Jhené Aiko is like the female Drake (she laughed and said “Thank you,” when I gave her the title during our candid chat). Like the “Nothing Was The Same” rapper, she is able to convey raw emotion in her music that resonates with both sexes. But before her rise to stardom– courtesy of a diligent pen, angelic vocals and strong co-sign from Drake–the California native could be spotted in B2K’s “Why I Love You” video and heard on their platinum-selling disc “Pandemonium” (2002) and the “You Got Served” soundtrack (2004). During this era, she established a bond with former B2K member Dreux “Lil’ Fizz” Frédéric–who she called her cousin.
Jhené faded from the music scene after a failed deal with Epic records in 2003 and moved on to focus on her education. She gave birth to her daughter Namiko in 2008. In 2011 she returned to the music scene with the release of a mixtape “Sailing Souls” that featured collaborations with Drake, Miguel, Kendrick Lamar and production by Kanye West. The album thrust Jhené back to musical relevancy. Datpiff–the leading site for mixtapes– certified the collection gold with over 100,000 downloads.
Following the success of her debut mixtape, this year, Jhené dropped her first major label debut album, “Souled Out,” which sold 70,000 copies in its first week of release and debuted atop of the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and US R&B Albums. Not too shabby in this music climate.
Jhené‘s music has been described as refreshing and intriguing. If you’ve listened to any of her songs, you too would agree. We caught up with the “psychedelic,” artist who’s promoting her album, to chat about what makes her tick, the men behind her heart-wrenching lyrics and working with Drake.
HelloBeautiful: Were you expecting such a rave reaction to “Souled Out?”
Jhené: I didn’t know what to expect. I never no what to expect because the songs are personal for me, so it’s more like UGH, everyone’s going to hear these. Everyone’s going to hear these songs now. I try not to put any expectations on anything ever, but I am happy that there is so much positive feedback.
HB: How does it feel to have both men and women rocking with you?
Jhené: It feels good, it’s something that I keep in mind when I’m creating my songs. I don’t just want it to be a female thing. I want everyone to be able to enjoy them, I try to just keep those elements that a man would also like in the music and I grew up with my big brothers and all my boy cousins, so I always felt like I had a good idea of boys.
HB: Which song that you wrote was the hardest to release?
Jhené: I think it’s a toss up between “Promises” and “Beautiful Ruin,” which is on the Target exclusive copy of “Souled Out.” “Promises” because I have this little thing before the song starts, it’s my brother, who passed away two years ago and my daughter when she was younger singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” I put it on there for myself because I like to hear it, but I didn’t really know how others would receive it or if they would understand what it was. “Beautiful Ruin” is super personal. All of my songs are super personal, but I feel like the song “Beautiful Ruin” is a little scandalous just because there’s a child involved and a child’s mother, but it’s a really beautiful song, so I didn’t mind sharing it with people.
HB: For a long time people didn’t know you have a daughter. Is it a personal choice to keep her out of the spotlight? How do you protect her from the spotlight?
Jhené: We want her to live a totally normal life. I don’t believe in doing things for attention. I never kept her a secret. When I was pregnant, I was posting pictures, when I gave birth, I just wasn’t popular. So, no one was really paying attention to my personal life. But, if you go through my Instagram, from the beginning, I’ve always posted pictures and videos with her. So, I think it’s just about making sure that she has a normal childhood. There are a few times when I’ll take her with me to travel, but I don’t want her to just be on the road as a five year old. I want her to experience school and friends and family and so, it’s just about balancing that.
HB: You’re in a relationship, how does your lover react to certain songs?
Jhené: I’m an open book, whether it’s songwriting or with my friends or in a relationship, so those are things I’m not afraid to talk about even in the beginning. It’s like, this is my life story and this is my story with all of the exes, there’s really nothing that I leave as a secret because I don’t want stuff to just pop out and ruin everything, so he knows all my stories.
HB: Tell me about the inspiration behind the song “Stranger” off your “Sailing Souls” mixtape.
Jhené: It’s definitely about someone. It’s actually one of the names that I mentioned in “Comfort Inn” ending. “Sailing Souls” was coming off of that situation, me dealing with him, that specific person. I think I had tweeted something like ‘everyone’s the same stranger’ or something. And, Brian and Mac were like ‘this would be cool, like same stranger, like elaborate on that.’ And, I was like, ‘Oh, yes, I’m going through something right now’ and I explained it in the song. I felt like it was something that everyone can relate to because at the end of the day, you really don’t know someone. You just have to be with someone forever to really know them in and out. For the most part, no one really takes that time, so that’s what that song is.
HB: What songs do you listen to when you’re emotional?
Jhené: Brandy for sure, I listen to a lot of Brandy. Every album, I feel like she has great, heartbreak songs and I also listen to Kid Cudi when I want to escape. I just put on Wizard and rock out to that. If I’m feeling angry, I’ll put on some Eminem and also Drake is really good for that emo, miss my ex or don’t like my ex anymore song.
HB: Drake gets the emo card a lot. Does he live up to that perception?
Jhené: He’s not. He is actually really funny. He has a dry sense of humor. He’s actually in good spirits every time I see him. I think when people write a lot of songs like that, it’s because they’re releasing it so the actual person has released all of those sad stories and is happy.
HB: How’s your relationship with Fizz these days?
Jhené: He was basically in a group with my brother a while ago. They were probably 11, so I was super young and we grew up in the same area and he was always hanging out with my brother, so that’s how it became like a “cousin” situation. But, we were never super close. When we were on tour together, obviously, we were around each other a lot more, so every now and then, L.A. is a small place, so it’s hard to not run into people that live there. We’re still cool, though. When I see him, it’s all love.
HB: You’ve included a lot of sad stories in the music that you’ve released. Are you happier now than you’ve ever been?
Jhené: I am actually, but I always keep in mind that when I’m really happy, life is all about balance and for every good thing that’s going to happen to you, something bad will happen. I try to like not get too excited when things are going good and not too emo when things are going bad. It’s for the balance, but I am really happy now.
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