Over the past year and a bit, I think it’s fair to say that Jhené Aiko has been my favourite singer so obviously, it was an absolute pleasure to be get the chance to talk with her, in what turned out to be her most in depth interview to date!
If this is your first time hearing of Jhené, do not read on until you’ve downloaded her Sailing Soul(s) mixtape, which you can do by clicking right here. I promise you, it is amazing!
Having been signed to Def Jam via No ID’s imprint in the closing stages of 2011, already complete with a strong base of music and large, loyal fanbase, it’s only a matter of time until she becomes a household name and we covered everything, from who and what we can expect from her DefJam debut, to the Jhené Aiko way of living, to the stories behind some of her songs and what the future holds for her beyond music. Have a read below!
First off, for those who don’t know, give a brief insight into who Jhené Aiko is and your journey up until now!
I am Jhené Aiko. I am a 24 year old mother, singer, songwriter and I guess I’ve been singing professionally since I was 12.
I was signed with Sony/EPIC when I was 12 years old and got a release from them when I was about 15 or 16 to focus on school. I started writing more and I had a child who’s now three years old.
Sailing Soul(s) was really the first project I got to put out; I put it out for free in March of 2011 and that was pretty much my introduction to the world I guess!
I’m all about being true and honest with myself and with the audience, and sharing my experience and just connecting through that.
For me personally, my favourite track of yours is probably You vs Them. What were you going through when you wrote that song and what is the concept behind it?
When I start writing a song, I always take the approach of wanting the song to just mean one viewpoint and so when I started off, it was based around a guy that I had been liking for a long time (true story by the way!) and I just felt like we’d never really be able to be together.
The line “the wanting you but never getting you, that keeps me wanting you” comes from the notion that when you get something, you kinda don’t want it anymore, along with the fact that I was never going to be able to have him completely and I also felt like if I did get to be in that relationship, then I would never be focused on my music because I would be so caught up in love that that I wouldn’t be able to share my music with the world, hence “you vs them”.
Then, it turned into also a story about the battle between having a child and not having a child. Personally, I’ve been in that situation before: not knowing whether you should have that child or just do what everyone else wants you to do and so yeah, the song evolved as I was writing it and I just pulled from different things I was going though.
And another one of my favourites is In Love We Trust. Was that written from an autobiographical viewpoint or was it about somebody else?
The first verse was definitely myself and not only that but a lot of girls that I’ve grown up with; my sisters and some of my best friends pretty much share the same story. I think a lot of girls can relate to the first verse.
And in second verse of course I’m talking about a guy but it’s the same thing; a lot of young men I know have been through similar stories, but definitely the first verse is about me!
Onto the album Souled Out, when can we be expecting to hear it and are you going to try and get a hit before putting it out or just put it out for your fans when the time feels right?
You know what, I kinda just want to put it out when I feel ready. I’m really unconventional in all that way, I don’t really have to get a hit single or anything.
I’ve been getting so many tracks lately and I’m not used to that. I’m used to just having a handful to work with but now that the label (Def Jam) is involved, they’re sending me so much great stuff and I’ve just been writing and writing and writing! I’ll try and have it out as soon as possible!
On that note, are there any features or producers that we can be expecting on the album?
I can’t confirm any of them yet! Definitely, Fistcuffs are going to be on there for sure, along with No ID and I’m not going to confirm any others yet but if these don’t make it, I’m not going to be happy with the album.
When I first heard you’d signed with No ID, one of the first things I thought was that a song with you, No ID and Common would be amazing! Has that happened or is that a possibility?
That’s definitely something that I want to happen! Common and Nas; I want to get in with both of them! I want it to happen naturally though where they’re interested too and not for it to be like “let’s set up this meeting”.
And obviously No ID has got the connections with Kanye who’s got the connections with Kid Cudi, who are both artists that you’ve said you would love to work with before! Has anything come of that or are you hoping it will?
I’m hoping! Kid Cudi… I’m probably a little bit obsessed with him! Same thing though with that, I want it to happen where he’s interested in the music.
Back to Souled Out, what is the deepest song that you’ve written so far for the album and could you explain the concept behind it?
Souled out has been getting pretty deep. Especially the deeper I’m getting into writing, you know…
The deeper it’s been getting both ways?
Exactly! 3:16, the song I did a teaser for, that song’s pretty deep. It’s about addiction, not just drugs, addiction to anything that you go to when you’re in your darkest place and I think everyone can relate to that. We’ve all been to hell and back and that’s pretty much what 3:16 is all about: going to hell and back.
There’s also a song called Everything Must Go on Souled Out that’s one of my personal favourites. The concept is just about how you lose everything eventually and getting comfortable with that idea and that it’s not a bad thing.
I have some relationship songs on there too but I really just want to pour my soul into Souled Out and give the people a glimpse into the things that I think about daily.
Having grown up as part of music industry, what would you say is the darker side to it is and what would you warn artists about who are just getting started out?
I’ve seen a lot of my peers become popular, famous and I would meet them right before that and to see the difference. Some of them stay humble but a lot get…
Souled Out in the wrong way?
Yeah… they get caught up and I think it’s just really important to keep yourself grounded by keeping people in your life that have been there from the beginning.
You don’t have to get a set of new friends. You don’t have to get a new wardrobe. People think that they have to start doing things that they think people do with money and it’s just like… you don’t though! Of course, get comfortable and do what you’ve got to do but a lot of people feel as if now, they have to do these different things and that really is not the case.
It was shocking to me there have been people that I was really close with before the fame and I saw them at their peak and then I saw them when things stopped happening for them and to see them get humbled again, it’s like yeah… you should’ve know that at the beginning! But yeah, it’s crazy. I have a family that would never allow me to act even a little bit different so I’m grateful for that.
Talking of that rise and fall, you and a lot of other artists over the past couple of years have been building the foundations and building themselves up to having the fanbase, music and stature normally only associated with a signed artist before actually signing a deal. Was this a conscious decision and is it something that you’d recommend to upcoming artists who’ve got the quality of music?
Yeah, I mean when I did the mixtape, it wasn’t for a deal and I didn’t really have anything in mind, I just wanted to put out free music.
I’d say that it’s definitely better to lay your own foundations, and to have a foundation, and to figure out who you are as an artist, what your message is and all of that before signing anything because you can put out one good song and then a label can call you up and you’ll be all excited and you’re going to take a deal and all of a sudden, they’ll have you doing something that’s totally not who you are. You’re going to be unhappy, I don’t think anyone is happy with not being themselves! I’d encourage any young upcoming artists to really just lay their own groundwork and do as much as you can yourself!
The other week I saw you and Rihanna tweeting each other and she obviously knew about your music, have you two ran into each other before?
No, we haven’t met or anything!
Were you surprised that she’s a fan?
Yeah, it was a surprise that she tweeted back. I’m very random on twitter. Twitter is literally just me picking out one of my millions of thoughts throughout the day and so I just said that and she replied and I was just like oh, maybe she knows who I am, I don’t know!
She’s with Def Jam too though, she’s a Pisces and I feel like she’s misunderstood. I’m a Pisces also and I recognise who she is and even though I think we’re very different, I understand her and that’s why I though of that collaboration.
Would it be fair to say a lot of your image is almost hippyish, just in the sense that you seem quite at peace with yourself and the world?
Yeah, I think it could be considered hippyish!
What advice would you give to anyone feeling a bit lost in the world and wanting to live the Jhené Aiko way?
This is really simple but it really helps: learn how to be in a room, by yourself, no music, no TV, no nothing, just silence! And to just practice being with yourself alone and once you start practising that and start enjoying that, things will start coming to you that you’re not even aware that are happening; you’ll start to not need anything from anyone else and it just puts you at peace with who you are. Once that gets solid or whatever, you can start going out in the world and people can just feel that you’re centred and it’s as easy as just being still sometimes, being quiet and being able to just not do anything and be happy!
Back to the music, so far in 2012, what have been your favourite album and what are you really feeling right now?
Right now, I’m really into Ab-Soul’s album Control System. I’m really into Kid Cudi’s WZRD. I’m really into John Mayer – Born And Raised. Those albums are literally what I’ve been listening to for the past two weeks so I’m not going to mention anything else!
On the subject of John Mayer, you’re on the song with Micahfonecheck sampling him. I actually first heard of you on Bei Maejor’s mixtape, the first time I heard of Bei Maejor was because he had the song with Keri Hilson and now I’m hearing of Micahfonecheck because he’s got the song with you and it seems that a lot of upcoming artists neglect the collaborations side of things. Have they happened naturally or was this the intended effect?
Yeah, most of them have been natural. Micah in particular, I’ve known him since I was 10 or 11 so he watched me grow up, watched me come into my own and he’s helped me along the way. I always joke with him because he always has me singing out of my comfort zone; I like to be more mellow and he’s like “well, but you can sing, you can do this with your voice so do it!” and so I appreciate him for that.
With Kendrick, we have a mutual friend who’s part of his company, TDE, and he just recognised that we were on the same wave so he set that up and that was before Kendrick did his (O)verly (D)edicated mixtape. That happened naturally, we recorded that song and wrote that song so fast just because it was so natural!
I think collaborations are important when they are natural and when they’re just put together, you can kinda tell. When it’s a true collaboration and you can get two artists that are thinking alike, it’s twice as good!
And can we be expecting to hear Kendrick on Souled Out or you on his album with Dr Dre?
You know what, I sure do hope so! I have an amazing song with Ab-Soul that’s gonna be on there. Of course they’re all busy so you never know. Definitely I’m pushing for that Kendrick collab though.
Onto live performances, what’s the craziest thing that you’ve witnessed in the crowd performing or someone has said to you after the show?
You know what, my crowd is always chill! Often, they’re just under the influence of… natural… things!
I had a valentines day show this year and after the show, just guys from the audience were just coming up on the stage and giving me candy and flowers and I was just oh, wow, okay, I didn’t expect all of this! They were handing me notes and it all seemed really personal but it was funny and I appreciate that my crowd don’t get crazy and loud. Sometimes they don’t even make any noise, they just like to listen to me sing and I appreciate that.
Apart from yourself, what other artists who we may not have heard are you tipping for big things and we need to be listening to?
I don’t know how many people are onto Ab-Soul, I know that Kendrick right now is Top Dawg and he deserves it because he’s amazing! But I think Ab-Soul is equally as good, he’s a nice counterpart to Kendrick.
Who else? There are two artists out of LA that I’m hoping everyone catches onto that have been working hard for a long time: HOPE Wright…
He was on your mixtape?
He was on my mixtape as well as Coolroy Says. That’s his name on twitter, I’m not sure about his artist name.
Ok, I haven’t heard of him!
Oh, he was on Real Now! He goes by a couple of names. He goes by LITE also. Also, K Roosevelt who’s a producer and he’s doing his artist thing too – these are all LA people who are putting in a lot of work, so yeah!
And with my blog being UK based, are there any UK artists you’ve been hearing of who you’ve been liking?
You know what, people have been sending me… I can’t remember his name! He tweeted me one day and then I went and looked at his stuff. I could send it to you after this, he’s dope!
I never know good music until someone hands it to me because I’m usually just trying to work on my new music and so you literally have to play it to me, listen to this and I’m like oh wow where have I been! You should send me some stuff!
Have you heard of a singer called Lianne La Havas?
You should check her out, she reminds me of you a lot! She wasn’t the one you were thinking of then?
No, it was a guy!
Singer or rapper?
I think he’s a rapper, his name starts with an M. It’s not Mecca, is it Meta?
Not that I can think of.
I don’t know, I’ll figure it out!
Past the next album, what does the future hold for you?
I’m always going to put out music whether I’m signed or not signed or doing something else. I’m really into writing, writing is my passion so I definitely want to write books; not just autobiography type stuff, I want to do a young adult series and more fictional type things. I don’t really like to make plans for the future, I’m just going to continue to become myself I guess!
When I announced that I’d be speaking to you, a lot of people on twitter and tumblr had questions for you! Do you mind answering some of them?
@SharonEstee on twitter: how does your songwriting process work?
Usually I’m at my house, I turn off my lights, sit at my computer, pull up garage band and just freestyle to the track! Sometimes I’ll say words and sometimes it’ll just be a melody but I’ll know what I’m trying to say and then I’ll go back in and listen to what I said initially and put words to it. Lately, I haven’t really been writing it down, I just kinda sing it until I’m saying something.
Jboogie0401 on tumblr: what’s your favourite song you’ve ever recorded?
I think that My Mine is one of them because when I first recorded it, I listened to it so much that it was almost like it wasn’t my song. It was something about how it made me feel. I think what I was going through when I wrote that song was so real that it was just like my therapy so the fact that my own song helped me means it has to be my favourite one!
Annonomous on tumblr: When are you coming to do a show in NY? I’ve lived here for 10 years and have always waited for this moment!
I came to New York when I was on tour with B2K but I haven’t been back to perform since. I’m definitely looking forward to that, I keep a close eye on twitter and see that I have a lot of supporters in New York. I want to make sure that the show’s right but I definitely want to perform there soon though. I’m sure that after the album comes out, I’m going to get to go to the East Coast!
AFSupreme on tumblr: What motivates you to do what you do? I’m a real big fan!
Well, thank you! I think that life just motivates me!
I take from a lot of different aspects of my life and I feel like sharing is caring, and if we can all connect through our suffering, then we can all help each other. I think that music is a big part of conncecting with each other so when I see that people are still on twitter, being negative towards each other or when I see that on the news that somebody’s brother just got shot and killed or different things like that, I just want to sing to people and let them know that I’m going through something too and we’re all going through different things and so you know, yeah!
Any final words for the world?
Well I guess, I just want to say thank you to everyone that is supporting me and my music and what I’m trying to do. Thank you for being patient with me!
I promise to always really take my time and put my soul and effort into giving the people that listen to me the best and just stay tuned!
Be sure to keep up with Jhené on twitter, @JheneAiko, and on tumblr, JheneAiko, and I am sure that when it drops, Souled Out is really going to be something very special and groundbreaking. Until then though, make sure you’ve downloaded Sailing Soul(s) and I’ve scattered quite a bit of her other music across the interview!
Also, if anyone can think who the British rapper she was referring to could be, let me know!
To stay up to date with all the hottest new music, make sure you’re following me and say hello!