Having grown notoriety after her mixtape “Sailing Soul(s),” L.A. singer-songwriter Jhene Aiko is gearing up to further prove she’s more than just a rapper’s dream feature vocalist. As one of Def Jam’s newest signees, Aiko has just released her EP “Sail Out,” a prelude to her full-length upcoming album “Souled Out,” coming in 2014. The EP continues with her signature sound of dope collabs with emcees, meshed with moody, hip tracks that showcase her crisp, melodic voice and thought-provoking lyrics.
Aiko stepped into the singer’s chamber to speak on many things such as songwriting being her outlet, staying balanced, and not fitting into one box. The usually private singer even dished on her love life!
Singersroom: Your current “Sail Out” EP acts as a bridge between your two LP’s “Sailing Soul(s)” and “Souled Out.” What’s the inspiration/significance of the similar titles?
Jhene Aiko: Well, “Sail Out” is basically like a continuation of “Sailing Soul(s)” the mixtape. And the whole idea of “sailing” is like a play on words, “selling” and “sailing.” It’s like the complete opposite of “selling” yourself for money and fame. To me, “sailing” is going with the wind and being free and not really having a price, sticking to who you are and going with your own flow, which I’d like to think that I do. So “Sail Out” is 7 songs that I really feel like are introduction songs to the people who are just now getting familiar with me and that are more familiar with my feature work. Kendrick Lamar is on there, Ab-Soul, Childish Gambino, Vince Staples. And I think people are used to hearing me with the rappers, so that’s why I wanted to put out this project, to give them more of that but on my terms, just a prelude before the full length album [“Souled Out”] that I’ll be putting out.
Singersroom: You grew your fan base organically, without the help of big labels. Do you think it would have worked the other way given you’re so free-spirited?
Aiko: I don’t really categorize myself as one thing or another. I don’t even worry about that, I know that my fan-base is there for me, and they like what I put out; they know that I’m always changing and evolving. I think with Frank Ocean that was a good example of the machine getting behind something that’s different. But at the end of the day, I’m just doing it for the fans; it doesn’t really matter to me, if it can reach No. 1, it’s just like whatever (laughs).
Singersroom: Your music is very relatable. Are your songs like diary entries?
Aiko: Yeah, they’re pretty much like diary entries; it’s been like that since “Sailing Soul(s)” pretty much. For me, it starts off just having to express myself. If I’m going through something, I need to let it out, or if I’m really happy, I just wanna share it. Later down the line, I’ll probably get more creative once I feel like they’re no more stories to tell of my own; I’ll start reaching into my creative thinking. But for now, I’m just expressing myself, and I feel like when you share your stories, you help connect people to people, and I think that's really important.
Singersroom: When creating music, do you create music better if you’re in love or when you’re upset? Do you have a time when your music comes out better?
Aiko: When I’m hurt, my music comes out great (laughs). When I’m in a dark place, that’s when I’m basically writing my way out of it. When I’m really happy, it’s actually harder for me to express that because I’m there already, so I don’t have to escape. When I’m hurt, I’m trying to escape that hurt, so I write about it to try to get over it.
Singersroom: What state are you in now?
Aiko: Right now, just going with the flow, I guess. I’m one of those people, even when I’m happy I’m composed because I know that everything can only go right for so long; I know that tomorrow something crazy might happen. Not that I take the good for granted, but try to stay balanced and grounded. I’m appreciative for everything that’s happening, but I’m also realistic about life (laughs).
Singersroom: You’ve probably been in love before, what do you love about love? And if you are in love, you can tell me that too.
Aiko: I AM in love (laughs). I think you’re the first person I’ve told that to, but I am, and I love being in love. And I think the best thing about being in love is just for me, as I get older, really understanding what that means, and for me it means to be able to completely be yourself with another person, and to completely accept and understand them. Not having to depend on them for your happiness, but being happy enough to want to share it with another person. For me, it’s all about giving and not receiving. And that’s the line in the Drake song where I said, “I love me enough for the both of us,” and that’s basically what I mean. Like, I don’t need anything from you, I love you cause I love myself.
Singersroom: What’s some of the silly things love has you doing now?
Aiko: Silly things like, you’re hungry and you haven’t eaten all day cause we were caught up in being together and laughing, or losing sleep cause you’re up all night on the phone talking and you know you have a bunch of stuff to do tomorrow, and you’re like “oh, it doesn’t matter!” But when that fades away you’re like “look, I need to go to sleep!” I dunno, just the excitement that makes you do little silly things that you’ll eventually grow out of (laughs).
Singersroom: You and Drake go way back and seem to have musical chemistry. Would you ever consider doing a collab project?
Aiko: Yeah, out of all the people I’ve worked with, he’s the person I would want to do a full project with cause I feel like we complement each other. He has such a diverse audience and great songwriting; he can do a rap song, and an R&B song, then a Pop song, and I think I could do that also, I think it would be a solid project with more than one sound to it. It wouldn’t be strictly R&B or strictly Rap or Pop, it would a culmination of all the things we’re capable of doing.
Singersroom: How do you balance both motherhood and your career, and do you have any advice for career-oriented moms out there?
Aiko: I really just try to keep the balance. It’s hard, but I have to just take it one day at a time. She’s in school and growing up; I’m gone on tour and stuff like that, but somebody has to bring home the bacon, so I just hope she grows up understanding that. I definitely don’t do any extracurricular things outside of work. Either I’m with her, or I’m doing something that’s gonna benefit her. My advice would just be: just keep your child involved and let them know what’s happening and just know that it’s for the bigger picture and don’t lose sight of that.
“Sail Out” is available now on iTunes.