Jhene Aiko’s thoughts and ideals for the world may serve a better purpose within the pages of a fictional literary work, but her lyrics are conceived from non-fiction tales of love and love lost. Also birthed are the hopes of a utopian universe where people relate to one another on a peaceful, non-judging plateau, freeing themselves from the chains of who others want them to be. She’s literally trying to save the world with the wedlock of writing and sound. Over Fisticuffs’ productions, the 23-year-old Piscean singer and superheroine sings her hopeful mission that is far from fictional. Willing to share her personal story and path with VIBE Vixen, she adamantly denies a bloodline with Lil’ Fizz of B2K, explains why Tupac is her idol, credits Brandy for teaching her how to sing and explains why she’d sign to Kid Cudi’s future label, hands down. –Niki McGloster
She’s beautiful, but uh you can read the full interview after the “continue reading” joint………..
What’s been going on since your debut self-titled album?
It actually didn’t drop because something had happened at Epic [Records]. My A&R got fired and all this crazy stuff, so I ended up just asking for a release from Epic and from TUG, and I just started to focus more on school. You know, I was still singing, and I was still working with a couple of the producers that I had met while I was signed, but I was more focused on school. Then, I got pregnant when I was 20. Like, I took my last meeting a couple of weeks before I found out I was pregnant.
Let’s rewind a little bit. What occurred that made you sever ties with Epic and TUG?
I kinda felt like they were lagging their feet, and I wanted to finish school and not really be tied up into the music so much at that time. I believe I was 16 or 17.
Were their arguments and bad relationships forming with them when you decided to leave?
No. Everything ended well. Like I said, my A&R stopped working for Epic. His name was David McPherson. They had brought a new A&R on board, and she didn’t really didn’t know a lot about my projects, so she kind of just put me on the back burner. And it was obvious that they were not going to do anything [with me]. My mom was my manager at the time, and I sat down with her and I was like I would just rather be released and be free to do whatever I want rather than wait. The same thing with TUG ‘cause they were pretty much doing the same thing. I wasn’t really working and I was doing everything on my own, so I decided I would just rather be a free agent.
When most people hear your name or see who you are, they automatically think about B2K. Weren’t you related to one of them?
I’m glad you brought that up because I’ve been wanting to tell everybody this. Like, I want to scream it at the mountain top! The whole me being Lil’ Fizz’s cousin was a marketing tool. At the time, I was 12 so I didn’t really care. I wasn’t really involved in that decision, but Drew, that’s his real name, is really close with my family. I’ve known him since I was eight and he was like a cousin. He used to be in a group with my oldest brother when they were little, like 10, so I did grow up around him, but I didn’t know that they were going to say in parentheses by my name “Lil Fizz’s cousin.” Everybody says that, but I don’t really reply to it anymore because it becomes a lot to explain.
What’s your relationship with Lil’ Fizz and the other members of B2K now?
I honestly haven’t talked to them in years and years and years. Omarion is my daughter’s uncle so I see him more often, but I don’t have personal relationships with any of them anymore. Not because there’s anything negative between us, but they’re busy and I’m busy and they live far away.
Even though you haven’t spoken to the TUG camp in some time, I’m sure you’ve heard about Raz B’s accusations against Marques Houston and Chris Stokes. Since you got to witness all of them being so close and now seeing what has transpired, what are you feelings about the whole thing?
Honestly, I didn’t feed into it. When I would see posts about it, I wouldn’t even click on it or anything because I just feel like… I don’t know what happened. I wasn’t there. I knew Chris since I was five years old, but I was never as close to him as everyone else was, so I didn’t really want to know what was happening with that. All I knew was the allegations, and I feel like it’s a sad situation if it’s true or not. What is anyone gaining from this? If it’s true then he’s going about it the wrong way. From what I do know of Chris Stokes, he’s a great man. I just wish they can figure something out and be at a better place.
True, it would nice for that whole situation to be cleared up. Let’s talk about your current project. Where did the concept of sailing soul(s) stem from?
The concept came from the meeting right before I found out I was pregnant. I had a meeting with this label head and at this point I had done so many meetings. I had been doing it for like five years, and I was excited to have the meeting, but it wasn’t hype. I was going to go in there and be myself, I’m not going to really care. I wore a little bit of makeup and I dressed how I would dress. Went in there, sang for them, did the whole meeting thing and he was like, ‘I love your voice, I love everything but when you come into these meetings you have to sell yourself.’ I was just speechless when he said that, and I have no filter when it comes to speaking my mind so I bit my tongue so hard. I wanted to say, ‘No! I don’t have to sell myself. I am me.’ You like me or you don’t. After that, I found out I was pregnant and I was on Twitter one day and said something about selling your soul, but I spelled it wrong and Chase N. Cashe corrected me. I put “sailing souls” and he said, ‘Oh, that would be a nice name for an album.” And everything started happening after that.
When did you begin developing the mixtape and putting it together?
My daughter was about six months when I really started working on it. At the time I was going through so much in my life that it was so easy to write the songs. I had just had a baby and I was dealing with baby father issues and I had a boyfriend. The songs were just coming and coming. I just had so much to say, and when I was signed, I never really got a chance to write my own music. I always wanted to do a mixtape and before I got pregnant I was about to get back into it ‘cause I was working with different producers and things like that. Fisticuffs, who produced the majority of sailing soul(s), I’ve known them for awhile and worked with them on different projects. So yeah, the concepts were just coming and it only took about nine months to complete.
Your sound from before is very different now. It takes on a whole new life and is more real, so where do you think you fit in with the music industry as a whole?
Honestly, I don’t think it fits in and I think that’s why it stands out. It’s about what I’m saying. It’s a marriage [with] real music. Fisticuffs, they don’t use any samples and they use live instruments a lot of the times in their beats, so I would go in there and I would be singing and they would be making the track. It was like a complete marriage of sound. I wouldn’t write anything down, just sing it on the mic and come up with everything off the top of my head. I feel like it doesn’t have to sound like anything that’s on the radio to be good music.
There can be more of a storytelling or raw aspect that is appreciated in music outside of the radio. Are you signed to a label right now, or are you looking to be signed?
Right now, I’m not signed. I have a management team called LA’s Finest and we’ve just been doing everything on our own. I’m not really looking for anything. I’m seeing what comes to me.
In a perfect world, which label would be the place for you to sign to?
Only because I’m a big fan of his music and I heard he might be having his own label, Kid Cudi. If [he] were to approach me to work with him in any sense, I would definitely be interested in that. Even Roc Nation or G.O.O.D. Music. I’m a fan of their music, and I believe that they would understand what I’m doing.
Now you have a couple collaborations that I want to find out more about. How did you link up with Kendrick Lamar? I know you first showed up on his O.D. mixtape.
His management is a mutual friend, and he heard that “July” with Drake had leaked. He called me like, ‘Are you doing features?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, who do you want me to work it?’ And he was like, ‘Kendrick Lamar.’ Ironically, I had just heard Kendrick like a week before that and I thought he was dope. We got in the studio like the next week and it was just so easy to work with him. I wrote the hook, literally, fifteen minutes are hearing the track and he listened to my hook and went straight in to do his verses. It was crazy. I had done like two songs and they weren’t for sure going to be on the mixtape but I had just wrote to them with Fisticuffs. And when I did the song with Kendrick, I fell in love with that whole sound that night. Like, dang! This is me, this is what I’m supposed to be singing. It was already in my mind but that confirmed it. So after that, I was on a roll with writing.
Besides Kendrick Lamar and the other artists you’ve collaborated with, which artists influence you?
I always say the person who taught me how to sing indirectly because I listened to her all the time was Brandy. I fell in love with her voice when I was sic years old. I always loved Brandy. I listen to Beyoncé for her technique. I believe she has a flawless voice. India Arie, Amel Larrieux. And I know it’s coming from left field, but I love John Mayer [laughs]. He’s probably one of my number one musical influences because of his writing ability and his voice. He’s somebody that I would listen to every single day. Kid Cudi, Kanye, J. Cole, Kendrick… I think I’ve recently fallen in love with hip-hop.
Really! I thought I was a totally R&B girl until I started listening, you know. Tupac is like my number one idol. I feel like all around as an entertainer, he was the best. His songs, his poetry, what he actually wanted to do—he wanted to change the world. He didn’t want to just make music, and I think with a lot of entertainers, they don’t understand the power that they have and the influence that they have on the people that are listening to their music. Music draws people in, so once you draw them in, what are you gonna tell them? What message are you gonna give to them? Once their listening, are you still gonna tell them to just shake their butt? Of course he was controversial, but he was rapping to everyone and everyone could relate. In all his interviews, he had the same message of Black people empowering the black community and it was always a positive message. It was true and it was real and that’s why I think he was the greatest—he was more than just music, more than just a rapper.
I totally agree. And you have a track with Miguel that is very relatable called “Hoe” that’s basically about women being bold sexually and hoping the guy doesn’t think she’s a hoe. Do you think women should be the aggressor when it comes to sex and relationships?
I think if a woman is feeling aggressive, she should be aggressive and not hold back. Go for what she wants, you know? There’s nothing wrong in knowing exactly what you want and pursuing it. As long as we are responsible with our bodies and actions, it shouldn’t be a problem. The double standard doesn’t exist to me. If a woman can be a hoe, then so can a man. If a woman can be a bitch then so can a man! [Laughs] Labels don’t exist anyways.
[Laughs] I feel you. In this day and age, a lot more things between men and women are equal. Now, Do you ever feel like you’ll branch outside of the music eventually?
Yeah! I feel like writing is my number one thing. I want to branch out into books. I actually have a young readers’ series that I wanna do, kind of in the same lane as a Harry Potter or Narnia or Twilight. I want to write stuff like that. I feel like in my future, I’m going to write a lot of books. I’ve always been interested in acting but theater. And not necessarily musical theater either.
That would be dope. So, what do you want people to get from you now and from what’s to come musically?
For the future, I’m going to keep recording music. I’ll probably release something new within the next couple of months. I’m going to continue to just share my truths and myself because I feel like I have a lot to share with them about my life experience. The main thing is for [my fans] to find themselves in my music. You know how a lot of people say, ‘I lose myself in music,’ or ‘I like to escape,’ but I want my music to be more of an awakening. I want it to make people to be aware of life; I don’t want my music to be a distraction. I want to light a path. I want the music to be the stepping stone into changing the world really.
And to narrow that down, what’s one main message you want people to tune into?
Definitely the whole “sailing souls” thing. A lot of people are still confused about what that means, and it just means to stay true to yourself and go with what you feel. Feeling are really the only thing that is real. I kinda want to convey the message to just be yourself. Don’t ever lose yourself for whatever reason—because you want to make more money, because you want to be prettier or whatever. I’m not a slave to anyone; I’m sailing my soul instead of selling it.