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Interview: Jhené Aiko

Since the release of her exceptional mixtape ‘Sailing Soul(s)’ Jhené Aiko has gracefully blossomed from being boy band B2K’s opening act, into one of the most promising RnB prospects many of us have seen for some time.

Her silky, relaxed tone coupled with her ability to write in a way which just resonates with people, has not only gained her a very strong following, but has gained her DefJam record label backing also.

Currently on tour with Drake and gearing up for the release of her new EP ‘Sail Out’, we caught up with Juh-nay Ahh-ee-ko (see her Twitter bio) to discuss her new projects, her writing process, working with Drake and comparisons to Cassie.

Planet Notion: You have featured on probably two of the biggest hip hop albums released this year, Drake – ‘Nothing Was the Same’ and J. Cole ‘Born Sinner’. Both songs were stand out tracks on each album equaling excellent exposure. Was that a planned, shrewd marketing move?
Jhené Aiko: Erm… no, not really. With J. Cole… he works closely with No I.D. and I’m signed to No I.D.’s label. That was just something that came about because of that. Drake is someone that I’ve worked with previously and he contacted me on his own… so yeah, it wasn’t really planned. It was just something that happened.

PN: Your experience working with Drake on ‘From Time’ seems very organic but also quite hands on…
JA: Yeah, we have worked together before. He contacted me and was like, ‘I think we need to work again’. We met at the studio and listened to beats… I picked the beat out and he let me take it home and write to it. When he heard what I came up with he loved it. He called me a few weeks later and rapped his part down the phone to me, so that I could hear what he had written and when he recorded it, he had me come down to the studio and listen to it… yeah, for the most part it was just like a super organic experience and it was a true collaboration because we were in contact with each other throughout.

PN: Your new EP Sail Out features artists such as Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, and AB-Soul. However, your album (set for release next year) has no features on it at all. With such an amazing contacts list, why is that?
JA: The ‘Sail Out’ EP was more of an introduction for people who were just finding out about me. A lot of them are more familiar with my feature work and I feel that they are going to be familiar with hearing me with those rappers. The album is me, just all me… it just worked out that way I guess. I mean, there are a few songs that if someone did want to feature on, I would definitely make room for them… but it’s just that I ended up writing all these songs and recording them and not needing a feature, but for the EP, I felt like a lot of the songs sounded like they should have a rapper on.

PN: It is rumored that the verse Kendrick Lamar recorded for ‘Stay Ready’ made you go back and re-write your own part?
JA: Yes it did. I sent him the song with my verse already on there, for me it was supposed to be just a super, simple, sexy type of song and then when I heard his verse, I was just like, ‘oh, no, no, no, no… ‘Let me go back and do this again’. I gave him 16 bars and he extended it into 24 bars… it felt like, even though I’m not his competition or anything, I just felt like if he could do that on my own song… let me go back and try a little harder.

PN: I also read your writing and recording process is quite an isolated one?
JA: Not really, I mean, if I’m recording a song and there are people that are not working on the song in the studio, I would prefer for them to not be in the space where I am recording, just because I don’t like a lot of extra activity, you know? I just like to focus on the song, but for the most part… I usually have one or two friends, or my manager… just people that I’m really comfortable with.
It’s definitely a relaxed vibe. It’s never really too serious unless I have to meet a deadline, which is very rare. It’s usually very relaxed… it’s not one of those sessions where people are just coming in and out, smoking and drinking, being loud, you know? Stuff like that. I like it to be very relaxed and chilled.

PN: Speaking of, you have been on record as saying marijuana was a big part of your writing process before hand, but maybe not so much now?
JA: I think that before hand I kind of relied on it? I think now, its more of an option. It’s definitely something that I still do, but it’s not something that I can’t work without. For the ‘Sailing Soul(s)’ EP, I recorded and wrote a lot high [on marijuana], but now I just know how to balance it out. It’s not something that I do everyday, but I definitely still enjoy it [laughs].

PN: In addition to your new EP and your very hotly anticipated album ‘Souled Out’, you are also featured on ‘Saint Heron’ from Solange’s label. What can you tell us about that project?
JA: Yeah, that’s a compilation album that she [Solange Knowles] did with different RnB acts that she felt were important to the new wave of RnB. I have an unreleased track on there, it comes out November 11th and it’s one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever recorded. I’m happy to have that on there.

PN: What do you feel about the comparisons between yourself and Cassie?
JA: I just think that… for the most part, we are just two completely different artists. I think people get confused as we may look a little similar and compare us? But I feel like that may be the only thing that you can really compare. It’s funny because when she was modelling, my sisters used to be like, ‘she looks like your older sister’. People would say we sort of favour each other… I think people get confused because we look a little alike… Some people think that – for some reason – we sound alike, but I don’t hear it… [Laughs].

PN: What about the fact that you are a sex symbol?
JA: You know… ever since I was younger, I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin, so… I just think that, you know? [Laughs]… I don’t really see myself as like, sexy though? I just feel like I’m comfortable being myself. I’ve never been afraid to show my skin… I don’t get caught up in it though. Like I said, I don’t look at myself as ‘sexy’ or anything like that. I think it’s cool as long as no one ever gets like, stupid sexual about it [laughs].

PN: From what I’ve seen it’s all actually quite sweet. Men just genuinely want to marry you…
JA: [laughs] I may be too much to deal with as a wife, just because I’m so open minded that people can’t rally understand that, they don’t… when I say that I’m a fee spirit, I truly am. I really don’t believe in rules and I don’t believe in a lot of conventional things as far as… the person I’m with is free to be himself and I think for a lot of people that is scary you know? And they don’t know how to take that.

PN: I read you were a Pisces. What you’ve said rings so true according to your star sign. Pisceans are also quite detached; here but not here, would you say that is true of yourself also?
JA: Oh definitely!

PN: I find it so amazing that you have a Rap Genius account
JA: I love Rap Genius!

PN: Do you go in and interpret other people’s stuff or just your own?
JA: I plan on doing other people’s stuff. So far I’ve just done my own songs and my features. I am like, obsessed with explaining my lyrics. People just always get them wrong, or they have their own meanings and stuff like that, but I love Rap Genius. It’s something that, if I have insomnia and I can’t sleep, it’s just something really fun to do. But yeah, I plan on doing other people too [laughs].

- Trina John-Charles

‘Sail Out’ is out tomorrow.

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