INTERVIEW: Jhené Aiko

[Written for IAmMusicTV in November 2013. See the published version here.]

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Hosting a captivating feature on Drake’s platinum selling album Nothing Was The Same and a guest spot on the rapper’s latest tour, Jhené Aiko is fast becoming one of the most intriguing voices of this year and certainly has people itching to hear more.

However, what many may not realise is that the charismatic yet timid singer-songwriter has actually been a permanent fixture in the music industry for a number of years now, slowly forging her way into the scene from as early as 2002, alongside R&B boy band B2K, whom she collaborated with frequently at the start of her career.

Now, over a decade later (during which time she had her first child and decided to go back to school) Jhené is now gearing up for the release of her debut studio album, Souled Out which almost feels a little overdue given how long she’s been recording music and grinding under the radar.

However, before Souled Out drops in early 2014. The 25-year-old is treating fans to a seven track EP titled Sail Out, which aims to act as a prelude to her highly anticipated debut record and will no doubt continue to build anticipation.

I caught up with Jhené to find out more about her latest material, as well as her relationship with Drake and the alluring new music video for her single ‘Bed Peace’ featuring Childish Gambino.

Would you say that your new EP Sail Out is bridging the gap between your highly successful mixtape Sailing Soul(s) and the new record, Souled Out?

Yes, (it’s bridging the gap) between the mixtape and the album. It’s 7 songs – a few that people have heard already – and it’s just a good introduction to people who are maybe unfamiliar or who might not have heard Sailing Soul(s). It’s just something that I think people should hear before the album, to get familiar with me and my sound. It’s a bit like a prelude to the album.

It feels like Souled Out has been a long time coming for your core fans. How important is this project to you?

I think most of my fans know that I take my time. I write everything and I get involved in the production. For a lot of artists it doesn’t take that much time because they aren’t writing everything, so it’s easier for them to put out new material after new material. They might not necessarily be as involved as I like to be in my music. And that’s why I wanted to put out Sail Out first. I didn’t want there to be such a gap between the last mixtape and the actual album.

Is there anything new or different about this album that we should expect or will this be a continuation of the music you’ve already been making?

With the album you will definitely be able to see my evolution as a person, as a writer, a singer and just in general. It’s been a few years since the mixtape, so this is on a different level. I would say that it’s going to be very evident that I have grown in every type of way. But I wouldn’t say that it’s a completely different sound, but I’m a different person now, so you’re going to hear that in the content, in the sound, all the way around.

Your journey in music has had a few stops and starts along the way – what with your pregnancy and the differences you faced with your first label, Epic Records. Was singing something you always wanted to do regardless of the obstacles?

Yeah, it’s always been something that I wanted to do. Even when I was focusing on school, music is something that I was still doing. I never really stopped and I never plan on stopping either. For me, I don’t really believe in setbacks, it’s all part of the journey and whatever is supposed to happen will happen.

Now you’re on tour with Drake! How did that come about?

It’s something that we spoke about when I recorded ‘First Time’ with him. He mentioned that he thought it would be a good idea. Then maybe two weeks or a week and a half before the tour started, we talked again and he was like “Yeah, I really want you to come with me and come out in the middle of my set and do as many shows as you can.” And then I was able to do all of the shows, so now I’m on tour.

How does it feel to be on tour with someone like Drake? You guys seem to have a really good relationship musically and personally…

Yeah, it’s really cool. It’s still work, so we only really see each other on the stage. But everything else is really cool. The crew, everyone else, they’re all cool. It’s a lot of fun and a great experience.

This isn’t the first time you’ve recorded with Drake either, as you collaborated on ‘July’ for Sailing Soul(s). What do you think it is about you two that makes you work so well together?

I just think that we are very open and honest with what we write about and we both really take our time with what we’re saying. We really want our music to be a combination of great melody and great words.

And is it those qualities that make you a fan of Drake as an artist too? His ability to be open and honest like you are?

Yeah, definitely. I think the way he can talk about his feelings and what he is going through, I’m the same way. He also understands that you don’t always have to say a whole bunch of big words to make a great and meaningful song. I like how he can simply say something and it still has so much meaning.

Your video for ‘Bed Peace’ with Childish Gambino has had a great reception. Tell us a little bit about why you decided to base it on John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-Ins for Peace protests…

The video was all my idea. I’ve always looked up to John Lennon and Yoko Ono and what they stood for. When it came time to naming the song – there was no feature on it yet, but I had left space for a feature – I already had in my mind what I wanted the visual to be and I knew whoever was going to be featured on the song, they were going to have to be John Lennon. So when I talked to Childish and explained to him everything, he was like “I get it, I love the idea, I’m definitely down to do that”. He sent me his verse the very same day and it was perfect.

So did you have anyone else in mind for the feature or did you go to Childish first?

I did (have other people in mind). I sent the song to Drake and Big Sean too and everyone loved the song, but it was just a timing thing and for me, I couldn’t wait for someone or wait to put this out. Childish was busy too, but he really liked the record and he sent me his verse back on the same day, so I thought this song was meant for him to be on it.

You’ve worked with a lot of other rappers over the years, such as Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Ab-Soul and more. Which other rappers or artists would you like to work with next?

I would really like to collaborate with Kid Cudi. He’s one of the people that I listened to during the creation of Sailing Soul(s) and someone that I could listen to all the time. I could always go back to one of his albums when I’m trying to draw inspiration. My favourite Kid Cudi album is a tie between Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager and WZRD. I think John Mayer is someone that I’d always dream to collaborate with too.

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