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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Let Jacquees Tell It, He’s The Jodeci Of This R&B Game

Rodriquez Jacquees Broadnax doesn’t want to be the bad guy of R&B. He says this with a sinister, yet warm smile. With year-end debates taking over social circles, Jacquees wants all the flowers for his glowing debut, 4275. “I ain't never had a year like this, I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this,” he says, as he raises his iced out wrist to draw his progression. “It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.”

At 24 years old, the singer knows a thing or two about the ever-changing genre. Nearly half of his life has been dedicated to music, specifically to quiet storm-like sounds that now take on new meaning in our adult love lives. He’s hibernated under the radar for some time with his 2014 debut EP 19 and released gentle falsettos and big name features with Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign and Trey Songz along the way.

But between his accolades, he’s been condemned for his favorable “Quemix” of Ella Mai’s “Trip” and now, his self-proclaimed status of “The King of R&B” for his generation.

"I just wanna let everybody know that I'm the king of R&B right now," Jacquees said in an Instagram post on Sunday (Dec. 9). "For this generation, I understand who done came and who done did that and that and that, but now it's my time. Jacquees, the king of R&B.”

R&B artists like J. Holiday and Pleasure P shared their two cents on the matter while the game’s most elite like Tank, Tyrese and Eric Bellinger dropping stacks of knowledge on the gift of consistency, respect, and talent. But Jacquees has these things and then some with legends like Jon B., Donell Jones and Jermaine Dupri in his corner. Despite quick reactions from his peers, Jacquees is confident in nature and proud of his space in the game.

“I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one,” he tells VIBE, just days before his “King of R&B” comments went viral. “You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees.”

Jacquees’ music is just a branch of what R&B has evolved into. Over the years, artists like SZA, H.E.R., Daniel Caesar, The Internet, Miguel and many more have flipped the genre on its head by churning out music that not only speaks to the soul, but to their vocal abilities. Successful R&B records aren’t confined to rap guest verses and traditional instruments now take center stage. But Jacquees sits in an interesting space seeing as his style caters to a grey area of folks who just heard their first Monica album yesterday and now appreciate a good nayhoo like the rest of us.

With hopes to release his sophomore album in February 2019, Jacquees chats with VIBE about his confidence, making 7275 and why he’s the perfect leader for R&B today.

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What have you learned about yourself as a human and an artist in 2018?

Jac

quees: This was my biggest year. I made the most money I’ve ever made. I dropped my album and was able to take care of my family. I ain’t never had a year like this and I thank God for that. I got one of those careers and lives that keep going like this, (slowly raises a hand to the ceiling) It keeps going up, my sh*t just keeps going up.

I think I learned about my whole self in 2018. Being that it was my biggest year, I went through a lot of stuff personally, but I think the biggest thing for me was listening to other people but also trusting myself. I have a strong mind so more of listening to myself helped.

Do you think you're the good guy or the bad guy in R&B?

Who do you think I am?

I think you’re a sweetie.

I don’t wanna be the bad guy, I’m a good guy. I’m easy to deal with. I’m a sweetie, but ain’t sh*t sweet though. (Laughs)

You have a lot of ‘90s and 2000s influence in your music. Do you ever feel you might sound dated, or do you think you’re bringing new sounds into the genre?

I just think I'm bringing a whole new sound. When I was younger, someone told me if you switch up what you’re doing, someone else is going to do it and you’re going to be pissed off. Just stick with it. When I was 14, everyone was telling me I needed to make club records but I didn’t want to do it. I remember CEOs saying, “Just let Jacquees do that [what he wants,]” because it’s a clock.

I figured out how to get my records at the club without changing who I was. I remember making “B.E.D.” and finding my flow on my project 19, you know? That’s when I got my swag.

What does love look like to you right now?

I think about a family. I think about me, a girl, a kid or something, like a whole family. One day I’m going to have it. I’ll still be in the game but I’ll say, “Yeah, that’s my wife over there with our son and daughter.” I'm getting older, too. I’ve been in the game for 10 years for real, but I’ll be 25 next year and soon they’ll be a little Jacquees.

There are a lot of layers in today’s R&B, especially in the mainstream resurgence it’s had. In that, there aren’t as many young male black vocalists being pushed to the forefront. I want to know your thoughts on where you exist in the genre today.

I think there's a big wave coming back right now because even if R&B didn't die down they weren’t promoting it that heavy. Artists were making songs, they just weren’t being acknowledged on a mainstream level. I think the game is really putting R&B back on top. You know, you’ve got artists like me, Tory [Lanez], Ella Mai, H.E.R., so many people, you know what I’m saying? Of course, you had Chris [Brown], Trey [Songz], all of them but that’s when we were in school. It’s a new time, ain’t no big male R&B singers.

I think I'm the leader though, as far as males go, I think I'm the number one. You're talking about R&B young dudes who understand who goin’ [at] it, [but] who are they going to put in the front? I believe everyone will say Jacquees. They’re not rugged like me. You’ve got Jodeci and Boyz II Men. I’m Jodeci, they’re all Boyz II Men. I’m street, they’re not street like me. You can hear it in their voice. There’s a difference.

It’s no disrespect to nobody because they’re all my friends, but I still wanna be number one. If we’re playing the game and I lose, I’ll be mad as hell but I’m still a good person. I just want to win.

As you should. Everyone wants to make the best music they can–

But I ain’t no hater either. The game is like a sport. The game is like high school. I remember being at this year’s BET Awards and seeing certain singers and thinking, ‘Oh, they’re seniors.’ I knew I was a freshman, but I saw Meek and all of them thought, “He’s a senior.’ You know how it is when you walk through school in the first year. Then the second you’re like, “I’m the ni**a now.”

When I did the Soul Train Awards in November, I felt like a sophomore that everybody knew. They knew me from my freshman year, but this time I’m playing varsity.

You’ve said before you want to do this for a long time–

Yeah, I want to make music forever and it’s my choice. I want to make enough money for me to turn down shows because now, I have to take everything I get. I always tell artists, you got this much time to make this much money. Because after that, sh*t’s closed. I've seen it happen.

For me, I know I got longevity in this game because I'm an R&B singer and a lot of R&B singers have longevity if you take care of yourself, you know what I'm saying? Even rappers, you know what I'm saying? You keep that flow going, don't do no lame sh*t, you know you’re stick around.

How do you take care of yourself?

You gotta take care of your health. That's number one. Your mind and your health is your biggest thing. Keeping good people around you...stay in good spirits with me. I like to keep good people around me. I like people around me [who] make me laugh. Smile, I don't really like people around me that I got to be like, “What's going on?” I just like people who are themselves.

Stream 4275 below.

READ MORE: Tyrese, Usher And Others Reacts To Jacquees' Claim That He's The King Of R&B

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Music Sermon: The Groundbreaking Sprite and St. Ides Hip-Hop Campaigns

Today, rap music is used to sell everything from electronics to tax filing services to nut butter grinding machines at Whole Foods. We understand that hip-hop culture is essentially the root of everything cool and hip in culture, period, and it’s been commodified and appropriated within an inch of its life. But in the early ‘90s, the genre was far from Madison Avenue-friendly. Aside from the groundbreaking deal between Adidas and RUN DMC, brands didn’t yet see full value and impact of hip-hop…except in the food and beverage industry.

Beverage companies centering campaigns for the urban demo around black music was nothing new; Coca-Cola had ads featuring artists such as New Edition and Anita Baker singing their hearts out for the cola in the ‘80s, and Schlitz Malt Liquor had a legendary – and hilarious - run of spots featuring The Commodores, The Four Tops, Teddy Pendergrass and more through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. However, in the early ‘90s two brands put their entire business on hip-hop’s back, by not only building their brands but spring-boarding the recognition of the music and artists as a marketing and advertising tool: Sprite soda and St. Ides malt liquor.

In the ‘80s, Sprite was languishing behind competitor 7Up when parent company Coca-Cola decided to focus on the youth market, and the quickly growing hip-hop culture was part of the strategy. African-American ad agency Burrell Communications tagged hip-hop acts for a series of spots that began a long-standing marriage between the brand and the culture, starting with Kurtis Blow in 1986. It was one of the first national TV ads to feature a rapper.

KURTIS BLOW - 1986

In 1990, the brand kicked off the “I Like the Sprite in You” campaign, using rap acts that matched the soft drink’s bubbly energy, starting with Heavy D & the Boyz before partnering with Kid ’n Play the following year. The ads featured the artists clad in lemon-lime fare, rhymin’ about lymon.

HEAVY D - 1990 KID’N PLAY – 1991

With Kris Kross, they turned it up a notch and had us crunk inside the Sprite can. Edgy. Also, this was catchy as hell.

KRIS KROSS - 1993

Then in 1994, a young brand manager from Clark Atlanta University named Darryl Cobbin had an idea for a new direction: Gen X was about authenticity and independence of thought, not following the hype. Sprite ditched the pop-friendly crossover acts and identified more “authentic” rap artists – lyricists with street and cultural cred – to rep the brand. “Lymon” was also out of the window, as they moved away from marketing taste and towards marketing attitude. (Cobbin later spearheaded the iconic, yet grammatically questionable, Boost Mobile “Where You At?” campaign.)

Gone were the bright yellow and green sets, because while the new slogan said, “Image is nothing,” it was all about image. Bright and shiny was traded for dark and gritty. Now we were in the studio; a fly on the wall for freestyle sessions. In the first spot of the series with Grand Puba and Large Professor, Puba closes with “First thing’s first, obey your thirst.” It’s legend even within Coca-Cola that Puba ad-libbed the phrase that then became the brand’s tagline that remains to this day.

GRAND PUBA & LARGE PROFESSOR - 1994 PETE ROCK & CL SMOOTH – 1994 A TRIBE CALLED QUEST – 1994

The “Obey Your Thirst” spots also took us the street corner, the club, and inside the ring when Sprite resurrected the legendary KRS One vs. MC Shan battle.

KRS ONE & MC SHAN - 1996 NAS & AZ – 1997 THE LOST BOYS – 1997

By the late ‘90s Sprite had spent roughly $70M on the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign, tripled sales, and commanded a majority market share of the citrus category (which also included 7Up, Sierra Mist, and Mountain Dew).

Sprite had also succeeded in becoming an official and established part of the culture. They were family. The brand further expanded into urban youth culture through a partnership with the NBA, while continuing to evolve the creative of the rap campaigns.

KOBE BRYANT, TIM DUNCAN & MISSY ELLIOTT – 1998

Near the end of the decade, Sprite explored the overlap between hip-hop culture, comics and martial arts with a series of posse spots based on Voltron (representing all hip-hop regions) and the 5 Deadly Venoms (with all female emcees).

VOLTRON SERIES - 1998 5 DEADLY VENOMS SERIES – 1999

Over the years, Sprite has continued to be one of the most consistent brands in hip-hop. We’ve grown accustomed to spotting the logo everywhere from music festivals and shows to the background of BET’s hip-hop cyphers. They revitalized the “Obey Your Thirst” campaign with Drake in 2010 and paid homage to the greatest lyricists in rap with the “Obey Your Verse” campaign featuring iconic rappers and cans with classic lyrics in 2015.

SPRITE "Obey Your Verse - Cooler" (starring Rakim) from SHOUT IT OUT LOUD MUSIC on Vimeo.

St. Ides’ run with hip-hop doesn’t have the same happy ending as Sprite’s. The brand’s usage of rap petered out in the mid-90s after wide backlash and a series of lawsuits.

For St. Ides, hip-hop was the brand campaign. It’s how they built their business. The brand was introduced in 1987 and their rap campaigns launched in 1988. The malt liquor 40 oz., with significantly higher alcohol content than beer at around a $2 price point, was already a staple in lower-income neighborhoods and hip-hop culture. The “Crooked I” capitalized on that.

Parent company McKenzie River secured Ice Cube as their anchor spokesperson and tapped West Coast producer DJ Pooh to spearhead advertising creative. Pooh lined up a veritable who’s who of additional West Coast rappers over the years, including Geto Boys, Cypress Hill, Warren G, Snoop and Tupac; plus the thorough-est from the East, including Eric B and Rakim, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie and EPMD.

EPMD & ICE CUBE - 1991 GETO BOYS & ICE CUBE – 1992 ERIC B & RAKIM - 1992

Unlike Sprite’s campaigns which were first jingles and still felt like commercials, even when elevated to trading hot bars for Obey Your Thirst. St. Ides spots, however, looked and felt like straight up music videos with album-worthy production and flow.

ICE CUBE – 1993 MC EIHT – 1994 NOTORIOUS B.I.G. – 1995

Complex even named Wu-Tang’s St. Ides spot “Shaolin Brew” as one of the collective’s 100 best songs! (But at least it’s ranked near the bottom; #97.)

WU-TANG CLAN - 1995

In fact, in 1994, the brand did turn the hottest of the joints into an album, with the St. Ides promotional mixtape dropping at your neighborhood liquor store. It featured full-length songs about getting twisted off the malt liquor from Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Scarface, MC Eiht, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Nate Dogg.

The Snoop and Nate track is low key a jam, still. Homegirl in the background starting at the 10-second mark is a whole mood.

This blatant marketing of malt liquor directly to black and brown youth wasn’t going to go unchecked indefinitely. It was all irresponsible, even while being genius for the demo. In 1991, the Wall Street Journal listed the St. Ides ad campaign among one of the worst of the year, which probably didn’t matter at the time since WSJ readers weren’t St. Ides’ base.

In 1991, Public Enemy released Apocalypse ’91: The Empire Strikes Back. The album featured “100 Bottle Bags,” a direct criticism against malt liquor companies marketing specifically to urban communities “…but they don’t sell that sh*t in the white neighborhoods.” Shortly after the release, St. Ides found itself in Chuck D’s crosshairs, and he fired the first in a series of big shots against the brand, marking the beginning of the end of their love affair with hip-hop. An 80-second radio spot featuring Cube used a sample of Chuck’s voice without his permission. The ad had already aired over 500 times on rap radio shows when Chuck sued St. Ides parent company McKenzie River for five million dollars (they settled out of court).

Then, St. Ides and McKenzie River fell under legal scrutiny from the New York State Attorney General in 1992 for using verbiage like Cube’s lyric “Get your girl in the mood quicker, make your jimmy thicker…St. Ides.” to suggest the malt liquor increased sexual prowess. Can you imagine the think pieces if that spot ran today?

They were later in hot water with the New York AG’s office again, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (the ATF) for advertising perceived to the be targeted towards minors, with complaints that it glamorized gang affiliation and promoted sex. After having production completely shut down for a short while and getting hit with heavy fines, St. Ides tried to clean up its act, adding “drink responsibly” messaging into the spots.

By ’96 the run was over. Hip-hop was growing up, getting money and moving towards more sophisticated alcoholic beverage choices. Alizé and Hennessy, anyone?

The relationship between hip-hop and alcohol never ended, of course, but has continued to evolve to match the evolution of the lifestyle. We don’t go to the corner store no more, homie (save a brief return in the early aughts of Four Loko). We’re toasting to the good life with premium brands, some of which are now owned by the artists.

We can look back now with the wizened, woke eyes of maturity and possibly scrutinize our artists selling out at the expense of the community, but for the young and burgeoning hip-hop culture, both the St. Ides campaigns and the Sprite campaigns opened the door for the power and commodification of hip-hop and consumer brands. For better or for worse.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations

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