She sailed into the music scene like a gentle, barefooted breeze. A Japanese/African-American/Native American singer who specializes in soft soul and sultry rap, Jhené Aiko stands out in a packed crowd. With a charming knack for calm, she has even been compared to the likes of Sade. Last year, Jhené released her EP, Sail Out, which was well received by critics. Now she is slated to release her debut album Souled Out (Def Jam/ARTium) on September 9.
The concept of “sailing” first came when Jhené met with record label execs who told her she would have to “sell” herself at meetings. She choose to “sail” instead, and she has been in full sail ever since. In 2012, she opened for the Life is Good / Black Rage tour headlined by living legends Nas and Lauryn Hill. Earlier this year, she performed with Childish Gambino and Drizzy Drake at the Coachella Festival.
Souled Out’s cover art so far looks magical and ethereal, as Jhené floats between heaven and the ocean in an almost raptured stance. It literally looks like the songstress is ascending into the great beyond. (No pressure there.) Her debut is actually headed by the lead single “The Pressure,” a throw’d-back loungey jam, with Jhené reflecting on the pressures of a relationship. In typical Jhené style, she sings with a particular ache – an ache shrouded in a velvet glove.
“The Pressure” reminds me of her hit “The Worst” from Sail Out, where she reflects on the difficulty of letting go of a man who’s no good for her. The coolest thing about the cut is when Jhené busts a Jay Z rap flow over her soft croons. “The Worst” hit #43 on the Billboard charts.
When it comes to rap, Jhené emerged herself as a youth (memorizing all the words to The Chronic early on), which helped her to develop a bold yet insightful lyrical style. As such, she’s got a budding bad ass rapper inside her, an alter ego nicknamed J. Hennessy.
Perhaps we shall see more of J. Hennessy on Jhené’s upcoming debut. Either case, with the songstress’ gentle floating melodies, Souled Out promises to be an otherworldly experience.