Review: On ‘Twenty88,’ It’s Easy To Get Tangled Up In Jhene Aiko And Big Sean’s Love Web
Big Sean and Jhene Aiko are coddled into a fantasy precarious relationship that perhaps, through a tumultuous storyline of salacious and melancholic lyrics, mirrors your own troubled love story. The Detroit rapper and L.A. singer have created this complicated sonic perception of a raw dysfunctional but orgasm-worthy 20-something love on their new 8-track project Twenty88.
But even before its April 1 release, Sean and Jhene’s sonic chemistry was present. In 2013, the two created “Beware,” which details a relationship that crumbled due to infidelity on Sean’s “Hall of Fame” album and ”I Know” from his 2015 “Dark Sky Paradise.” Now, they’re back together, picking apart at their faults, back stories, memories and nights of passion. Each giving their own perspectives through a mixture of 90’s R&B and 70’s blues beats courtesy of producers Detail, Tommy Browne and Key Wayne.
On the EP’s opener “Déjà Vu,” Sean calls Jhene out on her past. “Where does the time go, you just had a baby/You had a new man, and you just separated/Back on the scene and you already faded/No shame in that girl, you need the escaping,” he raps. While Jhene fires back, reminding him of the bullsh*t: “Do it my way with you/Cause I stuck around for ya/When you’re a** wasn’t doing sh*t But running around the D/Wrapping nothing but the mother**king swisher sweets/Tonight you gon’ learn, it’s your turn.”
You’ll see a lot of back and forth on Twenty88, and like in any relationship, it’s toxic and exhausting, but obsessive. Over liquor-infused vignettes and nights filled with pleasure, it almost feels like you’re scrolling through saved unfiltered text messages with sprinkles of messy Facebook status updates and petty Instagram memes. “When I hit you late night, texting/Phone off, no stressing/How could you be so selfish, selfish, so selfish/Phone off, no texting/No pics, no calls, no sexting/How could you be so selfish,” they sing to each other in unison on “Selfish.” And after the bickering comes the make up sex on the salacious and steamy “Push It.”
Amid the fighting, drinks and late night romp sessions, there is some introspection here. On “Memories Faded,” both are reminiscing on special moments and the mushy, heart warming little details that come with being in love, like spending time with your partner-in-crime’s close kin.
Sandwiched in between the memories is “2 Minute Warning” (featuring K-Ci & JoJo on the pen), which fixates on the pleasure principle of basking yourself in the confines of sex with your partner. The scenes here are so vivid that you almost have to wonder if their faux on-wax relationship was once real. This very speculation is what makes their story line so compelling and tangible.
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In hindsight, Twenty88 works because of the authenticity of the subject matter being spoken of. It didn’t matter that perhaps that the higher ups weren’t on board with their duo project. “We fought hard to get this to the fans. A lot of people behind the scenes honestly tried to NOT make this happen, but f**k them,” Big Sean tweeted on March 31, a day before the album’s release. Hopefully, this will open the door for more R&B and hip-hop full-length collaborations. Sure, there was Ja Rule and Ashanti back in the early 2000’s and now recently, Kehlani and Chance The Rapper with “The Way,” but there’s no denying this formula works and we need more of it.
At the end, you’ll find yourself rooting for them, because besides the drama, love still prevails. There’s a reason why we still stay; it’s inexplicable and most times foolish but for reasons we can’t comprehend, it’s understandable. In it’s last track, “London Bridge,” the emotions are palpable, because, well, “The only thing that matters is right here/Like the sky, the sun, the waterfalls/I decide when I’m gon’ fall/I can’t tell you everything I don’t know.” As Jhene sings this, Sean reminds her: “What if this was the end and we had to bow out together/I need you to tell me every emotion like now or never/Only two times I ever needed you was now and forever.”