Songstress on the rise, Jhene Aiko, is turning heads and opening ears and minds with her stunning beauty and fresh sound. The soulful songbird sat down to chat with us about the evolution of her music, touring with Nas and Lauryn Hill, and embracing her dark side.
Many of your fans remember you from your early days of being associated with B2K and going on tour with them. Tell us what that experience was like and how your music has evolved from then until now?
“I was going on 13 when I first started working with B2K. I was a kid and it was fun to me. I wasn’t really into writing my own stuff. I was just going along for the ride pretty much and just doing whatever was asked of me. Now, the difference is that I’m writing my own music and just doing what I want to do. Back then, I didn’t really know what sound I wanted to have.”
Has becoming a mother influenced your music or changed your creative process in any way?
“It definitely has made me more focused and I think before her I would just stay home all day and try to be creative. But now, whenever I have free time I have to make sure I use it wisely and that I am productive. She has taught me to be a more honest writer and just honest with myself. In my music, I try to be as true to myself as possible so that I can be an example for her to be true to herself.”
Your ‘Sailing Souls’ mixtape was a huge success. Did you expect people to gravitate towards it the way that they did?
“No, I didn’t. I hadn’t made music in awhile. I had really gotten into my routine as a mom and I really just wanted to be creative and put together something that was really from me not songs that other people had written for me. When I was recording it, I didn’t really have any intentions. I just knew I wanted to put something together and put it out for free. It was a pleasant surprise that people liked it.”
I think one of the most profound elements of your music is the emotional intelligence in the lyrics and in the vocal performance. How do you tap into that creatively?
“I don’t know. It’s really hard for me not to write about me. I’ve always loved writing…short stories, poems. But when it comes to songs, it’s really hard for me to write about anything other than what I’m feeling. When I sit down and write a song, I’m usually just writing about how I feel at that moment. I try my best to just capture all my feelings and put them all in the song.”
Some of your videos have been dark and somewhat cinematic. Where does the inspiration for the visuals come from?
“It’s the same type of process [as when I write]. I sit down with Topshelf Junior who has directed all of the visuals so far. From the beginning, I said I don’t want to have music videos. I want them to be just visuals. When you listen to the song and see the visual, it just makes the song make more sense but doesn’t take away from the song either. Usually after I record the song I already know what I want the visual to be. So we sit down and talk about how we can make the vision come to life. They’ve been dark so far, the last two, just because…that’s what I was going through at the time. I’m going to keep them interesting. Not always dark.”
Do you draw a lot of inspiration from films? The first time I saw your “Mirrors” video it reminded me of the movie “Black Swan”.
“The crazy thing is I took this cinema class…like one cinema class a few years ago. I’ve always been in love with films as long as I can remember. Independent films and stuff like that. After taking that class, I fell in love with cinema even more because then I understood the use of color, [etc]. The crazy thing about “Mirrors” is I hadn’t seen “Black Swan” until the day before we premiered the video. It just so happened to be on TV the night before we released the video and I was like wow, this is just like the video. The director had seen “Black Swan” but I came to him with the concept. In my mind, it was more like a music box. It was the concept of dealing with the darker side of yourself.”
What was the meaning behind the title of your song “3:16 AM”?
“Three-sixteen is my birthday…March 16th. When I was writing that song, it took me like maybe a month. I would write a little bit here and there. I would always wait until I was really deep in thought which is always like at those hours of the morning…three AM, four AM. I would just be feeling spaced out and exploring all of these different thoughts and feelings. I always catch the clock at 3:16 probably because I’m waiting to catch it at 3:16 [laughs]. Once I did the song we just started talking about concepts for the video and things just started to fall into place. 3:16 is always the most widely translated scripture in the Bible…John 3:16. On the contrary, the hours between 3-5 AM are said to be the devil’s hours. Your immune system is weaker at those times so more deaths occur between 3 and 5 [AM] and it’s also the darkest time of the night. So, “3:16” was just like all of that. It was all of that combined and me being in a dark place and being at my weakest.”
What has it been like working with No ID?
“No ID is very humble. Which is crazy because he is a living legend but he’s so easy-going and easy to work with. He’s always trying to make it the best it can be but in a non-pushy way. He’s really into the music and he’s very creative. It’s so easy to work with him and it doesn’t even feel like work sometimes.”
What has been your experience while on tour with legendary artists Nas and Lauryn Hill?
“That was amazing. They are living legends as well. To share the stage with them every night was crazy. I would go out in front of crowds that really didn’t know who I was and at the end just to see them applaud and really get into the music…each song you could see they liked [the music]more and more…watching them discovering something new. I was getting other offers to be on other tours but this one to me made the most sense because that’s the kind of audience that I want. The kind of audience that wants to come and listen to the music and the lyrics and not necessarily be too concerned about their show and all that extra kind of stuff. I just want to tell my story. It felt good to win over that kind of audience.”
Can we expect any collaborations on your debut album?
“For sure I’m going to have Ab-Soul from Black Hippy and Big Sean. There are a few more people I’ve sent records to but right now I’m leaving it up to them to see if they’re into it. I’ll keep the others a secret for now until I’m sure [laughs].”
When can we expect to see “Souled Out” in stores?
“There’s no solid release date at this point. My main concern is having it sound its best. I’m really putting my all into it before I put it out because this really will be my first album.”
[Thanks Jhene for interview. She responds “We’re ending at 3:16”.]