Jhene Aiko – Souled Out – The STiXXclusive Review

When it comes to polarizing artists – ones whom you either love or hate, no in-between – Jhene Aiko is definitely one that you can throw in there. Either she’s overrated to many, underrated to others, or right where she needs to be when it comes to her fan base. A lot of people remember her slightly because of her appearances in B2K videos (or on BlackPlanet, since she was the source of many-a-catfish before Catfish was even a term to describe fake profiles. R&B has been on the decline, because of the overtly sexualized and Pop inspired instrumentals that have devastated brainwaves for at least a decade now, but somewhere in the nooks & crannies of whatever positivity is left, there’s a glimmer in which Jhene can have some shine, and it’s not by accident that she’s most likely already collaborated with one of your favourite rappers already. The first time I heard her voice – you know, as an adult – was on Kendrick Lamar’s Growing Apart from O.verly D.edicated, and since then, I took in sailing soul(s), and I became a fan because her flow that combined with her lyricism intrigued me, plus her other collaborations with TDE artists. She’s not a strong singer, but her music overall is what drew me in (listen to My Mine or Space Jam – I’m telling you, man). An issue I have with her through since listening to Sail Out (although it’s dope), is that her subject material pretty much recycles as if she doesn’t have a lot of stories to tell outside of her family, and hardships in love. Now, granted – I understand that you express the emotions that you’re feeling at a particular time, whether it’s past or present, but variety in sound makes a big difference when it comes to projects. You don’t want to go into a first album and have it sound like your previous two pieces of work, or have your first 3 albums sound like replicas of the other (Drake). It’s funny that I use him as an example, because people often call her the ‘female Drake’ because of the repetitive subject content, and the fact that she too spends time talking about her exes for the relief of her listeners. It doesn’t help that they were both featured on Nothing Was The Same (From Time), and that she was on his tour. Regardless of what her music is, she’s definitely a starlet that’s placed her mark in what is the current state of R&B, although she has gone on record to say that she’s not an overall R&B artist – let’s be real; no one wants to be affiliated with R&Pop these days, and I don’t blame them. Jhene dropped some gems with In Love We Trust, and even Mirrors, which were deemed to be precursors to the album. And with No I.D backing her, plus her collaboration with cocaine 80s (foreshadowing), there’s a glimmer of hope for it to be a solid project. It’s one that I’ve been waiting for quite some time, so now it was time to take the plunge and have my soul sail.

jhene-aiko-souled-out

 

The obsession and love that Jhene has with astronomy and astrology is evident in her music, and if you’ve paid attention to her Tumblr or Twitter often (where she essentially built her core audience), it doesn’t surprise you that Limbo Limbo Limbo carries a similar twist of being in a spatial atmosphere with no sense of beginning or end – it’s just a constant motion as she describes the heroine in the song being in a trance-like scenario. There’s definitely more layers of production than her earlier work, as the level of growth has been shown through her first two projects. You can easily (as I did) totally dismiss the lyrics and completely zone out to the music itself, because her voice is monotonous, it’s seemingly hypnotic. People have said that they’ve fell asleep listening to her music (or that they just find her boring) because of it, and as much as I’m a fan, I get where they’re coming from because a lot of her songs do sound sonically & lyrically similar. The initial track wasn’t the strongest, but hopefully it would pick up as it continued.

 

Jhene is an advocate of bringing positivity, harmony, and peace to mankind in her music, and W.A.Y.S is a reflection of her persona. Her sources of inspiration, being her daughter & late brother, fuel her passionate music, having most of her music drive the emphasis of instilling love into one’s life to help push through whatever obstacles they are facing. I enjoyed this track because of the message behind it, and the beat behind it all was well produced overall. Why Aren’t You Smiling is the acronym if you didn’t know, and it’s a tweet that she’d sent out a number of times, because it’s something her brother had said, so to have it on a track to pay homage to him (which, I assume most of the album would be doing), was a sweet gesture. For her debut album, you expect all of the feelings to come about in the soulful fashion that she presents. And with the reaction of Kendrick’s track ‘ibeing on the fence for a lot of people, because of its positive background, I don’t expect it to be any different when it comes to judging Jhene’s music, because people want to hear about hurt, scorn, bitterness, and sorrow – especially from R&B. Positivity? Ain’t nobody got time for that, but a lot of people are appreciative of the message it brings, as they should, because it’s a great song.

 

          “You have got to lose your mind
Just to find your peace of mind
You have got to trust the signs
Everything will turn out fine
So why aren’t you smiling?”

 

It’s good to see the return of producer, Fisticuffs, who was responsible for a majority of Jhene’s beats so far in her budding career. The combination of his beats and Jhene’s lyrics are essentially what made me a fan to begin with, so I was anticipating a dope track to come about with To Love & Die. Especially with cocaine 80s being featured (go listen to Fly Ass Pisces for the previous time they collaborated). Love is a battle – it’s cliché and for good reason, because it truly is a battle. So, it’s no surprise that she treats the theme in a violent setting (quoting 50 Cent’s Many Men was a nice touch).

 

           “Suited and booted, I’ve been hit by Cupid
I’m being recruited
I’m ready for more, I’m ready for war”

 

Given her LA roots, where there’s a history of violence, you can hint at the bit of aggression that his displayed on the track. It’s one that I know women all over will be quoting to their current and/or future boyfriends or exes that they’re battling ‘for the love’. You hear too much in R&B these days about the hurt and no one fighting for what they believe in – love. They seem to just be throwaway efforts and ‘what-could-have-been’ stories that you don’t feel sorry for, but you’re saying to yourself ‘get it together, man!’ Only because it was at the top of my head, Sade’s album Soldier of Love, personified being in a battle for love, and she’s the love Queen of all time for R&B. I’m not saying Jhene is the second coming (which was a controversial thing going around for God knows what reason), but the theme of being a soldier for love was a refresher because it ‘stands out’ in a field of generic nothingness being played over the airwaves.

 

I’ve still never watched the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I feel like I should (it’s 10 years old already – damn), because it’s regarded as one of the best original movies to come out in a long time. Jhene’s take on Spotless Mind is a point of reflection where she questions what happened to them and if it was there fault, as though some sort of memory loss had happened (which relates to the movie). The melody & vibe was dope throughout, but the embodiment of heartbreak and frustration of confusion was evident to contribute to the theme of the album, which was consistent, and consistency and appreciated. Still in ‘limbo’, she has yet to discover just who she is on her journey through (love) life. It’s all a process that a lot of people can relate to. When one outgrows the other (which is very common), that’s also a step in maturation in one’s life. I dug it a lot. Kudos to No I.D on the beat as well (Strawberry Letter 23 sample? Salute).

 

It’s Cool – the story of the platonic relationship that either remains the same or evolves into something else. I know this story all too well. When you’re stuck in a rough place and your current mentality is fuck it (‘cuz muthafuckas love it), and someone without knowing, swoops you up and drastically changes your vibe and you gauge feelings that you didn’t want to have, or didn’t anticipate having – it throws off everything. I have an example of this, when my friend was going through a break-up, and while being in her kind of sad and alone phase, she met a guy rather quickly and she caught the feelings. There was confusion, but I told her to go with what she felt right. Currently, she’s in a happy relationship, so that’s dope. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, because us guys – we like to be complicated (sometimes). We like the idea of having a girlfriend, but often without the girlfriend title attached, which is what the frustration is with a lot of women I know, but that’s a completely different topic. There’s a hint of ‘that bitch crazy’ in her lyrics, but love makes you do crazy things, right? I think a lot of people have had that situation happen where someone had us in the waiting where it was cool to just be a fling, but you wanted more because you felt more. I feel that in this song, and it took a couple of listens to really get into the rhythm of it.

 

Love to hurt, real quick. Lyin King (I see what you did there Jhene) is an ode to the heartbreakers who get the best of her and others like a Lion who kills gazelles & zebras and bring them back to their Pride. The message is clear in that the dude needs to fix up before something should happen to him by “accident” (See: her video for The Worst).

 

         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 he never promised things
That never did come true

 

I found this verse interesting because it sort of does paint the picture as to why guys act the way they do towards women. It’s not the first time the ‘no mother/no father love’ theme has been used, but it’s still relevant for a lot of men out there who don’t really know how to love (and if they took advice from Lil Wayne on how to do so, that’s another issues). The consistency of heartbreak is annoying on both ends, but I wonder – if Jhene’s going through this heartbreak time and time again, maybe it’s her who has the struggles of love? Who knows, I’m just looking from the outside in, but 9/10 times, that’s the answer. It’s not a song I’d keep around to listen to voluntarily, but because of the flow of the album, if it just happens to be on, I’d just let it ride – it’s very Zen because of the production, but overall pretty basic in story, although I know women can/will relate to what she’s saying.

 

In my best Gospel voice, when I saw Wading, I started singing, “wading in the water” just because it was necessary. But in all seriousness, I like this song because the vibe was on some sailing soul(s) flow, and I was all here for it. Jhene’s a hard lover. She doesn’t just half-ass it, she goes the whole way. What woman do you know singing that she’d be willing to walk through water waiting for you to claim her until she drowns? I mean, that’s a bit extreme, but you have to admire the subtle romanticism of it. The ‘notice me’ narrative can come off as childish, but let’s be honest – we all do it. We want to grab the attention of those whom we wish to woo, but then the self-righteous folks will then say, “if he/she can’t seek my attention from the jump, they don’t deserve my time” (insert the nail-painting emoji here). I was digging it from start to finish. I find it funny listen to this, because seriously, you’ve heard 1 Jhene Aiko song, you’ve heard a vast majority of them, but I still find them comforting to listen to, although the tones underneath may not call for them to be.

 

Here we come to the best song on the album. If there’s any song that sounded like a real deal ‘banger’ (for the sake of saying for this album), The Pressure is that. It has significant bounce to give it replay value, and I loved her flow on it. I think that’s what she gains appreciation for in terms of her artistry – the fact that she has that rapper’s attitude associated with her songstress ways.

 

          The way you feel is not my problem
I don’t wanna see you go
But I don’t have time to solve this
And you don’t have the right
After all you put me through
I’m starting to realize

 

Clearly she’s fed up with dude and she finally gets it in her head that she needs to raise up and dip out. I mean, that’s what the strong and independent women would do in the first place, but that’s not a shot on her – it takes time to really figure out just what’s going on, especially if you’re dealing with someone who can’t get their signals & communications in order. Sounds like Rogers Canada Internet, but that’s neither here nor there. The best line of the song is definitely Facebook/Instagram Meme/Twitter worthy

 

         Have you seen my fucks to give?
I have none, I cannot live with

 

As stated prior, I like this song a lot, and I wish there were more tracks like this on the album. There were definitely more of them on her prior two projects, so I wouldn’t see why there weren’t on this one. Perhaps the next album, who knows? Either way, it’s a great tune.

 

Alluding to the theme of ‘To Love & Die’, she becomes the solider of love once again to Brave the challenges of love, given that she’s not exactly in the best shape to be in love. She warns her dude “listen, I don’t know if you wanna do this, but if you do, kudos to you.” Commitment isn’t for everyone, and there are people (rarely) who admit that they’re not exactly the easiest to deal with, so I’m glad that Jhene takes it upon herself to admit that she isn’t that great, but the point is that she’ll love as hard as she has to, to make this thing work (love me, Jhene).

 

         “Please don’t take my hand unless you plan to
Take a stand and be a man who
Understands that I’m no walk in the park
All these scars on my heart
It’s so dark yeah
But if you’re a warrior, there’s nothing to fear”

 

Well it’s like Jhene really loves that movie, because where we had ‘Spotless Mind’ up first, here comes Eternal Sunshine. She worked the theme in backwards, so that creativity needs to be applauded for a moment. I’m a strong believer that a producer can single handedly bring out the best in an artist. Key Wane has done this for Big Sean, and as he did with Jhene for ‘Mirrors’, he repeats with this track here. The beat, her flow, her voice – they all come together smoothly, and it’s a great follow up to what I already believed was the best track. It’s a great string of 3 straight tracks bringing that fire. It’s a simple reflection of life to this point for her, and that she’s happy with it if she should pass on (God, don’t get any ideas). We, the people whom consume music, are often caught up in wanting to hear passionate pain, but fail to appreciate the positivity that comes about, so to hear her have a lighthearted feeling in this song, I can rock with it heavily. This portion of the album, the latter half, is gearing up for a strong finish.

 

Jhene’s biggest inspirations, her brother and her daughter, are the sources of Promises, and it’s truly a sweet song. Having the snippet of them before the song, and also having her daughter singing on the first chorus, you can’t help but catch the feels. Admit it, you did. With the first verse being about the growth of her daughter as well as Jhene herself being a parent, and the 2nd dedicated to her late brother, it’s probably the most in-touch with Jhene’s personal life that we’ve heard up to this point. Who’s chopping onions, yo?

 

As we got in the past, Jhene drops her final (so she says) freestyle (Pretty Bird) with Common, and you can definitely tell it’s a freestyle because it’s unorthodox, but even still, it sounds dope although she says ‘Pretty Bird’ about 157 times. At least she shows vocal range that she may not have had before. Dynamic at points, I must say, and given Common’s poetic touch at the end, it really puts a cap on the album. I must say that it did start off slow, but it finished strong enough to give the album more credit than I initially would have.

 

My mother, in her own words, called Souled Out a “sitting on the balcony, sipping on some Sangria album. It’s very mellow.” My mother is a connoisseur of old school R&B, and she introduced me to its greatness, so she has a bit of an idea what she’s talking about (she even asked me at one point if I was listening to Sade because of how her music sounds). Jhene is an artist that you either find interesting or truly boring, because her sound doesn’t change drastically, and she stays on a constant wave that’s consistent with her fans. Her melodies appeal to other rappers because she has that edge to her, so there’s not really a singular box you can put her into. People call her overrated because she’s not the best singer, and although that’s not exactly far off from the truth, R&B has really shifted away from singers ability in terms of vocals, whereas if they’re just able to connect on a personal level with lyricism, which Jhene does. Her voice is soothing to the point where it suits her. She doesn’t need to have Mariah Carey or Adele vocals to make her good at what she does, because what she does is good to the point where many people are drawn into her style. This album (if you haven’t heard of Jhene Aiko before) gives you a good example of what she brings to the table in terms of her songwriting and ability to put you in a mood without having to do the most. Souled Out wasn’t something that I was really into with the first couple of listens, but as I dug into what the narratives were and let it vibe for a bit, I gained more of an appreciation of it. R&B may be on life support currently, but Jhene’s album has given it some air in its lungs to keep it going. Fuel the soul. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review,

 

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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