Singer-songwriter Jhené Aiko took her sweet time making a name for herself. Aiko’s career began on the sidelines, providing backup vocals for B2K and occasionally cameoing in their music videos in the early 2000s. It would be more than a decade before Aiko made her debut proper, as a solo star, with the release of her mixtape Sailing Soul(s) in 2011. A couple years later, she guested on Big Sean’s top 40-charting single “Beware” alongside Lil Wayne.
Also in 2013, Aiko released EP Sail Out, which kicked off a succession of releases, with her major-label debut record, Souled Out, dropping in 2014, second studio album Trip coming out in 2017, and Chilombo in 2020. With six Grammy nominations overall (per Recording Academy), three of which were for Chilombo alone, Aiko’s star is assuredly on the rise. She pours her heart out in her music, but there’s plenty to be gleaned about the super talented star outside of her art, too.
Jhené Aiko's musical inspirations are incredibly varied
Jhené Aiko’s sound is difficult to pin down, so it stands to reason she’s inspired by a whole bunch of different artists. Speaking to Billboard, Aiko revealed her L.A. upbringing meant that listening to “all the West Coast rappers” growing up was a given, particularly Tupac and Snoop Dogg. She was the youngest kid of five, so there were plenty of ’90s stars on rotation, too, including, “TLC, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Sade, [and] Lil Kim.” The first concert Aiko attended was for Janet Jackson, in third grade, noting the superstar “incorporated a lot of theatrics,” which she recalls “being wowed by.”
As she grew up, Aiko diversified and began listening to Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette. She explained, “My musical tastes kept evolving. They still do. I keep discovering music from the past.” It was Brandy who proved the most influential, however, with Aiko gushing, “She has the perfect voice.” Eminem was also a massive inspiration, particularly his lyrical abilities, though Aiko also name-checked John Mayer and Kid Cudi as masterful writers.
Jhené Aiko is constantly clarifying her heritage
Jhené Aiko’s mother is of Japanese, Spanish, and Dominican descent, while her father is African American, Native American, German, and Jewish (via Capital Xtra), so Aiko frequently has to field ignorant questions about her heritage. As she told Galore magazine, “I was at the I Heart Radio awards and some man who didn’t know me asked me, ‘How was China?’ Literally, the first words he said to me were, ‘How was China?’ And I didn’t really get it until I realized, oh, you think I’m Chinese. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve never been, I’m not Chinese.’ And then he … tried to make up this excuse as to why he would say that.”
The singer-songwriter also revealed people have made racist comments about Black and Asian people to her, not realizing she has elements of both in her genetic make-up. However, rather than getting angry about it every time it happens — which is sadly quite often — Jhené Aiko practices patience, acknowledging that plenty of people are still ignorant about the concept of being mixed race and need to be educated accordingly.
Jhené Aiko's music has a deeper purpose
There’s more to Jhené Aiko’s incredibly personal work than meets the eye — or ear. Aside from delving into her on again/off again relationship with Big Sean, the grief over her brother, Miyagi’s, untimely passing, and even her young daughter, Namiko, who’s provided several sweet interludes over the years, Aiko offers a way for fans to feel less alone by being very open. Now, she’s healing them through her art, too, explaining to E! News, “After hearing so many stories from fans and the reasons to why they listen to my music, I realized that my purpose in creating is to help people heal and transform.”
As a result, “Incorporating crystal bowls into my music became very important to me when I realized how much their vibrations and tones were helping me heal personally.” So-called sound bowls have been shown to promote healing and relaxation, by reducing stress and balancing out energies. The Los Angeles native incorporated their use on Chilombo, noting, “The more I study sound and its healing effects, the more I put intention of healing into my music.”
She records everything multiple times
Most artists struggle to release deluxe editions of their albums, typically fattening them up with filler tracks that didn’t make the first cut for some reason, but Jhené Aiko isn’t most artists. When it came to the deluxe edition of Chilombo, she had plenty to choose from, telling EW, “When I record songs, I usually do like 10 versions.” As the Los Angeles native explained, her recording process requires several versions of each song before Aiko can decide which is the right one.
“I keep remixing them because I want to hear it with a different instrument, pace, or whatever,” she noted. As Jhené Aiko said, “A lot of the songs that you hear on Chilombo have about, literally, between six and ten different versions.” In fact, she took “Born Tired,” a song featured on the first cut that was originally longer, pulled the parts of it she’d taken out, added a new beat, and created an entirely different song. “Down Again” was therefore created from the bones of “Born Tired.”
Going back to school is Jhené Aiko's ultimate dream
From an outside perspective, Jhené Aiko has achieved an incredible amount of success in the years she’s been part of the music scene. However, there’s still plenty she wants to do, telling High Snobiety that acting holds a particular interest for her. She opined, “I’d love to have some sort of role in a large production, not even a lead role per se, but a supporting role, even if it’s a few lines.” The Grammy nominee added, “Acting is so exciting and I’d love to do more of it.”
When all is said and done, though, Aiko is eager to go back to school and expand her mind. She hopes that, in about a decade, when her career isn’t so demanding, to return to education and study astrophysics. The singer-songwriter explained, “I’m so interested in the universe on a spiritual level, but I would love to know more about the math and science behind it.” Aiko promised, “When I can have time to myself, I’m going to dive into that.”
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