I love to hear, read, and discuss the opinions of artists all the time; it’s what makes the world go round, and it really shows you who’s knowledgeable about music when it comes to various subjects. R&B (well, traditional R&B) has been out of touch for the past few years, and the new sound is one that a lot of people can’t really vibe with for a number of reasons: the music is weird, the singers can’t sing, everyone is whining, no one’s talking about love anymore, and it’s too depressing. You know what? Those are all valid reasons as to why many people don’t really mess with R&B today, because all of the people my generation and others grew up listening to, have simply vanished or have succumbed to the greatest enemy in music – time. They just ran out of it, or didn’t know how to build through it. This is why new artists emerge with a new sound, a new voice, and then all of a sudden, we (the people) adapt to it, become comfortable with it, and learn to accept it as a whole. There are many people who still find absolutely no solace in listening to newer R&B, but the problem is – there’s still a lot of good stuff out there, but when it’s not customary to what they’re used to, it’s not one that they’ll simply walk along with. All that being said, enter Jhene Aiko, who has been in the game as a solo artist for a couple of years, but has really emerged on her own in a larger way this past year. Sailing Soul(s) is what helped elevate her status, but then with collaborations with some big names (including Drake on From Time off of Nothing Was The Same), a new crowd came into play, and then here we are now – having been on Def Jam for a year, and a debut EP before the LP drops in 2014. The first artist that comes into mind when you hear her sing is Cassie – no denying, no question, no argument; it’s the first thing I thought, but the difference between the two is that Jhene actually has a distinctive flow to her approach and has potential to last longer in the game than Cassie did, as opposed to just being a one hit wonder, or simply the in-thing. We’ve seen it on numerous occasions with a lot of singers (Amerie? Tamia? Teairra Mari? Bueller?…Bueller?), but if we’re going to be relatively realistic, then there’s a shot that Jhene will stick around to weather the storm and even have newer artists trying to emulate her style.
Let’s step aside from the background, and dip into the music (I mean, this is why you’re here, I’m assuming). Jhene is a 25 year old weed smoking, Hennessy drinking, social media interacting single mother who also happens to sing. I mean, if you were re-read that sentence, you would have thought she was nothing but bad news, but it’s quite the contrary. Bundled inside of a barely standing 5 foot frame, there’s a soul that is wondrous, ponderous and curious all at the same time. When she was in Toronto for the 7th annual Manifesto festival, she had a sit down interview with Karen Civil (which I attended), and she emphasized her love of weed – it helps her write, and it spawns her creativity at times. I mean, it’s often the same for a lot of artists, but with R&B singers, you don’t really hear any of them come out and say that they love to drink or smoke (periodically) – they’re just supposed to be these heartbroken people (I mean, did we forget about Mary J. Blige?). Having lyrics in her songs that play with love & weed in the same variety, how convenient is it that Vapors would be the first song on the EP? As she plays with words and phrases associated with weed and uses them as double entendres (‘can I hit it again’, ‘you stay on the grind’ ‘you got me so high’), it’s more of that combination of love, weed, and everything in-between (sex – but who doesn’t love sex?). Vince Staples has been having a good year for himself with a mixtape with Mac Miller and a feature on Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris album, but here he plays the male counterpart to Jhene portraying the ex-boyfriend who’s in that phase where you simply just don’t care anymore, but as you reflect on it…maybe you should have second guessed (fellas, we’ve all been there)
“Please don’t rain on my parade
The falling from the sky just remind of the days
When you was crying for attention
I ignored it as a phase
Until you couldn’t take the tension
Now I wish you would have stayed”
I haven’t always been a fan of Vince Staples, but here and there he does have his bright spots (okay, well brighter than the usual spots). You’ll notice on this album that there’s a good dosage of West Coast features on it, although it’s only 7 tracks long. The song that generated a gossip buzz, however, was Bed Peace because of Childish Gambino having a feature on it (and the John Lennon/Yoko Ono styled video). You know what’s crazy about this song? A lot of girls think this way when Jhene talks about just literally wanting to stay in bed all day and do the following: Talk (just because), smoke, drink, have sex, then be alone for the rest of the day (well, unless you have a boyfriend, then you tell him to stay as long as possible). This song is cool, but I started to vibe away from it a bit (maybe that’s the single in me speaking), but I get the emphasis of it. It’s here to bring comfort and a feeling of intimacy that’s simple in concept and easy to relate to, especially for a young female audience that Jhene has (and she does have a good showing of male fans, oddly enough). People suspect that Jhene and Gambino are together, but there’s been no confirmation of that, so I’m just shrugging that off until clarification settles in. Jhene is going to be featured on Childish’s upcoming album because the internet, so I’m sure that will do nothing to help the suspicion vanish.
The first song I ever heard Jhene on was on Kendrick Lamar’s Growing Apart (one of my favourite songs), and that collaboration felt like it came so natural, as she’s collaborated with a majority of Black Hippy over the years – she’s like the unofficial member of TDE. A lot of people (including myself) were wondering if another collaboration between the two was going to happen, and throughout a series of interviews, it was asked, to which she replied that it would be more on the sexier side as opposed to the cumbersome relationship woes anthem. Stay Ready is groovy and really has that sophisticated bounce that really drives that sexy vibe Jhene was referring to. I will admit, when Jhene said:
“If you just give me 24
Man, all I need is 24 hours
I promise you’ll want plenty more
You’ve probably been waiting forever”
I immediately thought of Chris Tucker saying to Ice Cube in Friday about Ms. Parker:
“Give me 3 and a half minutes, maybe 4. She’ll be wanting to marry a nigga”
It’s practically the same thing, don’t deny it. Kendrick’s verse was paralleled to his feature verse on Quadron’s Better Off with the vocals and flow (Avalanche is a great album, go listen to it). There’s a reason why a lot of people have Kendrick on their songs, because it adds an element of ‘umph’ to the song that carries it a step further, and especially when the collaboration doesn’t seem forced, it makes it that much better to listen to when the chemistry of the two collide well.
Just when you thought it was over, there’s a beat flip and all of a sudden, Jhene starts to flow and J Hennessy (her alter ego) shows up with some bars on What A Life. It’s as if the vibe went from the sexiness and savvy comfort to an immediate vulnerability and isolation (I can’t be the only one who thought that the beat reminded them of Kendrick’s Swimming Pools at first). She’s an open book when it comes to expressing her troubled times, mishaps with love, and the loss of her brother all affecting her mind state.
“I been through some shit man
But I be on my shit man
That what you give
Is what you’re given
So I been tryna do it right
I been doin’ like
Whatever gets me through the night
What a life”
Her flow through the last verses didn’t make you look at her as a strictly R&B artist at the time, but she had a rapper’s background blended in there that made you bop your head and squish your face up a little bit. Throughout the reflections, she still promotes people to be progressive in life while still letting them know that you can’t be better without having setbacks. As stated from before when it came to the comparison to Cassie, Jhene is a better writer all around, so the comparisons are really with the vocals and not that much else, if we’re being real.
What are the odds that a second Black Hippy feature would show up right after a great track? Given the fact that Jhene and Ab-Soul collaborated on Control System, why not return the favour and have Ab on her EP, right? WTH (or Way Too High, not to be confused with What the Hell) is a zoned out song that has both Jhene and Soul tripping out and expressing their moods under the influence. You can even hear it in the beat that if it was chopped and screwed, or simply even slowed down, it would be suitable for those listening to it with that same feel. It’s like how Vic Mensa & Chance the Rapper were Tweakin, Jhene and Ab were going delusional and might have had a little bit more weed than they can handle (although, I don’t think that’s possible for Ab).
I know that one thing is for sure, and that I’d never want to be on the opposing end of The Worst, because whoever it was written for, let’s just say they weren’t exactly the greatest person to be in a relationship with (we’ve all had those ones). But you know what’s messed up about love? You can say the most hateful things to someone and then turn around and say “but I still love you in every way” like that’s supposed to matter. Love is stressful at times, but for the right person, it’s worth it, because you know they’ll always (maybe) hold you down.
“And don’t take it personal
But you’re the worst
You know what you’ve done to me”
I mean, damn, you’d have to be pretty bad to be called the worst but still remain to be fortunate that a woman has strong feelings for you in some type of capacity (maybe the D was too bomb). When Jhene sings, I feel as if she’s the female version of Drake when Drake is going through his R&B motions (I guess it’s just – never mind). The reason being is because exes are pains in the ass, and no one likes to talk about their exes like Jhene does (go listen to Popular for example), and we all know that Drake loves discussing his exes which have made waves for simple hearted fellows all over the place. Men are still responsible for the actions of women to some degree, because there has to be a reason why some girls just go crazy, and usually it’s a guy playing mind games (it happens; it’s common).
“Please don’t take this personal
But you ain’t shit
And you weren’t special
Til I made you so
You better act like you know
That I been through worse than you”
I like the little paying tribute to Monica’s Don’t Take It Personal quite subtly, but damn – how bad is this guy that Jhene was saying all of these things too. If I’m the guy listening to this song, I’m either A. Laughing or B. Feeling like crap. If you’ve watched the video for this song, you’ll understand why I’m going with B here. The song continued to get better as she paid another tribute to Jay-Z’s verse on Excuse Me Miss with
“Everybody’s like, he’s no item
Please don’t like em
He don’t wife em
He one nights em”
Even women like Jhene can admit to playing the number 2 role and skipping out of the advice from friends. The fact that she’s been repetitively heartbroken, it’s as if there was numbness to her demeanor when lashing out, but there was still a part of her that was confused emotionally like her heart was playing a game of Tug-of-War. Individually, this is one her best songs she’s made (Mirrors is up there for me), because when you take in the sung and rapped verses while keeping consistent with the theme throughout, it was pretty dope how it all came together. Her song-writing is what’s captivating and what made me a fan of hers – it wasn’t exactly her voice that got me all the way to her to become a fan, but it’s because of her honesty in her music and it’s not generic glob that R&B sometimes is (I’m looking at you, Keyshia Cole).
Fun fact: Jhene was born on March 16th (3:16), and it’s also the numbers to one of the most recognized Bible verses (For God so loved the world, he gave his – blah blah blah, you know it). 3:16 AM, however, does not deal with any biblical references, as it refers to darker thoughts brought to life that Jhene admitted in interviews that cloud her thought process around this time of night. It’s funny, because if you follow her on Twitter, you could be on at like 4 in the morning, and she’s firing off tweets like no tomorrow (granted, I’m on the East coast 3 hours ahead) and you catch her at the odd times sharing out Tumblr links, random thoughts & questions, and YouTube videos. She’s 25 years old; she may be an artist, but she’s human and doesn’t have so much of an ego that she can’t still connect with people on an intellectual level or playfully go back and forth with ‘Black Twitter’.
“Now my thoughts so cloudy and my hearts so crowded with hate
I am so frustrated like my souls been taken away
Broken promise of everything that I thought you were
Thought you said this would never hurt, that’s what it did that is all”
Everyone (I don’t care who you are) has their time when you’re alone, and thoughts just start rushing through at a million miles a minute – good, bad, and ugly. No one knows why, but sometimes you anger yourself, you get emotional, or you could be the complete opposite and be all down and perky (but I don’t know a lot of people who are just completely happy for no reason at 3 in the morning. Between lost love and a deceased brother, you could say that Jhene is justified in her angry thoughts at the middle of the night (weird ass sleeping pattern, if you ask me), but it makes for music that is easy to connect with if you’re feeling ways about anything and everything in life. This song really put the listener into her darkest thoughts and let you watch them stew. A lot of artists don’t really get that deep with their music, but for Jhene it seems to come as second nature.
The final chapter of the album comes with a great ending, or should I say a Comfort Inn Ending. First and foremost, I’m in love with the beat because it’s eerie, but comforting (no pun) at the same time (I’m not sure if there was a guitar present, or if it was just the keyboards, but there was something about it). Just when you thought ‘The Worst’ brought out the airing of grievances, on this song, Jhene took a page out of DMX’s page from What These Bitches Want and she just started naming names of past lovers and floppers who put her in such a vulnerable state. I think it was even more impressive that this was freestyled, because there’s that rapper appeal that she can also deliver (Real rap raw. All day. Every day. By herself. 1 studio. 1 mic. 1 beat. Knock out).
“Okay, fuck it
It was Dominik, David, Braden
All of them did the same to you
Marquis and Sean and Brian
All of them had they way with you
Ever so often you get lost and miss out on everything
Shout-out to Krissy
That’s my bitch ’cause she tells me everything”
Here’s an important thing to learn here: even if women don’t specifically remember everything, they always have eyes around that catch everything. The game is played on both sides – play or get played, it’s that simple. Although Jhene’s been on the wrong side of a love song (shout out to Melanie Fiona), that still doesn’t mean that she can’t pack the punch and start airing out names much like Kendrick Lamar’s Control verse (although I don’t think she has love for these guys but I’m sure a thought or two came about plotting to murder them). There were a couple of different points of view speaking freely: Jhene’s conscious talking to herself, Jhene talking to herself, and then Jhene talking to someone who hurt her pretty bad (an ex boyfriend). Of course these are all thoughts flying off the top of the dome spitting that hot fire like Dylan (the greatest rapper of all time), and it’s still her talking to herself, but when she breaks it down as to why she threw herself into love because of the vulnerability that she was dealing with, sometimes the first person to comfort you is the person you latch on to, which was what she did in her case. Between the mind games (as she revisits the theme) and overall frustration, hearing it all come together on a freestyle is pretty impressive to wrap it all up and gear you for the LP which will probably be twice as long.
Jhene’s talent comes from her song-writing ability and the fact that she is versatile when it comes to her delivery; she can sign a bit and rap a bit. Where her weakness lies is dynamic vocals, but her lyricism makes up for it in the way that the voice doesn’t need to be a Mariah/Whitney/Jennifer Hudson style where she’s belting out notes from Slauson Hills to New York City. What I liked about this album was that there was artistic growth from sailing soul(s) and also the fact that she got more personal with her music by really exploring new depths to deliver more stories that people can relate to. Her music isn’t whiney, bitchy and complainy to the point where you’re saying to yourself “Jesus Christ, Jhene, get over yourself”, but instead you’re in approval with what she’s saying. She gives you the happy, the not so happy, and the really not so happy sides of her that open her up more as an artist for people to vibe with. Like I said, her style is that of Drake’s in certain times, but she has her own element to keep it authentic; and the fact that she mainly grew her popularity through interviews, twitter, and YouTube, and still managed to snag 33K CDs in sales for the first week? Pretty darn impressive. Just goes to show you that she’s no fluke. But, I digress, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX