Long Time Coming for Jhene Aiko
Hip-hop is home to a language and culture that started a movement within the music world, and is still questioning and redefining the industry daily. Why, then, are female artists so underrepresented in this genre? It seems even a genre as subversive and groundbreaking as hip-hop has its issues with realistic depictions of ladies and the validity of their talents. But there’s a new girl garnering some buzz, and you would be pressed to find her serving up anything but the best: meet Jhené Aiko, the up-and-coming siren of hip-hop and R&B.
Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, to parents of primarily Japanese, Native American and African-American descent. Born into a musical family, she followed in the footsteps of her two older sisters (who were actively pursuing music careers) and began singing before she could barely string a sentence together.
Jhené was signed to Epic Records at the age of fourteen, providing vocals for a number of hip-hop and R&B artists (primarily the group B2K, with whom Aiko has strong personal and musical connections to). All the while, her own debut album was in the works, but eventually, due to prolonged tension with Epic, the album was scrapped and Jhené asked to leave the label. In 2008, Jhené had a child with singer O’Ryan (Omarion’s younger brother) and with her new daughter Namiko in tow, Jhené put her plans for releasing an album on the backburner.
Finally, in 2011, Jhené’s perseverance paid off. She dropped her first mix tape, “Sailing Soul(s).” The release was star-studded, featuring collaborations with Kanye West, Miguel, and Drake, as well as artists from the illustrious Top Dawg Entertainment (Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, etc.). The concept of the release focused on Jhené’s convictions that she would not change herself to accommodate the wants of the industry; she thought of herself as “sailing, not selling”.
In 2012, Jhené signed with Def Jam Recordings. She found her true introduction to mainstream hip-hop on Big Sean’s 2013 release, “Beware” and a few months later, after making a noteworthy appearance on Drake’s new album and announcing a tour with the artist, she was ready for her Def Jam debut. “Sail Out” dropped in November of 2013, and features some of Jhene’s closest (and most famous) friends — Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar. With a song charting in the top 100 (“The Worst”) and a full-length studio album scheduled to drop this summer, Jhené is having a pretty great 2014.
The artist’s sound finds its roots in mellow R&B, but veers into hip-hop territory frequently; Jhené asserts she has a rapper alter ego, aptly named “J. Hennessy.” The majority of her music has a melancholy and almost ethereal vibe, with some songs (“Bed Peace” ft. Childish) picking up a more playful beat. Her voice is beautifully clear, riffing to stratospheric heights. Yet what really sets her apart, however, is how effortlessly she can transition to rapping. She holds her own against some of the biggest names in the game, and she has fun doing it.
It’s been a long time coming for Jhené, but her budding success is all due to the artist’s single-minded dedication to her craft. In a recent interview, Childish Gambino had this to say of Jhené: “I was talking to her about music…and she was like ‘I make songs. I just write songs and I make music. That’s it.’” Jhené will be making her Coachella debut this year.