it on YouTube and people loved it. So we went ahead and really recorded it. No I.D. built around the guitar and added to the track. That is one of my favorite songs.

Cool, so it’s almost like Jhene prerequisite [laughs]. Why did you choose to use two older songs instead of recording new ones?
I feel like, especially with “You vs. Them,” there’s so many people that had just heard of me from “The Worst,” and they don’t really know the songs from the mixtape. “You vs. Them” is one of my favorite songs as well, so I felt like it needed to be heard by more people. Also, I’ll always be recording new songs, so those will just go on the next album [laughs].

You keep the features very minimal, and artists do that when they want the album to really be them. But if people had to predict who would’ve made the cut, they’d probably say Drake or Kendrick. How’s Common end up on it? Was it around the time you two did “Blak Majik”?
It was. That was the last song that I did for the album. It was track that No I.D. gave me that I knew I wanted to use, but it was hard for me to write to. So I just went in and freestyled in one take, and it ended up being a lot of our’s favorites. No I.D. really loved it and my manager really loved it, so everybody was like ‘Yeah.’ So [No I.D.] called me and was like ‘What do you think about a feature,’ and it was just like ‘It’s done, what do you mean a feature?’ But when he said that I was like ‘You’re right, that would be pretty cool. What about Common?’ Literally, his name was just the first that popped in my mind, just because in working with him on “Blak Majik” and we did a song called “Fly Ass Pisces,” it just seemed like he really understood the message of the album and what I’m trying to do as artist. So I think that he got it more than any of the other people that I’ve ever collaborated with got it.

Nice. So if you envision the first time someone listens to Souled Out and they could be anywhere in the world, doing any one thing, how would you envision it? Where are they? What are they doing? What’s the perfect scene?
Okay, let me think of this and make it good [laughs]. They got the CD, the actual physical CD. They still have a CD player in their car, and they’re feeling very contemplative. So they put it on and they take a random drive. They’re driving around thinking about life and figuring things out for themselves, and relating to every word that I’m saying. It’s not a sad moment, but it’s a reflective moment where they’re finding out a lot about how they feel. That’s what I would hope for.

Image Credit: ELLE

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The Cast Of 'SHAFT' Talk Family Traditions, Power And The Film's Legacy

Back in 1971, Richard Roundtree became the face of the legendary crime/blaxploitation film SHAFT. His influence in the role paved the way for a new generation of black detectives filled with a gluttonous amount of swag, clever one-liners, and action-packed scenes. Samuel L. Jackson followed suit in the franchise’s 2000 installment as he took over the streets of Uptown Manhattan and Harlem filling in for Roundtree’s original character.

Fast forward to 2019, and SHAFT’s legacy has risen to higher heights, incorporating Roundtree and Jackson together with an extension of their detective prowess. Director Tim Story created a familial driven movie centered around three different generations of SHAFT men. Roundtree plays the grandfather; Jackson plays the dad—and Jessie T. Usher plays the son. All three embark on a mission that’s laced with dirty politics, Islamophobia, and highflying action in efforts to solve a seemingly homicidal death.

The dynamics between all three are hilarious and dotted with lessons learned from past paternal influences. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon at Harlem's Red Rooster, the trio shared some of the traditions and virtues the paternal figures in real life have taught them. Most of the influence passed down to them was centered on working hard.

“People say to me, ‘Why do you work so much?’” Jackson said. “Well, all the grown people went to work every day when I got up. I figured that’s what we’re supposed to be doing—get up, pay a bill, and take care of everything that’s supposed to be taken care of.”

“For my family, it was cleanliness and masculinity,” Usher added. “The guys in my family were always well put together, very responsible especially my dad.”

In spite of the SHAFT men's power, the film's story wouldn’t be what it is without Regina Hall and Alexandra Shipp’s characters. They both play strong women caught in the middle of the mayhem created by the men they care about. Both are conscious of the power they exhibit as black women off and on screen, yet are aware of the dichotomy of how that strength is perceived in the world.

“It’s very interesting because I think a lot of times as powerful black women we are seen as angry black women,” Shipp says. “So it’s hard to have that voice and that opinion because a lot of times when we voice it; it becomes a negative rather than a positive. In order to hold that power, it has to be poised. It has to be with grace, I think there is strength in a strong but graceful black woman.”

“People have an idea of what strength is and how you do it and sometimes it’s the subtleties,” Regina adds. “Sometimes our influence is so powerful and it doesn’t always have to be loud I think a lot of times how we navigate is with conviction and patience.”

VIBE chatted with the cast of SHAFT about holding power, their red flags when it comes to dating, and why the SHAFT legacy continues to live on. Watch the interviews below.

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Meet Zhavia, The Musician Who Refuses To Be Boxed In

If you haven’t heard of Zhavia before, that will likely change very, very soon.

The 18-year-old Columbia Records signee is readying her first major EP 17, which is scheduled for June 14. A native of the Golden State, Zhavia catapulted to national consciousness after making it to the top four of the inaugural season of FOX’s singing competition, The Four, which features Diddy and DJ Khaled as judges. Since then, she continues to rise and tantalize audiences with her powerful, chill-inducing vocals.

The singer-songwriter—who tells VIBE she’s hopeful that her forthcoming EP will be “inspiring” to her ever-growing fanbase—dropped the project’s latest single “17” on May 31. Produced by hip-hop hitmaker Hit-Boy and co-written by RØMANS, Zhavia explains that the retrospective song is more personal than her previously-released tracks, such as the trap-tickled “100 Ways” and “Candlelight,” the stand-out single that showcases the vocal prowess of the petite blonde ingenue.

"’17’ is a song that I wrote about my life story, and how I got to where I am right now,” she says. The track details hardships such as a lack of resources to thrive in her childhood home and staying in a motel in order to accomplish her musical goals. “I just wanted it to be something that [fans] can relate to, whatever it is that they're going through.”

“I saw it in my dreams, I knew that life would change for me,” she croons on the new single. “This is reality, look at me now.”

Zhavia’s humble beginnings start in Norwalk, Calif., as a daughter of two musicians who introduced her to numerous genres. In fact, her mother was a member of a metal band called Xenoterra, and Zhavia’s impressively-versatile vocal range could be attributed to this Chex Mix bag of sonic stylings.

“From doo-wop to punk to R&B, metal, rock...” she says, listing of the types of music she was brought up on, which helped her in honing a unique style. Her own tunes feature an R&B and hip-hop flair and sprinkles touches of other genres throughout, in order for her to remain true to her roots.

“I feel like for the most part, [my music will] always have that R&B feel to it, but I'm always gonna have a lot of different vibes for people to pick and choose what they like,” she explains.

Zhavia's urban-tinged musical affinity was palpable during her time on The Four, where she put her spin on hits such as French Montana and Swae Lee’s “Unforgettable” and Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” Although she was unanimously selected by the show’s four celebrity judges to advance after a stellar first-round performance of Khalid’s “Location,” she admits she initially wasn’t planning to compete.

“When I was younger, I had wanted to go on a [singing] show, but I had made up my mind. ‘I'm gonna try to do it myself,’” she chuckles. “But, the people that were having auditions, they happened to be at the studio that I was recording at when I was making my own songs. My manager told me, 'Just go sing for them.'”

After showing off her impressive pipes, she was convinced to join the show, and was further influenced to compete after discovering that The Four appeared to focus on R&B and hip-hop-leaning artists.

“I was like, 'Okay, that sounds like me, they'll probably accept the style of music that I do,'” she continues. “I feel like on other singing shows, it's a little more pop, or towards the pop genre. Also, the panel that they had [DJ Khaled, Diddy, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Walk] seemed really relevant, and I could tell it was legit. I figured I'd just try it out, and it led me to where I am now.”

Since placing fourth on the show, Zhavia has proven that her star power was built to last longer than 15 minutes. Other than her forthcoming EP’s release, her gifts have found her among the company of some big names. She can be heard on the soundtrack for Deadpool 2 in the song “Welcome To The Party” with Diplo, French Montana and Lil Pump. Recently, moviegoers were treated to her rendition of the Disney classic “A Whole New World” with Zayn Malik, for the live-action version of Aladdin, which plays during the film’s end credits.

“I think it's been amazing, and it's definitely a lot of exposure that comes in a unique way,” she says of working on big projects with even bigger industry names. She continues by stating that she’s had a blast “putting her own twist” on songs she didn’t pen and doing material “totally different from what [she] would normally do.”

The pressures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry could be difficult on anyone, however, young stars under the U.S. legal age in the limelight may find themselves succumbing to various pressures, temptations and burnout. For Zhavia, she makes sure to keep a level head and a positive attitude in order to persevere in the industry as she matures.

“I feel like it's not that hard to stay focused, because I've wanted to do this my whole life,” she says affirmatively. “It's what I live for. For me, one of my number one priorities besides my family is music. I don't really go out, I don't party, I don't do none of that. I just work! [Laughs] I think for me, it's just focusing on myself and what I wanna do, and what I wanna get done.” She’s also hoping to keep surprising people throughout her career by coming up with genre-bending songs that show off her style, personality and abilities. Let her do her, and watch her as she goes.

“I'm not gonna be put in a box to do just one type of music or one style of song,” Zhavia affirms. “I don't want people to get used to one thing, you know? That's kind of a hard thing to express to the world. I feel like it comes with me coming up with more music, and to keep creating music for people to listen to and get to know me.”

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Case Gets Candid About 'Therapy' Album And Revisits 'Personal Conversation' For Its 20th Anniversary

Today's R&B landscape may be dominated by street-wise crooners with a gritty background, but in the latter half of the '90s, Case was among the first to carry that flag. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York City, Case caught his big break after being discovered by Russell Simmons, inking a deal with Def Jam Records and releasing his self-titled 1996 debut album. Boasting the Foxy Brown and Mary J. Blige-assisted hit single "Touch Me, Tease Me,” Case established the singer as one of the promising new stars in R&B.

Continuing his success with his sophomore album Personal Conversation, and his 2001 effort Open Letter, Case would take a sabbatical from the industry before returning as an independent artist with his fourth album, The Rose Experience. With two additional solo albums under his belt (Here, My Love, and Heaven's Door), Case unveils Therapy, his first full-length project in three years. Featuring appearances from Teddy Riley, Tank, Slim of 112, Floacist, Misha Fair, Alexis Renee, and Teraye, Therapy finds Case addressing matters of the heart and delivering what may be the most transparent album of his career.

VIBE hopped on the phone with Case to get the scoop on his latest album, his thoughts on the “king of R&B” debate, and reminisce through memories of his sophomore album Personal Conversation, ahead of its 20th anniversary.

VIBE: How has the reception been to your seventh studio album, Therapy? Case: It's been good actually. I didn't know how it was gonna be because I wanted to do something different on this album. Since it's been out, it's been doing good. "Make Love" had a real good reception and now the second single, "You," is starting to get out there now, so I'm happy with it.

What was the inspiration behind the project’s title? For me, music is therapy. It's a way for me to get feelings out, talk about things. It's a form of therapy for me, so I think everybody needs that.

This has been praised as one of your more personal bodies of work thus far. What situations or moments in your life inspired the content on this album? Everything on the album is dealing with stuff that I’ve been dealing with, stuff that people that's close to me [have] been dealing with over the past couple of years. So I just wanted to talk about it.

Are they any moments you can pinpoint to or a breakup that provided any inspiration? It wasn't nothing like that. It was just stuff with me and my wife, situations that I had been dealing with. I actually talked about some of that stuff on [TV One] Unsung. It's not necessarily a breakup, it's just trying to get through things, work through things.

The album's lead-single "Make Love" features an appearance from Tank and Teddy Riley. How did that song come to life? For that song, I went to Teddy's house and he was talking and he was like, 'Yo, remember that conversation we had in the club a couple of years ago?' I had told him about wanting to make the sound that I wanted to go for. I had forgotten we had that conversation, but he remembered and he was like, "I made this song based off our conversation." And he started playing me the track and I was like, "That's pretty much exactly it." We recorded that and then when I was done, I was like, "Tank would be perfect for this." So I hit him up and we knocked it out.

Another song from the album that stands out is "You," which is a duet with Slim of 112. What sparked that collaboration? Me and Slim, we were supposed to do something a couple of times in the past and the song "You" was already done. Tevin Terry actually called me and told me that they put Slim on it. They were like, "Yo, listen to this and tell me what you think." My man Tevin Terry that produced it, and I were like, "Yeah, that's dope." He [Terry] was actually supposed to be putting Slim on another song for me and I guess he mixed up the conversation and he pretty much [sent "You"] instead of the other song, but it ended up working.

Have you had a chance to get out on the road and tour yet? Constantly. I'm on the road now actually, but when I first came out, I was on the Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike Tour. We did that for a few months. So yeah, just constantly on the road. Like I said, the single "You" is out, so we're pushing that right now.

What have those experiences been like? Well, the only one that I'm performing so far from the new album is "Make Love." I did "You" a couple of times and the response for that was really good, too, but I was doing "Make Love" on the Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike Tour and that got a great response like every time.

Other than the singles, what are three songs from Therapy that you're eager for the fans to hear? I'd probably say "Heaven," "This Could Be," "Strawberry." I performed "Strawberry" a couple of times too, the response to that was dope. "Treasure" is another one, that's one of my favorites.

Late last year, there was a big debate about who the modern day king of R&B is. What were your thoughts on that? There's ain't no king of R&B. There ain't no king of rock, there's no king of hip-hop. There's never been a king of any genre of music and never will be. It's too subjective, everybody has their opinion on who they like the best or what they like so that was my take on that whole debate. I think it's something for people to talk about.

Who are some of the younger R&B artists that you listen to or check for? My absolute favorite is Ty Dolla $ign. I mess with Ty, Miguel. I like Jacquees. I actually did a song with Jacquees for his new album so y'all should be hearing that later on this year.

How did the song with Jacquees come about? It actually was right before all of that “King of R&B” stuff started. He DMed me and said he wanted to work. He asked me if I had any records for him, I had the perfect song for him. I sent it to him and he loved it and we went into the studio; It was like literally two days after that whole king of R&B thing was going crazy all over the internet.

You mentioned Ty Dolla $ign as your favorite artist right now, what about his music or his style sets him apart? He just got so much soul. He got a lot of soul, so coming from my era, I'm into that.

The 20th anniversary of your sophomore album, Personal Conversation, is coming up in April. Was there any pressure going into that album, given the success of your debut? Nah, it was none. I didn't feel any. My biggest thing going into the second album was that people heard "Touch Me, Tease Me." They thought I couldn't sing because on "Touch Me, Tease Me," you don't really gotta sing, that's like talking. So the main thing for me was just, "Hold this." It wasn't any pressure, it was just trying to go all the way in.

"Happily Ever After," the album's lead single, was a big hit at that time. How did that song come together? When they sent me the song, it wasn't done yet, but it was a duet. I loved it, but I was like, "They sent me a duet." I was expecting the whole song. So I went in and rewrote it and changed up what I needed to do and finished writing the bridge. I wrote the bridge, and all that other stuff, then I knocked it out.

Over the years, that song has become a go-to selection at wedding receptions and remains a classic. How does it feel to have a song that's helped mark such a special occasion in people's lives? That's dope to me because my main goal when I started doing music was to make music that people would want to still listen to in 20-30 years. I didn't want to make stuff that people like now and then don't want to hear no more. That was my goal with everything I made. So that makes me feel good.

Another song from Personal Conversation that's considered one of your signature songs is "Faded Pictures," your collaboration with Joe. However, the song was originally released on the Rush Hour soundtrack. How did that opportunity come about? Well, Joe had the song and his manager was up at Def Jam. He was playing some music for Lyor Cohen at Def Jam and he said Joe wanted to do "Faded Pictures" as a duet, so I jumped on that. But the soundtrack, the only reason that that happened was because Def Jam had the soundtrack and they were looking for songs from all of us up there to put on all of these different soundtracks they were doing. And my first single was coming out the same time as the movie so we were like that's perfect. We put it on there for that reason.

Where do you feel Personal Conversation ranks in your discography as a whole? Oh, I don't know, I don't rank them. That's like which one's my favorite kid. I ain't have one.

With this recent album, what was the statement you were looking to make going into it and what do you hope fans get out of it? I don't think it was so much of a statement, it was moreso I just wanted to make...well, I always want to make quote-unquote "real" music. I always want to make that. I hope they get that from it. I don't think it's so much of a statement as it is that I just want to continue to try to make music that people can relate to and that people will want to hear down the road as well as now.

What's next for Case, personally and professionally? Right now I'm on the road promoting Therapy. The new single "You" can be requested on radio, fans should be hearing that quite a bit coming up in the next month or two. And then I actually started, maybe the last week, I think, ideas for the next album so you can look out for that.

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