JHENE FINAL JHENE FINAL

How Jhene Aiko's Lyrics Save Lives


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Smoke and Mirrors

Jhené Aiko is the worst at color-by-numbers music and her die-hard following is better off for it. Ask that one fan who almost became a suicide statistic twice before Souled Out pulled her through. She’ll tell you how Aiko’s lyrics has an authentic presence made for millennials. So will her competition if they’re honest.

Story: Adelle Platon Photography: Jared Ryder


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Almost 24 hours before Valentine’s Day, Jhené Aiko drops the L word. After wrapping a performance of her biggest solo radio hit "The Worst" on Conan, the petite folkstress—who has even opted for heels over her traditional barefoot routine—professed her love to the orange-haired host on-camera. He reciprocates before purring like an enticed Pepe Le Pew as she asks him to be her Valentine. Despite Conan indirectly turning her down (“The wife gets mad”), Jhené’s cheesy grin shows no hard feelings.

“That was super surreal for me because I’ve been watching Conan O’Brien since middle school,” Jhené says over the phone. “I didn’t know how I was gonna react. When I’m a fan of someone, I turn into a dork and I’ll say the first thing that comes to my mind. It’s usually a little awkward.”

Late-night introductions can be tricky, but Jhené’s a pro. The previous week, the Slauson Hills native performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (before his Tonight Show takeover) then popped up at 30 Rockefeller Center on Saturday Night Live for a surprise rendition of “From Time” with Drake, her eventual tour mate on his Would You Like A Tour? outing and earliest high-profile supporter since her 2011 claim-to-fame mix tape sailing soul(s).

The after-hour presentations help during a shifty time in R&B, where “R” could mean “real” or “ratchet.” The 5’2” soulstress joined a crowded class of freshmen in 2014 including singers Tinashe, whose high-energy gigs resemble 2005 Rihanna circa “Pon De Replay,” and August Alsina, a street-bred thug whose struggles add bulk to his notes. Still, Jhené’s Def Jam/ Artium debut Souled Out (released Sept. 9) reeled in 70,000 units its first week out while Tinashe’s Aquarius pushed 19,000 and Alsina’s Testimony rolled out 63,552. She even outsold veteran diva Mariah Carey’s latest LP, Me. I Am Mariah … The Elusive Chanteuse, which clocked in 58,000 units. But the numbers aren’t the story here. They’re just a byproduct. The story lies between her self-penned lyrics, which is what makes Jhené a stan magnet for females.


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Jhené’s life experiences have provided her with mountains of material. It’s her power up among her peers. While her album hasn’t raked in six figures like Chris Brown or Trey Songz’s this year (sold 146,000 and Trigga, 105,000 respectively), her hard experiences and single mom status can’t be manufactured. The 26-year-old mother of one has built a sticky fanbase by penning melodies on heartache, loss and weed. It’s a lethal combo for the millennial set, who flock to her catalog like a therapist on-call.

On “W.A.Y.S.”—an acronym for her late brother Miyagi’s favorite saying “Why aren’t you smiling?”—she sings, “I do this for my daughter/That’s why I keep going.” Jhené’s six-year-old child, Namiko Love, also appears on the other Kleenex magnet, “Promises.” This type of heart-clutching honesty has her cult following in their feelings. One Twitter user, named @QueenieKeiko, wrote, “There are times i wanted to give up but @JheneAiko said ‘you gotta keep going’ those words i take with me everyday.” Male Stans aren’t shy to cosign either, like @EpicLordEpicWin, who tweeted, “If the song with your daughter on it doesn't touch somebody's heart they're dead inside.”

Then there was Kendra D. Dale who wanted Jhené’s words to be a permanent reminder. She tattooed “Why aren’t you smiling?” on her inner arm after losing her boyfriend in August and her father as a child. “I was in such a dark place at the time and tried to end my life on two different occasions,” she explains via email.

“I was in such a dark place at the time and tried to end my life on two different occasions. [Jhené’s] entire album have helped me a lot with the healing process.” —Kendra D. Dale on Jhene’s lyrics

Kendra says Jhené’s close-to-home narratives have become personal soundtracks for the tough times. “[Jhené’s] entire album have helped me a lot with the healing process,” she says. “She tells us everything through her music, without holding back, as if we are her close friends. A true connection is rare in artists these days. She is not in this for the fame, she just wants to tell us her stories and offer understanding to those who can relate.”


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Growing up, Jhené was more baby Buddha than Little Rascal. With Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Brandy and Lil’ Kim blaring in her household, the youngest of five used pens and notebooks as her playthings. A talent show rendition of 702’s “I Still Love You” sparked her career goals. “I just didn’t see myself doing what everyone else was doing as far as going to a regular school,” she says. At 13, Jhené signed with Epic/ The Ultimate Group (T.U.G.) Records and played B2K affiliate for three years before splitting from the music business to pursue her education. Her biggest lesson arrived in 2011, though, when she gave birth to her daughter.

Separated from her baby’s father, O’Ryan (singer Omarion’s brother), Jhené navigated single motherhood through song. On sailing soul(s), she meanders gently through the stress of making minimum wage (she was a vegan cafe waitress) while trying to provide for her daughter. “I can’t afford more problems/ I don’t have time to solve them,” she sings on “real now.” From losing her brother (“space jam”) to contemplating abortion (“you vs. them”), she was a damsel in distress with only her pen to save her. Her inner demons also crept into the buzzy EP Sail Out, like on the eerie outré “What A Life” and “Comfort Inn Ending,” a middle finger to a cheater who did her wrong. “My songs are just me and what I hear in my head,” she says. “[My fans are] connecting to it because they have those same thoughts that they’ve never really said out loud.”

“My songs are just me and what I hear in my head. [My fans are] connecting to it because they have those same thoughts that they’ve never really said out loud.” — Jhené Aiko

On wax, Jhené reveals more than a video vixen on Instagram. Calling out ex-lovers (see “The Worst,” “Lyin’ King” and “Remember”) not only draws prayer hand emojis from women reflecting on rocky relationships but provides a source of inspiration. “I’m in the habit of being poetic with how I feel so I just write about the person that did it or explain exactly the story that happened,” Jhené says. “While I’m going through it, I’m actually thinking how to be creative with it.”

While dirty cases of the ex remain dark fantasies, she comes clean about her platonic relationship with O’Ryan. Jhené admits she’s inked her feelings about Nami’s father for a record that may see light someday. “A lot of people think my songs are about him and they’re not,” she says. “When we had Nami, it was like we were already family. We weren’t together but we had always been friends. There are things we still have to work out but for the most part, I look at him and this is weird to say, but I literally look at him like a brother. It’s truly unconditional no matter who I meet. If I get married, he gets married, he has more kids, I have more kids, he will always be family.”

Complicated scenarios are easiest to tell for Jhené. As photomap searches show that Jhené has already found bae in hip-hop producer, Dot Da Genius (she confirmed she had a boyfriend on Hot97 in September), she recognizes her sulky records about past lovers or rough patches are what keeps her fans happy. “It resonates because for most people, it’s easy to connect to everything dark,” she says. “[It] always overshadows the light.” Trust, she’ll still cater to every color on the emotional spectrum regardless. “You don’t get as much of a strong reaction to a [happy] song [but] I feel like I’ll always have a balance of whatever you gravitate towards.”

Flip the page to check out more images from her cover shoot.

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In a new interview with Essence, actress Vivica A. Fox discussed how she initially turned down her role in Two Can Play That Game based on the script. The established entertainer said it's her mission to ensure that black people are positively portrayed onscreen, and noticed the aforementioned film's prose didn't live up to those standards.

"I think the reason why—no I know the reason why—I've been doing this for such a long time is that I fight," Fox said. "When we did Two Can Play That Game, I fought for the way we talked, walked, the way we loved each other." The Set It Off actress continued to state that she consistently declined Two Can Play That Game before signing on to play the lead role. "Because the script, when I first got it, I turned it down three times because it just wasn't a good representation of African-Americans, so I fought them on everything," she noted. "I want to make sure that the images of African-Americans are as positive and as true as they can possibly be."

In 2001, the romantic comedy debuted to fanfare, boasting an all-star cast of Morris Chestnut, Mo'Nique, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Brown, Gabrielle Union, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and more. Directed by Mark Brown (Barbershop, Iverson, How To Be A Player), Fox plays a career driven person named Shante Smith who navigates a curveball when her boyfriend Keith Fenton (Chestnut) cheats on her with a co-worker.

After its release, Two Can Play That Game raked in over $22 million at the box office.

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Actress Gabrielle Union attends the Being Mary Jane premiere, screening, and party on January 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)
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BET To Unveil Edible Billboard For 'Being Mary Jane' Wedding Finale

As Being Mary Jane comes to an end, BET is willing to offer fans a taste of what's to come in the series finale.

The network has enlisted the help of Ayesha Curry, celebrity cook and cookbook author, to create an edible billboard that also doubles as a wedding cake. The sweet treat will commemorate Mary Jane's (played by Gabrielle Union) nuptials in the two-hour series finale.

On April 20 from 1:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. at Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal in New York, fans will be presented with the edible billboard. At the intersection of Ashland Place and Hanson Place, the closer Being Mary Jane enthusiasts get to the billboard the quicker they'll notice that the four-tiered wedding cake is created from individual boxes, each containing a slice of Curry's prized wedding cake.

All fans have to do is pull a box from the billboard, snap a picture for the 'Gram, take a bite and enjoy. Although lovers of the show won't be able to celebrate with Mary Jane herself, biting into a slice of her wedding cake, for free, is the next best thing.

Don't forget to tune into the series finale of Being Mary Jane on Tues. (April 23) at 8/7 c.

Also, check out what's to come on the series of Being Mary Jane below.

Save the date! 👰🏾It'll be worth the wait. Join us for the series finale of #BeingMaryJane TUES APR 23 8/7c only on @BET! pic.twitter.com/jEwkbC71OW

— #BeingMaryJane (@beingmaryjane) March 29, 2019

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The North Face

Ella Mai On The North Face's 'Explore Mode' Campaign, New Music And Living In The Moment

Ella Mai is in her own age of exploration. Her eponymous debut album scored her a platinum plaque with her breakout hit, "Boo'd Up" earning her a Grammy for Best R&B Song. But the accolades aren't driving her creative path. The arc in her compass is all about the places she's traveled, the people she's met and the lessons learned along the way.

"To be honest, personally, exploration is like growth. I feel like if you don't explore new things, whether it's going outside, meeting people or trying new food, you won't ever grow because you're just stuck in your little comfort zone which can be super scary to come out of," she tells VIBE at The North Face's Explore Mode event in New York on Monday (April 15). The singer is one of three women (including model-activist Gabrielle Richardson and chef Angela Dimayuga) who teamed up with the brand to share a message of enjoying the outside world without digital confinement and the global initiative to make Earth Day a national holiday.

The London native's urge to explore came in handy over the weekend when she performed in the brisk desert of Coachella. Inspired by artists like Rihanna and Ms. Lauryn Hill, Mai helped fans enjoy the hazy sunset as she performed hits like "Trip" and her latest No. 1 song, "Shot Clock."

"It's such a good feeling, especially when it comes to radio," she shared about her track reaching No. 1 on the airplay chart. "I wasn't even sure if people listened to the radio because people have so much access to streaming platforms, but obviously having all three of my singles from my debut album, go number one on urban radio is incredible."

That energy was brought to the Coachella stage with the festival being her biggest artistic exploration so far.

"My favorite part of the performance would have to be when I performed "Naked" and because it was dark, and I performed when the sun went down, I couldn't see how far the crowd actually went back. But during "Naked," it was such an intimate moment I asked everyone to put their lights up (phones) and when I saw how far it went back I was like, "Woah." That moment sealed it for me."

"Even there were two people in the audience, I still would've done my best," she added. "But just to see the crowd be so engaged, even if they didn't know the music, was a really good feeling. I had so much fun."

As the festival energy in Indio, Calif. continued to thrive, another rested on the streets of Los Angeles following the loss of Nipsey Hussle. With the singer having ties to those close to the rapper like DJ Mustard, she says the shift in the city was hard to ignore.

"As weird as it sounds, you felt it," she said. "Even in the weather, it was super hot and then everyone got the news and it started raining. Just a weird energy shift." As a new L.A. resident, the singer says Nipsey's influence cannot be denied.

"I feel like the energy shift went both ways; everyone was really sad, grieving and mourning but everyone feels more inspired by what he was doing that they want to go out and do something and change in their community. It's still a very touchy subject in L.A., especially the people that I'm around since they were very close to him. I think everyone is super inspired to do better and try to be more like him, which is great to see. YG's whole set at Coachella was dedicated to him, I know Khalid had a dedication to Mac Miller. Everyone is super aware of what Nipsey was trying to do and how he wanted to change the world."

Engaging in The North Face's mission to explore seemed to be in the cards for Mai. Like many of us, Mai was familiar with the brand's effective coolness factor. "I remember running home and telling my mom that I needed a Jester Backpack because my cousin had one as well, and it's similar to the other stories, I wanted to be like my older cousin (laughs) so my mom ended up getting me one." But there's also the incentive to showcase the importance of stepping away from the phone screens and into leafy green forests.

"I'm such a live-in-the-moment person," she says of her lack of identity on social media. While she might share a thought or two on social media, Mai is interested in appreciating the world around her. "I feel like everyone is so consumed about documenting the day, you don't really get to live the day. You just watch it back but I like to have the memories in my head. Of course, sometimes, I'll take out my phone but I try to live in the moment as much as possible."

Part of that mission is ensuring Earth Day is celebrated the right way. With the support of Mai, Richardson, and Dimayuga, The North Face officially launched a petition to make Earth Day a national holiday.

“The North Face is no stranger to exploration and this Earth Day we are proud to join our partners and fellow explorers in a global effort to make Earth Day a national holiday,” said Global General Manager of Lifestyle at The North Face, Tim Bantle. “We believe that when people take time to appreciate the Earth, they feel more connected to it and are more likely to protect it. Explore Mode urges us to unplug from our digital lives to connect in real life to the world, each other, and ourselves in the effort to move the world forward.”

Mai hasn't hit her all of her exploration goals just yet. "I really want to go to Indonesia or Bali," she said. "That's one of my Bucket List places I really, really, really wanna go." For her essentials, the singer knows she has to bring along a windbreaker set and of course, a jester backpack. "I think the backpack is the most important thing."

In addition to a few trips around the globe, one destination includes the studio for new music. While she hasn't had time to lock down a moment to record, the inspiration is sizzling.

"When I work in the studio, I like to be like there for a good amount of time," she explains. "I like to block off two to three weeks at a time, I don't like to go to different studios and different places, it's just a comfort thing but I'm very excited to get back cause I have a lot of talk about. I've seen so many different places and met so many new people and a lot that I didn't get to experience last year."

Learn more about The North Face's petition for Earth Day here.

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