After a teenage career impersonating B2K member Lil Fizz's cousin, Jhene Aiko resurfaced in style in 2011 with the raw and critically acclaimed debut mixtape Sailing Soul(s). Her new guise as a dark and brooding R&B songbird was all accompanied with Jhene's silky vocals popping up on tracks by pretty much every rapper music critics were losing their shit over. Now, Jhene's finally unleashed her debut EP on Def Jam, Sail Out, ahead of her long hyped album Souled Out next year and she celebrated its release yesterday by premiering new video "The Worst" on Noisey. I caught up with Jhene over the phone to chat about her discerning taste in rap collaborations, her frustrations with waiting to get her music out into the world and her misunderstood relationship with music.
Noisey: So, in this super short interview with us a while back you ended up talking about Eminem and particularly his Marshall Mathers LP. The sequel just came out so I was wondering whether you have it yet and what you think?
I bought it yesterday on iTunes but I haven't had been able to sit down and listen to it properly yet.
Do you think you're any closer to your dream collaboration of working with him?
I like to think so! Hopefully I get closer everyday.
He works with a lot of female vocalists these days, and you always have a lot of rap features. I was wondering what it is from a writing point of view that makes you want to get a rap feature on a song?
I just think that it adds another element to the song, if it's all just singing. And then for me, I just like lyricism either way - singing or rapping. I just think it's cool when there are two lyrical people, one singing and one rapping. It gives a good balance to the song.
With "Bed Peace' you wrote the song which had a space for a rap verse, originally intending for it to be Drake, and then you met Childish Gambino and he ended up featuring instead. What was it about that song that made you want to leave a space for a rapper?
I think because my verses were a little bit reminiscent of rapping in cadence as well as what I was saying. And the beat too sounded to me like it could use a rap verse and that would add an extra element to the song.
One of the most surprising features on Sail Out has to be Vince Staples, we probably wouldn't have predicted that one happening. How did that come about?
He was recently signed to Def Jam and is working closely with No I.D., and I am too. So it was just one of those things where No I.D. was like, "What about doing a song with Vince Staples?" So I was like, "OK, let me hear his music." I'm always supporting anything from the West Coast because I was born and raised in L.A. and Vince is from Long Beach which isn't far. I liked his voice and his raps, so I was like, "Yeah for sure." And he gave me a really good verse.
A couple of years back when your Sailing Soul(s) mixtape dropped, you were already planning the release of Souled Out. Obviously you've had some ups and downs over the past few years that have delayed that, but how long has it been ready now?
For me it was ready maybe like a year and a half after Sailing Soul(s), and I've just kept recording and recording. That's why now we have these two projects; the Sail Out and Souled Out . And even then I have more songs that might not fit on the album and I keep recording! Yeah but it's been ready. No I.D. is producing the majority of Souled Out, and he really takes his time and is always fine-tuning and stuff like that, so the more time we have, the more we're going to do on it. But for me it was finished a long time ago.