It seems that Def Jam artist Jhene Aiko hit the industry with the notion that she would make music that encompasses the trials and tribulations of her every day, in hopes that at least one listener would be able to relate to her story. She probably didn’t know however, that she would wind up becoming an artist whose music gave identity to many of her listener’s ‘soundtrack moments’ in their own lives.
Songs that we associate with moments and people we encounter become the soundtrack to our lives. As human beings, we are conditioned to use music as an escape, an outlet, and a coping mechanism. We highlight some of the biggest moments of our lives with songs. We are able to identify with a time and place because of the music we heard when we were there. We even connect people and the memories we’ve shared with them to songs.
On September 9, 2014, Aiko decided to release another diary-on-tape album, Souled Out, expressing more of her life through her lyrics then ever before. Her freestyle lyrical composition is a nice change of pace from other RnB female vocalists, and is completely unique in its own sense. The true goldmine in her music, though, is the content of what she communicates.
“Limbo Limbo Limbo” is the opening track of the album, and wastes no time introducing Aiko’s lyrical ability. Her singsong delivery compliments the dizzying melody behind it. This song just proves that she is never afraid of stating the truth in her lyrics. The truth can be painful to come to peace with sometimes, but it seems that Aiko makes that peace in her music. Throughout the track, she narrates the story of a girl whose dream of simplicity ends up being her ultimate downfall on the rollercoaster of life. The listener is then introduced to a thirty-second soliloquy where Aiko speaks directly to a man of her past and states the reasons why they didn’t make it through the ride of life. She brings the song to a close with a haunting line, almost summarizing the track in a few simple words: “she was just as basic as the universal language of love, necessary to keep him alive.”
Each of Aiko’s tracks on this album could be comparative to a chapter in a book, with its own cliffhanger ending. You think you’re following one story from the very beginning, and by the time the songs ends, you’re trying to figure out how it got there – just like life. It’s almost like a secret challenge that Aiko prefers to hide in her music to keep her audience on their toes.
The second track on the album, “W.A.Y.S” is an introduction to the true concept of “Souled Out,” where Aiko talks about striving in her career for her brother and her daughter. She lost her brother to cancer two years ago, and since then her music has matured. She discusses how much she owes to the angel and spirit of her brother, whom she feels is guiding her.
This can be heard more evidently in my personal favorite song on the album, and possibly from Aiko in general, “Promises.” This track begins like a home movie where you here her brother, Miyagi and her daughter, Namiko singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” When the clip ends, it is backed by a warm instrumental, and Aiko begins with a verse for her daughter: “I wanna be there with you, I really do be missing you. Everything I do is for you, and I really do adore you”. This is followed by a comforting hook where Aiko and her daughter echo one another, promising that if anything should happen, they’ll be alright. I have to admit, this mother-daughter moment brought tears to my eyes. The second verse speaks to her brother, Miyagi, where she starts out: “swear that I can still feel you here, can’t believe you’re not here, I’ve been needing you. All I see is you.” And the tears continue flowing.
When you love someone and can’t be with them because of distance, circumstances, or time, a simple promise that they’ll be okay while you’re away can mean the world. This song not only gives that comfort to Aiko regarding her daughter, but I think it was a way for her to tell her brother the same thing. There are some tracks that artists write that are geared towards their audience; tracks that a label thinks will attract the right crowd, or do well on tour. “Promises” however, is a song that Aiko wrote for herself and her family. I think, because of that very personal element, it may just be the most relatable track on the album.
“Yes, this is all I have left in me,” Aiko states when the last track on the album, “Free Bird” is introduced. “Free Bird” is a freestyle where Aiko lets loose on the jazz-influenced instrumental. Aiko seems to be speaking to herself as she tells the “pretty bird” it can fly. It is a clear expression of the weight that she has been carrying on her shoulders through her life experiences, and how this closing piece to the album is the last of what she has to give, in order to lift the weight off of her so she can fly. Hip-Hop artist Common comes in with a simplistic, old-school spoken word verse at the end of the track that, once again, introduces a cliffhanger to the audience, leaving us wanting to know more.
Aiko has outdone herself with this very personal, heart-on-her-sleeve album, letting a listener into her corner of the world for an hour or so. The ironic part about it all is that, although her songs are so narrative to her life and the situations she’s experienced, it’s not hard to feel like it’s happened to you before. Maybe that’s because we’ve all had love, loss, and situations that have made us who we are today. Or maybe that’s because when we listen to Aiko tell the story, it becomes so real to us, we feel as though we lived it.