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.
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