A Chick And A Dude Review Jhené Aiko's 'Souled Out' LP
September 12, 2014 - 5:06 pm
“Limbo Limbo Limbo”
The chick says: Jhené takes a giant leap for womankind on the opener to Souled Out. The intergalactic track, fit for a ride on the U.S.S. Voyager, tells a tale that’s universal: A girl falls for a guy whose flaws land him in a black hole. Still, Jhené floats like the ethereal hippy she is, rarely breaking her spacey trance unless the occasion (i.e. airing out dude’s “different bitches on the side”) calls for it.
The dude says: Souled Out kicks off with a third-person story about Jhené Aiko’s life journey, a girl born with her head in the clouds and made a victim to a shifty boyfriend. Dot Da Genius tickles the piano keys while Jhené starts off with another sad love song.
The dude says: “W.A.Y.S.” could’ve been a cheeky acronym involving various methods of lovemaking. But no, instead, Jhené is preparing you for the deeper album cuts that will have you all in your feelings. Despite life’s frustrations, there’s no excuse not to flash those whites throughout the BS. Some will find this iron-board flat; others will remember to always hold your chin high. This album is as much about heartbreak as it is about resilience and emerging from hard times glowing as brightly as a phoenix.
The chick says: Jhené Aiko never trips off her success, a very rare trait that can be credited to her late older brother, Miyagi Chilombo, who lost a battle to cancer in 2012. Often the muse for her catalog (see tearjerkers "For My Brother" and "space jam"), his favorite saying "Why aren't you smiling?" turns into a melodic mantra and one of the super highlights of her opus. The struggle never sounded this sweet.
“To Love & Die”
The chick says: Ride-or-dies never get proper credit but here, Jhené declares war in the name of love on their behalf. The Slauson Hills soldier pulls double duty by pledging allegiance to her man while professing her California love. With a borrowed line from 50 Cent’s “Many Men,” her tough girl approach is swaggy but Charmin soft.
The dude says: We’ve literally been hearing the love/war juxtaposition for decades (see Pat Benatar’s 1983 classic “Love Is A Battlefield” or, more recently, Tamar Braxton’s “Love & War,” from 2013). And as noble as the idea of fighting for your man’s heart might be, this Fisticuffs-produced cut comes off as cliche alongside Souled Out’s diary-honest scrawls. But then, in the final verse, Jhené starts repping her West Coast roots and informs that you’re “On that acting-like-a-bitch side, by the way” and you suddenly wonder whether she’s trying to charm or emasculate you.
The dude says: Our hotty hostess ain’t always on the distraught side of a breakup. Over spaghetti-smooth strings and hollow percussion, she shrugs off a former main squeeze with a shoulder colder than seal abs: “Did I really break your heart?/Was it all my fault?/If you don’t knock it off.../You know like I know where this was headed.” Jhené can be such a dude sometimes. Smh.
The chick says: There’s always one entry in the black book whose memories play like an iPhoto slideshow. Here, Jhené reminisces on an ex-lover and places past. As one of two songs that pay tribute to the Jim Carrey classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the petite preacher confesses she’s a free spirit—just like Kate Winslet’s character in the film—and really isn’t the type to settle down. It’s a truth often hard to whisper aloud. Standout lyric: “Shame on me for changing/No, no, no shame on you for staying the same.”
The chick says: “It’s Cool” is the quintessential single for couples on the cusp. It's prayer hands emoji-worthy when Jhené spits the real from a woman’s perspective: "I'm not gonna even front/At first, I was just tryna fuck." Something like the prequel to her ex-tour mate Drake's "Come Thru," Jhené proves that a chick’s frame of mind comes best unfiltered.
The dude says: Deep bass strings and rumba shakers power this calming 2014 situationship anthem, which brushes off the whole game of titles: “It’s cool, we ain’t gotta be nothing,” Jhené sings. But truthfully, we’re hearing the words of a chick who’s heart is strapped in a chastity belt with a barbed wire bow. She caught this guy off the backboard, and things are feeling good, but Jhené won’t put her true feelings on front street. Ball is in your court, playa.
The chick says: The play on one of Walt Disney's most beloved films finds Jhené standing on her own Pride Rock, as she tsk-tsks a player for running his game on her. She even drops her own version of a "your mother" stinger for added (and much deserved) insult. The verdict: his loss.
The dude says: Scumbags who have yet come to terms with their own filth, beware. I believe this is what the ladies of Black Twitter call a read: “Mr. Serial Lover/I wish your mother/Loved you like I could've/That way you would've/known how to love a woman/Mr. Conditional Lover/I wish your father would've stayed/I wish you never promised things/That never did come true.” Ouch. #mommyissues #daddyissues #yougotserved
Jhené’s monotone can come off as straight-faced, or even emotionless at times. She doesn’t scream her lungs out like Mary or Keyshia, yet her words slice through your soul like a guillotine. She’s numb when insisting that “I had given you my life,” but still adds “It's okay, I'm gonna find my way,” in the same tone you might use to order a Big Mac. It’s an ironic vocal styling that works brilliantly on this record, the album’s emotional apex (save for “Promises”).
The dude says: I see what she did here. Over twinkling chimes that are softer than Drake’s bedsheets, Jhené gets her double entendre on here, continuing the aquatic theme that’s influenced the title of her three projects (sailing souls, Sail Out EP, and now, Souled Out). Basically, she ain’t about to wait around forever for you to sort out your feelings, fam. One can only stave off the savages belly flopping into your DMs for so long.
The chick says: At first line, the twinkly track sounds like another hit for the 4/20 enthusiasts as Jhené sings "Picture me rollin'." Soon, the song morphs into a (literal) ocean of emotion as the whispery chanteuse's patience is tested by a potential lover. As she puts her feelings out in the open, the echoes of "Till I turn blue" proves there's fathoms to this shit.
The chick says: This is what happens when keeping it real goes right. With old school R&B feels courtesy of producer Key Wane, Jhené transforms the lofty expectations of producing a stellar LP into a productive melody perfect for the all-night crew. Feel free to go into overtime with this one.
The dude says: Jhené gets her vent on over hard-ass snares and jazzy chords on this second single, which provides adequate edge to an otherwise mellow LP. Fellas can ride out with this blasting, manhood intact.
The dude says: “Brave” echoes an incredible work by the poet warsan shire called “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love.” Over breezy brass, Jhené—in her sultriest of warbles—issues herself as a challenge for the most courageous of courters. “I’m no walk in the park/all these scars on my heart,” she warns. Basically, you might want to proceed with caution, bruh.
The chick says: Women rarely come with a warning sign but Jhené is kind enough to offer an advisory for all potential suitors on “Brave.” You damn right, we can be difficult (95 percent of the time, with good reason) but if you don’t have the courage to deal with us, escort yourself to the nearest exit sign.
The chick says: Fit for a black-and-white silent film, Jhené's nostalgic serenade is an ode to the good life. With bike rides along Sycamore Street and Ladera Heights in the rearview, the 26-year-old mother of one runs through positive notes, retaining only the good in her mental.
The dude says: Like “Spotless Mind,” Track 10 is inspired by the 2004 romantic dramedy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which an estranged couple has memories of each other zapped via a technical procedure. Jhené’s rendition hones in on the positives of her own past, leaving no room for regrets. Key Wane’s piano foundation is gorgeous, and Jhené’s voice is sweeter than a clementine. Optimism looks good on you, Ms. Aiko.
The chick says: “Promises” hosts a tear-soaked family affair for Jhené and the two reasons for her existence—her daughter, Nami and late brother, Miyagi. Tomorrow may not be promised but here’s a beautiful (and very necessary) reminder that things will be just fine, no matter what.
The dude says: Lest we forget her Tupac stanmanship, Jhené offers a 2014 “Keep Ya Head Up,” with an aww! appearance from her daughter. We all need need that reassurance, and here Jhené insists, mantra-like, that whether together or apart, both she and 6-year-old Nami (and you!) will be A-OK. Emotionally, this record weighs a ton, especially when she sings to her late older brother, insisting that they’re forever intertwined. It’s simultaneously an optimistic upper and an emo downer, a musical Red Bull and vodka.
“Pretty Bird (Freestyle)”
The dude says: Souled Out will likely be lauded for its tales of love and loss, but this album isn’t a complete pity party. What quietly resonates is the silver-lining perspective that Jhené retains despite her super-glued heart. Picking up where “W.A.Y.S.” leaves off, the final track offers hope for the pretty birds out there to keep soaring for true love. The album’s lone rap feature, Common, offers some poetic justice (“They say through the pain is how we learn”), but is it a bit odd to close out this girl-power project with a man offering encouragement?
The chick says: On the album’s finisher, Jhené sings to the girl in the mirror, which ultimately rings off as a plea to the pretty birds (not of the ratchet variety) to fly high. The spoken word from label mate, Common, is a cool verse, bro, but she’s come this far without a man’s help, no need for a rapper to qualify her.
The final word
The chick says: Souled Out is the more optimistic older sister of Jhené’s 2011 breakout mixtape sailing soul(s), which harped on the weed-induced highs and life-changing lows of a 20-something emo. She champions the ladies and the underdogs, without psycho breakdowns or any bitter, hard feelings. Each struggle makes for another chapter in a story still being written but after all is sung and done, love is the answer. The women will devour this shit up, but the men can definitely dig it, too. —Adelle Platon
The dude says: After stacking her profile by adding her seductive trills to your favorite rappers’ tracks, it’s surprising to see just one hip-hop feature on Jhené Aiko’s debut studio album. Yet once Souled Out’s run time is finito, it makes complete sense. This is no battle-of-the-sexes affair; it’s an exploration of Jhené’s lows and lows of love, propelled by chilled-out acoustics and badass drum machines. And while it may not make believers of those who favor powerhouse vocalists, the honest, direct poetry, soothing vibes and did-she-just-say-that tongue make this a must-listen. Dudes may gain some empathy, while women will just close their eyes and nod along, like, I feel you, girl. Let’s all just hope Jhené doesn’t set sail with Mr. Right any time soon. —John Kennedy
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