Why you should care
Because Jhené Aiko is here for the long haul, and we can’t wait to see what else she’s got.
Jhené Aiko is one of the music world’s hottest voices right now — even more so with the drop of her latest album today, Souled Out. It might seem like this R&B songbird populated radio waves overnight. You might not know she’s been at this since age 13.
Aiko, 26, was born and raised in LA and grew up in a tight-knit family of her father, mother and four siblings. Her father, a pediatrician, was also a talented musician with a variety of instruments and a studio in their garage. Aiko, for her part, was often in the corner, writing in a journal. But her natural instinct to jot down her thoughts would become her greatest musical strength.
The singer signed to Epic in 2002 and was known for her association with boy band B2K. Though her popularity rose due to her “family ties” to B2K member Lil’ Fizz, her record deal was short-lived. She asked to be released from the label in 2003. Her debut album, My Name Is Jhené, never dropped.
Often placed under the category of R&B and neo-soul, Aiko’s words sound more raw, clean and honest … like rap.
Aiko returned to music only in 2007. In 2011, Aiko released the mixtape, Sailing Souls, on her website. She wrote all but one of the 13 tracks, and the project hit gold on DatPiff.com with more than 100,000 downloads. Sailing Souls caught the attention of No I.D., a producer and executive vice president of A&R at Def Jam, who offered Aiko a deal with his record label, ARTium. It was the start of a glorious path to success.
By then, Aiko was already a mom — at age 20, she had a child with R&B star Omarion’s younger brother — and a student of Buddhism. You can hear all that in her lyrics, which touch on death, unruly love and motherhood. Aiko writes as if she is talking to each one of her listeners, one on one. Often placed under the category of R&B and neo-soul, Aiko’s words sound more raw, clean and honest … like rap.
It seems unlikely that a star already on the rise could be releasing what is actually her debut studio album today. But Souled Out is the sign of a new raw talent only just beginning to make her way around the biz. The album has 14 tracks and features Common and Cocaine 80s.
It also includes a snippet of Namiko, Aiko’s daughter, and Miyagi, Aiko’s brother, talking on the single “Promises.” Definitely one of the standouts on the album, it is a tribute to her brother, who died of cancer in 2012, and also about her urge to care for her daughter. On “Pressure,” Aiko touches on a slightly more clichéd theme — the tribulations of being an artist. Much better is the single “Remember,” about a relationship gone wrong thanks to lying.
Most importantly, Aiko stays fresh — a rarity for someone who could have been swallowed by the industry over the past 14 years. For that rawness we are grateful.